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Motel One: Zürich’s new crowning glory. In turquoise.

A budget designer hotel with 400 beds in the heart of Zürich. The news was already making waves before it opened last year. Tourists could hardly wait, the media and hoteliers were curious. How did the first twelve months go? Were expectations met and doubts dispelled? We met with Urs Vogel, the hotel’s manager, to take stock.

What’s the first thing you notice at Motel One? There are infinite places to sit. Whether you’re in the bar or the lounge area, there are armchairs, sofas and stools everywhere, some with and some without a table. And every corner looks a little bit different; the design is spectacular, almost overwhelming. We can hardly decide where to have our chat. So we start by sitting down at a table with a view of Lake Zürich — or a print of it on the wall, in any case. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s step back for a moment. Mr Vogel, how did the first year go for Motel One in Zürich?

«It was an exciting and successful year. We exceeded our economic goals and I accomplished everything that I had personally set out to do», the hotel manager answers, visibly content. But wasn’t it a challenge to introduce a German economy hotel chain in Switzerland — in terms of communication alone? «We had the advantage that a Motel One had already been opened in Basel the year before. So the name wasn’t completely new and we were able to gain insight from our colleagues’ experiences», Vogel says. «It also helped that I’m from Switzerland myself. This made it a lot easier to approach the managers of other hotels at industry events.»

The Motel One is full of interesting spots. So we leave the lounge and head to the reception area, where what looks like a tour group is checking in. Around ten suitcases are grouped by the front desk. Mr Vogel, have all 400 rooms ever been fully booked? «Yes, quite frequently. Especially on weekends with big events like the Zürich ePrix, for example. The weekends also bring tourists wishing to see the city, and many business people come during the week, of course.» Most of the guests are German, followed by Swiss. Young and old, families and single travellers, business people and tourists. They stay on average one or two nights. «That’s normal for Motel One», Vogel explains. «Our hotel is the starting point for outings in many cities in Europe. And after one or two days, tourists tend to move on.»

It makes sense — ultimately, the central location near the Paradeplatz and the lake is a deciding factor for people who wish to explore the city or are visiting on business, in particular. «All the city’s points of interest are essentially right outside our door», says Vogel. Even the building in which Motel One is located is worth a visit. Years ago it housed a telegraph office, then a post office for the Selnau district and finally a bank. «Three sections of the building were joined together several decades ago», Vogel explains. «And when Swiss Prime Site then converted the bank into the Motel One, everything was closely coordinated with the Swiss Heritage Society, since the property is a historic landmark.»

What do the guests appreciate about Motel One besides the central location? «The design, the friendliness of the staff and the excellent value for money», the hotel manager reels off without taking a moment to think. And how exactly can he be so sure? «I look at the reviews from our guest surveys multiple times a day. That’s part of daily business.» So, the guests take centre stage? «For me, the employees take centre stage. If they’re satisfied, the guests notice it. I’m not the host — the hosts are all of the staff who work here at Motel One.»

We move on, taking a seat at the bar. The ceiling there is decorated with gold leaf, representing a crumpled-up chocolate bar wrapper. «Chocolate is one of the four design motifs that we’re playing with here at the Zürich Motel One», Vogel says. «The second motif is Lake Zürich, as you’ve already seen in the lounge. It’s highlighted by the boats from the company Boesch, which are unmistakeably associated with Lake Zürich. Perhaps you also saw the propellers mounted in our lounge. The mountains of Switzerland serve as the third design motif. A relief of the mountains decorates the reception area and the headboards of the beds in the rooms.»

Each location reflects the Motel One brand, but still remains individual in its design. The turquoise colour is a running theme at all of their locations, right down to the dress code. And yet, every Motel One looks different from the others. «We have fans who make the pilgrimage to nearly every Motel One grand opening. They are curious about each individual concept and want to be the first to sleep in a brand new hotel bed», Vogel explains.

Design as a sales pitch. It wasn’t always that way. Motel One’s only focus used to be the low price. «That’s not enough for us any more», Vogel says. «As our motto says: Like the price. Love the design.» The bar too is very well appointed. «Yes, and it’s not only popular with hotel guests. People come in from the street, too, for a drink after work. We also offer a good gin selection, which we want to expand to about 40 different kinds in the coming year.» Speaking of next year, what’s on the horizon? What is the hotel manager looking forward to in the next few months? «First of all, we of course want to raise our occupancy rate even further. That also means learning from customer feedback and continuously improving», Vogel says. «I am excited to finally have a basis for comparison. I will be able to compare the second year with the first and see if we were able to build on our success and in which areas we improved. Because in the industry itself, I don’t really have the opportunity for comparison. The high-end hotels nearby are in a completely different category. The neighbouring hotel has just 28 rooms. So, a comparison would be quite unrealistic.»

We leave the bar and make our way to the impressive courtyard, where some guests are enjoying a gin and tonic in the sun. An oasis of calm in the middle of Zürich. «This outdoor area is perfect for having breakfast in the morning», Vogel says. The Swiss «zmorge», or breakfast, is said to be extremely good at Motel One. So good that even people who aren’t staying at the hotel like to come by. «It’s true», Vogel confirms. And it’s no wonder: For 18 francs (about 16 euros, or 14 pounds) you can enjoy a true Swiss feast, from «weggli», a sweet breakfast roll, to Emmental cheese. The cuisine of each Motel One is also adapted to the country it’s located in.

We stroll toward the exit, past Motel One-branded scooters which guests can borrow for touring the city. Can we take a spin? «Normally, yes, but they’re already all reserved.» Even the scooters are fully booked? Not bad for a hotel that’s barely a year old.

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