What makes you want to stay at a hotel? Good food? Sure. Great service? Of course. Photo worthy surroundings? Sold. El Fenn in Marrakech, Morocco is leading the charge in the bespoke, boutique hotel experience, and doing it right.
Phototography: Jonathan Grey
After a recent flurry of El Fenn photos filled our feed, we noticed impeccably styled photos of velvet couches, pops of colors and fresh decor that stopped us in our tracks. The already stunning El Fenn has updated their design with some simple yet brilliant touches, bringing them into the social media spotlight in a brand new way.
They know that certain pillars of the aforementioned hospitality will never go out of style but design inevitably will. Interior designer, Willem Smit, and the team at El Fenn have embarked on a multi-year, gradual project to update the hotel. Working room-by-room, Willem and his team have transformed El Fenn into an Instagrammer's dream. In turn, this has meant great success for the hotel as they were booked solid for the peak season and continue to see more bookings from new clients.
So, how does one boutique hotel beat big brands and countless other boutique hotels who are all competing for the same goal? Willem is sharing some of his creative secrets on his best practices, inspiration and how making small changes can have huge impacts on business. Whether you're in the hospitality industry or looking to update your own home, here are Willem's design tips.
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Photography: Baba Souk | El Fenn | Joanna Vestey
What inspired this update?
To coincide with El Fenn's 10th birthday in 2014, I decided to upgrade some of the interiors. What started as a refresh of a few rooms and spaces has become pretty much a wholesale updating and restyling of the entire hotel. The bones haven’t changed but pretty much every room and public space has been refurbished.
Why did your team select the new colors/changes that you did?
El Fenn is on a grand scale so the building can take a lot of colour. But when I arrived here in 2011, I felt that it was a little too much a bit here and there. So I consolidated the colour, blocked it more and we now work mainly to a palette of teal, navy/black, red & yellow with a bit of pink thrown in. We have one white room but I’m pretty sure that one day soon I’ll rework it.
What have you found is the biggest factor in attracting new guests?
Our style is definitely a draw for people. In a world of minimalism, people want to experience the colour and scale of a place like El Fenn. But I also think that as much as the hotel has been updated, its core has never changed: we’re a laid back, home-style kind of hotel. You don’t come here if you want valet parking and a room with 30 electronic devices. But if you want a great room, great food and great company then you do. Our guests come from all walks of life but they’re usually a pretty creative, interesting crowd. And of course Marrakech is right outside our door: it’s a wonderfully exotic, surprising and eclectic city.
What were the updates - were they simple changes?
The updates ranged from new hand-stitched bed linens and simple changes of bathroom tiles or wall colours to building work on a pretty large scale. The roof terrace was entirely refurbished in the summer of 2014 for instance which meant a team working in 45C heat to retile the whole thing, knock down some walls and extend it. I’ve also just reworked what was a 4-bedroom private riad that was rented as a whole by families or friends into a 6-bedroom annexe. It’s a couple of minutes walk from the hotel but I created new rooms, installed a plunge pool, etc. because we needed more individual rooms for clients.
Book your next getaway with El Fenn here →
Photography: Joanna Vestey | El Fenn
Since the switch have you seen more bookings? More social sharing? Increases in general?
We’re lucky that we go from strength to strength in terms of our occupancy. We’re booked solid in peak season and the rest of the year is pretty busy too. Instagram has been a key part of this all: it’s a wonderful way to tell your story directly to people and has brought us a whole new generation of clients. Architectural Digest recently called us ‘Instagram gold’ and that was great. But we do at times have to be careful to not have too many people here taking pictures because our guests want to relax.
Any tips for other hoteliers and property owners to keep their property looking fresh?
We have a strong core of regular clients and one thing they often say is that they love how the hotel changes every time they come here. It might just be new cushions or a piece of art but I am constantly tweaking and changing things here. It keeps the place feeling like it’s energised and moving. No-one wants to stay in a hotel that’s trapped in just one period of time. Buildings are like people and must constantly evolve.
Photography: El Fenn
While El Fenn is doing a total overhaul of their space, they are doing it gradually over the course of a few years. They are going room-by-room, leading with color and fabric proving that starting with simple touches is the perfect way to determine how much attention your own space needs. For El Fenn, these small changes have already paid off in social media spades. They have an ever-growing list of loyal clients, glowing word-of-mouth recommendations and an increased social media presence just from the upholstery updates they made. Take a page from El Fenn and refresh your business or home with simple textile and color swaps to reap the immediate benefits of your labors.