A symbol of hospitality, Serge Trigano is also a pioneer of the current wave of new ‘lifestyle’ boutique accommodation concepts with the Mama Shelter brand. The Frenchman with Algerian roots previously played a leading role in the well-known resort destination company Club Med, which was co-founded by his father, the late Gilbert Trigano. Here, he talks to HN about what we can expect from Dubai’s new Mama and the process of redefining cool
What’s the Mama Shelter DNA?
Mama Shelter is a crossroads for people of all ages, countries, cultures and ethnic backgrounds. We are friendly, innovative, chic, affordable and popular. Our DNA is a mix of kindness and an open-minded attitude toward different cultures.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of operating a family-based model of business ownership?
I have always worked with my family, from Club Med with my father, to Mama Shelter with my sons. The advantages of working as a family more than outweigh the disadvantages. When problems arise, we work through them together. We sometimes disagree, but at the end of the day, we always come to a unanimous decision.
There are currently five Mama Shelters, with properties in France, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, and, most recently, Belgrade and Prague. Which cities are next and what’s the timeframe?
In 2019, new Mama projects will come to fruition in Lille and London, as well as a second Mama in Paris, Porte de Versailles. There are also more Mama projects in the pipeline, in Luxembourg, Lisbon, Dubai, Rome and a third Mama in Paris La Defense.
What criteria do you use when selecting the cities to operate in?
We only choose cities that we ourselves have fallen in love with. We look for the best neighborhoods in which to live the full experience of the city and to be close to the locals. We work more on instinct than by any economic survey.
What can you tell us about the upcoming Dubai property? Who will design it and what can we expect a Mama Shelter Dubai to look like?
Mama Dubai will be the third Mama Shelter after Los Angeles and Toulouse to be designed by French designer Thierry Gaugain. Mama Dubai will be unique, due to its size (200 rooms and 80 apartments), its facilities (outdoor swimming pool, exterior cinema and gym, and 500m2 of meeting rooms) and architecture, inspired by the renowned French architect, Franklin Azzi. Mama Dubai will sell a little oasis of authentic fun to locals and international travelers alike. Set to open in 2020/2021, it will be the place to meet, eat, drink, laugh, party, play and dream.
Will the rooms average around USD 150 a night, like the Los Angeles Mama? If the Mama Shelter there is Chateau Marmont’s baby, whose baby will Dubai be?
Pricing has not yet been established for the hotel. Mama Shelter Dubai is going to be the Mama of all Mamas! All we can say is that it will be the best price value offering on the market.
You opted to pull out of Istanbul. Was the project a miscalculation due to location or other factors?
We decided to pull out of Mama in Istanbul for technical reasons, which made it impossible for us to pursue our operations. We are actively looking for a new property in the city.
Are your hotels usually new builds or do you update an existing structure according to your specifications?
It’s a mix. In some cases, like with Los Angeles, we chose an older hotel that we totally refurbished, while in Paris, which was our first baby, we built the property from scratch.
What one thing can you find at Mama Shelter’s hotels that doesn’t exist in other chains?
The key to our success comes down completely to the quality of the staff and the kind of relationship that they create with our customers.
Which of Club Med’s founding principles have you incorporated in the Mama Shelter experience?
We kept the values which my father, Gilbert Trigano, created and have adapted them to the Mama Shelter model.
What has been the advantage of teaming up with AccorHotels?
The biggest benefit from our partnership with Accor is that they help to speed up our development. Thanks to Accor, we receive between three and five development proposals on a weekly basis to create Mamas in any part of the world.
Are you looking at other locations in the Middle East and Africa?
We are principally looking for opportunities in Africa, where we believe that the Mama Shelter concept will fit in with the local culture.
To what extent do personal qualities of the three founders contribute to the brand’s success? Can you share some of them with us?
My son Benjamin is the one who takes care of the creative aspect, Jérémie, my other son, takes cares of the business side and I’m the old man who tries to find a balance between them both.
Most hotels consider their F&B outlets a hindrance to operations. How have you ensured yours are profitable?
To us, it’s quite the opposite. The F&B element is one of the key parts of our success and represents 55 percent of our local revenue. They attract the locals, who bring the energy of their city into the Mama.
How has Mama evolved since 2008?
Mama has evolved but, at the same time, has remained consistent since the beginning. We have kept the same business model and it’s this consistency which, in my opinion, contributes to our success – a little bit like Zara in the clothing industry.
If you were given the chance to collaborate with someone on a Mama Shelter, who would you choose and where would the hotel be located?
I would love to collaborate with Elon Musk – I think he’s a genius! He created a new company for electric cars and he’s now working on the conquest of space. It would be completely amazing to work with him on a new concept for the hospitality industry.