In the changing face of travel, the Vice President of Brand Experience at Design Hotels talks purposeful projects, positive impact and putting sustainability centre stage.
Tell us about your role and what it involves?
I joined Design Hotels in 2019 to lead brand, digital and the creative sides of the business. Day-to-day, my role is incredibly multifaceted; I oversee all marketing and creative streams across content, public relations, design, production, digital marketing and overall community growth. Now that we are seeing the gradual revival of the travel landscape, I am increasingly on-the-go again and visiting our partners across the globe. This includes everything from site visits of current and future projects to hotel market launch planning and just being present as much as possible for our hoteliers and creative partners. There are also the Design Hotels’ publications, from the Directions magazine to the annual Design Hotels Book, which we are working on at present with a focus on the themes of food and sustainability. On a broader level, I am fascinated by the future of travel and living, and how further innovations can put sustainability centre stage as opposed to it being an afterthought. As such I have been developing new programmes within the brand that drive and promote improved representation, conscious design and social impact in the context of hospitality and beyond.
What has been your primary aim since joining Design Hotels?
I’ve been part of the Design Hotels community as a traveller for many years so it has been a smooth journey getting to know the inner world and creative forces, from the Originals behind our hotels to their architecture and design teams. From a brand perspective, my aim so far has been to further elevate the sense of creative community through a mix of new content streams, stronger digital experience and a greater focus on advocating for purposeful travel.
What skills have you brought from your previous roles that are helping you shape brand experience at Design Hotels?
I have experience in strategic and design consulting and having lived in many countries, cities and cultures, I bring a truly global perspective as well as an understanding of the constant innovation required to stay ahead in today’s market. The intense and multifaceted environments I worked in before joining Design Hotels have helped me to orchestrate the many diverse forces of the brand’s ecosystem. It’s rare to have such a large in-house creative team these days, but it brings unique focus and a brand voice that is a privilege to lead. The next step for me is in converting creative pilots into real products, services and moments of connection for our community – this has become a double challenge given the pandemic, but we are on a good track and much stronger as a result.
How closely do you work with owners and designers to ensure new hotels are designed for positive social impact?
It has always been a highly collaborative process and often one of co-creation with our hotels, but in the last few years particularly, social impact topics have become a constant on the agenda so we like to get involved as much as possible. For example, we always try to give extra exposure to our leading conscious hotels together with the various organisations, local partners and producers connected to our events and experiences. When hotels are still in their development phase, we aim to work very closely with owners, architects and local supply partners to share best practices and insight; we are often a connector between various forces and take the time to make those connections happen in a meaningful way. We also consult with our existing member hotels to identify more effective ways to connect them with their local communities, whether that be through carefully curated cultural programming, artist-in-residency support, or simply by figuring out the right type of sustainable partnerships for each project. To facilitate these services, we recently created a new portal within the platform where our hotels can find and connect with vetted, sustainability-minded partners along their journey to improve.
“We believe travel can be a force for good. Our hotels and community are on this journey with us, step-by-step, to move into a future where we’re all making more conscious choices.”
Tell us about the Sustainability & Social Impact agenda you have implemented at Design Hotels?
We believe travel can be a force for good. Our hotels and community are on this journey with us, step-by-step, to move into a future where we’re all making more conscious choices. There is a lot of ambiguity around the topic, so our role is to demystify the challenges and opportunities connected to sustainability; in other words to make it as simple as possible, ideally with a dose of inspiration through our storytelling. With that in mind, we’ve spent quite a bit of time figuring out the best way to not only talk about this, but to provide our partners with the right tools and insight. One element is the ‘10 Conscious Hotel Principles’ framework, which helps us measure our progress as we move towards more environmentally and socially conscious practices. The principles are there to guide our hotels as they develop their own approaches, taking into consideration everything from architecture, design and new construction materials to energy, water and transport, not to mention the people side of the hotel business. From a guest perspective, we have developed ‘The Good Traveller’ manifesto, which details how we can all become better travellers going forward; I personally aspire to keep striving towards these values.
What does ‘travel with purpose’ mean to you?
For me it’s about taking time to really think about the reasons for travel, the means as well as learning opportunities within that journey. Do I need to travel? Can I design my trip in a way that I have time to explore, read about the place and find lesser-known stories, talk to local people and connect with creative projects? In short, a mix of true cultural immersion and the right pace to delve a little deeper.
Which forthcoming member hotels are you most excited about?
We have a host of truly innovative properties on the horizon, each of which stands out for its exciting balance of design, responsibility and local immersion. Hotelito by Musa is a forward-thinking creative community concept in Guerrero, Mexico, combining 11 rooms with a completely self-sustaining village geared towards regeneration. Nous Santorini will set a new benchmark in a destination that we know very well, with a culinary concept linked to local cuisine, organic produce and wine culture. And on the Indonesian island of Sumba, I’m looking forward to Cap Karoso – a beautifully designed concept with an overarching commitment to eco-conscious travel and community engagement through local craft support and regenerative practices. There’s lots to look forward to.
Having developed marketing strategies for a wide range of global clients as well as emerging lifestyle brands and start-ups, Ksenia Starikova joined Design Hotels as Vice President of Brand Experience in 2019. With a strong desire to generate cultural change, her vision has manifested in the implementation of a Sustainability & Social Impact agenda for Design Hotels members, as well as the successful roll-out of the ‘Promadic Travel’ concept, conceived in collaboration with The Future Laboratory. Meanwhile her penchant for story-sharing is reflected in the expansion of content on the brand’s platforms, which now serve as hubs for cross-cultural conversation across a range of topics.
Design Hotels Members by Continent
Africa and Middle East – 9 hotels; Americas – 54 hotels; Asia Pacific – 34 hotels; Caribbean – 4 hotels; Europe – 183 hotels; Oceania – 2 hotels