In April 2023, Kelly Ching and Eileen Lim, final year students at EHL Hospitality Business School, embarked on a transformative journey by enrolling in the Sustainability Hospitality Challenge. Their dedication and hard work, along with coaching sessions from Romane Petit (EHL Research Assistant), propelled them to secure a spot in the competition’s top 10 during the semi-finals held in Amsterdam. This is a remarkable achievement considering the stiff competition from over 40 student groups coming from universities across the world. Here, Kelly and Eileen recount their unique experience from classroom to competition finalists, spurred on by wanting to put ‘regenerative hospitality’ on the map.
From classroom to reality
The competition came at an opportune time for us to consolidate all the knowledge we gained from EHL and to apply it to our project in the context of the Sustainability Hospitality Challenge. The project took over the course of our last few months at EHL and during this time, we had brainstorming sessions where we generated many ideas. Thus, our concept was constantly evolving and changing.
As we approached the elimination rounds, our project became more and more precise and detailed. Because it was a sustainable hospitality concept competition, we harnessed insights from our Sustainability Transitions and Innovation elective. We also leveraged the use of rigorous academic research to embed eco-conscious practices into the fabric of our planning and construction processes.
From Hotel Asset Management and Real Estate Finance, we used the structures learnt in class and additional market reports like HotStats to help support our market valuation, investment strategy and returns. It is essential to highlight that the templates employed in class, while foundational, demanded thoughtful customization due to the unique location and hotel type. Drawing from our knowledge in marketing and customer experience, we meticulously researched our target audience and orchestrated the entire customer journey for a seamless and captivating guest experience at “Remuta”.
The concept Remuta
The theme of the competition was “One with Nature” and hence we created our concept, ‘Remuta’. Remuta is a regenerative floating hotel on the Red Sea with research facilities and programs for guests to truly engage with marine biodiversity. Remuta promotes marine conservation, supports local communities, and provides to the guests an immersive and educational experience.
Modular hotel rooms
The modular hotel rooms are designed to accommodate tourists of different group sizes, with the flexibility to move around and enjoy both above and underwater features. The modules include both rooms and communal areas that allow guests to create their own combination of rooms depending on the group size and space needed. The rooms can be connected prior to their arrival by an electromagnet system and synchronization of the propellors and engine.
The main bedrooms are located underwater to provide a truly immersive at ‘one with nature’ experience where sensors pick up real time marine sounds and play them from the speakers across the room. Furthermore, there are also scanners under the hotel rooms that help with mapping the seabed and marine life, which contributes to the data collection of the Red Sea. This leads us to the next point about the Learning and Research Center.
Learning and research center
While providing a luxurious hospitality experience with the hotel rooms, our hotel stands out by doing more than just being environmentally friendly.
The goal is to take it to another level by giving back to the nature through more regenerative ways. We have prepared regenerative activities ranging from ocean farming to seaweed-based products DIY, to allow guests to be fully immersed in nature during their stay.
The Coral Nursery Program is essential as we have found that the corals in the Red Sea are resilient to heat and this could be a sustainable solution to restore the dying corals around the world. There are also researchers at the center who are looking into ocean-based materials such as seaweed from the seaweed farm. Not only are seaweed farms a great carbon sink, but the material is also an alternative to plastic where guests can get hands-on exposure on how cutlery, fabric, furniture and even food can be made from seaweed.
An additional important piece to our project is to include employees and create a social impact.
We have integrated separate staff accommodation with ample living space for employees and their families. Facilities such as a gym, spa and mindfulness spots are included to ensure the staff can achieve a good work-life balance while they are living on the Red Sea. There are also channels for open communication and feedback, allowing staff to voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions.
Skills and development programs are also available for staff to learn about sustainable practices, and other skills ranging from marine photography to cultural sensitivity classes and more. Lastly, there is also support for ocean farming entrepreneurship in order to help the development of the coastal communities and the economy around the Red Sea.
The concept Remuta is the result of an important teamwork effort, resulting in meaningful tips and learnings that are presented below.
Tips & Learnings
Consider all perspectives
To make a project work, it is all about compromising and being a considerate listener. We still remember how we, as hospitality students, had a huge debate with our architectural teammate Karin Cheuk on the feasibility issue. It was a challenging time striking a good balance between innovative ideas and existing technological support that could deliver our thoughts. It was interesting to learn from the architectural point of view and understand the blind spots that are out of our scope. From the 3-layer design of the room to the use of magnetic force as the lock for modular rooms, the project goes so much beyond just a hospitality concept; it combines different expertise and knowledge.
Compromise until it works
As mentioned, what made this year’s competition special was the incorporation of design and engineering expertise into hospitality. With our teammate coming from the School of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong, the time difference became a concern. We had a challenging time figuring out our meeting times since we all had our own schedules due to our Student Business Project, electives and other final-year projects. This is not to mention how the 6-hour time difference made it more complicated; yet it was all about compromising and making priorities. We managed to have weekly online meetings, sharing our latest research and design progress after having divided the work into different tasks.
The project result was achieved thanks to our combined efforts in prioritizing our own schedules and allocating time for this project to continue.
Set a clear target, define the scope
Soon we realized we did not see “an end” to this project since we could always do better in making calculations and ideas more comprehensive through further research and design. One of our biggest takeaways has been to understand our capacity and set boundaries in advance. As an example, we struggled with the numbers in the profit & loss statement and the 10-year forecast that showed the profitability of our project. It was extremely time-consuming and there was a lack of data available to dig deeper into each number in order to improve its accuracy. In this case, we decided to seek assistance from our professors, experts in Hotel Asset Management and Real Estate Finance.
We also collected industry averages in the Middle East region from HOTS and STAR reports (hospitality industry performance reports) as a benchmark for further calculations. In this context, planning was critical because it gave us enough time to review our work or ask for help when necessary - (do not forget that people can be extremely busy and it can take some time to get an answer!).
As a summary, we have defined six elements that might be useful to consider when approaching a new project.
Project management: 6 dos to keep in mind
To conclude, this journey was very fulfilling and we are grateful to have been able to end our EHL journey with this project. It was genuinely exciting to see all the courses we have learned from in the past four years culminating in one project. It has made us develop a further interest in hotel development but also realize that despite being prepared with the knowledge required for this project, there will always be unforeseen or unfavorable circumstances that we have to overcome in the real world. However, it is important to not forget the goal and persevere. It is only with change that we can improve and progress.
The Remuta project serves as an excellent illustration of putting theory into practical action while combining innovation and sustainability. The concept of regeneration, which goes beyond mere sustainability, is currently emerging - hence not yet very common in the hospitality sector. This novelty underscores the significance of students familiarizing themselves with these increasingly important subjects.
Furthermore, the Remuta concept effectively portrays real industry challenges: the necessity of comprehending the basics of various fields, the enhanced value of a diverse team and the importance of teamwork, the interconnected nature of disciplines, and the importance of seeking guidance and expertise externally, for example through professionals or research outcomes. While being constantly challenged, Kelly and Eileen made huge progress in pushing forward their ideas and concept, as well as in public speaking.