“Because of social media, hotels are forced to deliver real value”

Björn Milton is one of the co-founders of Twingly. In summer 2010, he left the team to do something totally different: Open a hotel with his wife. We had a little chat with Björn about his exciting project and the changes to the turism industry caused by social media.

Hi Björn. You are one of the founders of Twingly. Now you are running a hotel on the Swedish Island Gotland together with your wife. How did that happen?
By accident really. In the summer of 2010 me and my wife Karin planned our wedding that was due to be held in the beginning of August. In July we found out that a property right next to where we have our house was up for sale. We went to have a look and decided that it had potential. We didn’t really know exactly what we wanted to do with it, but we decided to go ahead and ended up buying the property 1 day before our wedding. So there we were, owning a rather substantial piece of property, not really sure what to do with it.

Quite quickly we decided to build some kind of accommodation, and during the process the ambitions rose (as they tend to do) and we ended up with a hotel and a restaurant that we named Hotel Stelor. We completed the construction in 6 months and opened up for business in June 2011. Neither me nor my wife have any prior experience in the hotel or restaurant business so we have spent this first summer working really hard and learning loads of stuff. We’ve tried to share some of our experiences in our blog, Stelor Towers (only in Swedish unfortunately).

Do you miss working at an Internet startup?
When we decided to start the hotel business, I was really excited about doing something hands on, building physical stuff and connect with people in person and I still am today. Our hotel business is in fact run very much like a startup, building stuff in a short period of time, experimenting a lot and then rebuild the stuff that didn’t work out. We try to be very open with what we do and how we think and strive to surround us with people that know the things we don’t. I do miss the tech part of an Internet startup though and will hopefully get a chance to work more with technology soon again.

Your hotel is Sweden’s first that offers guests an iPad instead of a TV. What kind of feedback do you get regarding this?
The idea is that we want to offer our guests the best possibilities to take part in the the informational landscape. Hotel Stelor is very much about facilitating social interactions, both physical and digital. And the iPad plays an important role in that. The feedback from our guests has been overwhelmingly great. Most people like laying their hands on an iPad and our guests are not different. Sure, occasionaly guest have asked for the reason why we don’t have TVs in the rooms. But the most common reaction we get about actually not having TVs are positive ones.

What plans do you and your wife have for your hotel business? Any more ideas on how to combine today’s digital lifestyle with the tatmosphere of a 18th century building housing your hotel?
We have lots of ideas about how to develop our hotel business. Our focus is about building a place where meetings between people and sharing of information is the the main thing and we’re constantly trying to come up with ways that make that as easy as possible. We strive to use and develop technology that integrates deeply into the experience of staying at our hotel in a way that enhances it rather than automates it.

During your years at Twingly you saw the social web unfold and evolve. How can you use this kind of knowledge for your hotel business?
We make use of the social web a lot, communicating and getting feedback through a number of different channels. We work a lot with Facebook (http://facebook.com/hotelstelor) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/hotelstelor) and actively encourage our guests to share their experience through sites like Tripadvisor or Facebook Places. From having been part of Twingly and learning from how we’ve used the social web there, I feel I have a rather good sense of what works when communicating through those channels.

In what ways will social media change the hotel and turism landscape? Or won’t it?
I already think it has. The traveling business, being one of the world’s largest consumer industries, can’t ignore the power of the social web, although it has tried for along time. I think the industry as a whole has woken up at last. There are lots of tech driven startups popping up around this field and the big players are spending more and more money trying to harness the power of the social web. Some successfully and others less so, but the interest is there and it is there to stay. The biggest change we’ve seen so far is that people, in recent years, have started to share their experiences with each other on a big scale. This forces the hotels to deliver real value to their guests if they want to survive.

The technology landscape in the traveling industry has been very conservative for along time and is just now beginning to move. I think there are lots of opportunities in this field right now, both with regards to the social web and with technology in large.

What web trends do you think are the most exciting ones right now?
The cloud is truly becoming a reality. People have talked about it for years, but it is now at first that the concept of the cloud is being leveraged for real into both consumer and business products. Your services and your data can be accessed through any device at any time, freeing you of the need of having to worry about whether you have the right device with you or if you’re going to loose it. The only thing you have to worry about is having access to a good Internet connection. Which is of course provided free of charge at any reasonably forward thinking hotel : )