Claus Sendlinger: Trendspotting

Hotels with operating theatres and guests who sell their homes to live in luxury suites are just two of the trends that Claus Sendlinger says will soon dominate the world of travel. Ruth Elkins meets the five-star oracle of leisure
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The Independent Online

Sendlinger's Berlin-based Design Hotels agency, of which he is CEO and president, represents 141 of the best contemporary hotels. And he is one of the most important minds in the international travel and lifestyle industry. Condé Nast Traveller magazine recently rated Sendlinger as one of the world's top 50 tourism experts.

It's not surprising, then, that Sendlinger has a truly enviable life. Six months of the year, he moves between his large, immaculately designed apartment on Berlin's Kastanienallee (a street so stuffed full of shiny-haired model types, it's been dubbed "Casting Alley") and his high-windowed warehouse office overlooking the city's trendy Landwehr Canal. The rest of the time, he travels the globe. There is scarcely a cutting-edge design hotel or emerging lifestyle that has not come under his discerning eye.

It was Sendlinger who predicted that hotels were poised to move massively into the spa business. This he announced in the 1980s, a time when most high-class establishments were proud to offer guests a power shower. " All I really think about is the logical consequence of the way we live today, " he says. "It's really no big deal."

"I thought: we're all working harder and harder to earn more and more money," he says. "We all get richer, but we're all stressed out. What are we going to demand, and be willing to spend our new wealth on? It's not hard to figure out that pampering and holistic care would be high on our list. Back then, design in that sense was a competitive advantage," says Sendlinger. "Now it's a bare minimum."

Born in Augsburg, southern Germany, Sendlinger never intended to become a travel expert. He wanted to be a footballer. But summer after summer spent at a family-run hotel in Rimini meant he learnt to love the hospitality business. As a teenager, he promoted nightclubs on the Italian Riviera, before military service equipped him with a thorough PR training. "I was stationed with a squadron testing a new fighter jet. I was forever organising events where the German chancellor would turn up." It was exactly the kind of job he wanted to do. "Just the content was completely wrong," he laughs.

Nowadays, Design Hotels offers "fully-integrated marketing solutions" to hotels. Sendlinger sells the kind of ideas which, initially, appear so outside-the-box, you get the feeling even the most forward-thinking consumer wouldn't buy them.

The Next Big Thing, says Sendlinger, will be the Hospital Hotel. Check in to these luxury resorts and you'll be able to order liposuction on room service or get your eyesight corrected by laser operation. It might not sound like much of a holiday, but the beginnings of healthcare tourism can already be seen in Thailand. And Sendlinger predicts it will take off massively in the US. "But it won't be hoteliers who move into this market," he says. "The impetus will come from the healthcare or food industries because they have huge research and development budgets."

As for the problem of what to do with Europe's increasingly ageing population, Sendlinger prophesises that pensioners will move back into city centres. It has already started in Berlin, where tailor-made residences are popping up all over the city centre. "It was madness to believe that older people wanted to while away their days in some backwater waiting for an occasional family visit," he says.

His biggest prediction yet, though, is that we will all start to live like him. More and more people are choosing to have parallel lives in two or more places.

"We will have a far more fluid relationship to place and property," Sendlinger says. "Sure, you need one place in the world that you can call home, but why can't you bulk buy 60 nights a year in a New York boutique hotel, if that's what you need? Residences and apartments in hotels - a place you can call home, but where someone else does your laundry - will become the norm."

If it sounds a bit rootless, there are far worse things than living the Sendlinger way. He is about to marry his 29-year-old girlfriend, a Russian photographer he met in New York, and Design Hotels, a lively 35-strong team with outposts in Barcelona, Tokyo, London, New York and Bali, is thriving. "People beg us to get on our books. They offer to pay double fees, anything," he grins. "But we're strict about who we accept." Last year, he was approached by 100 hotels - 23 got in.

"I love what I do," Sendlinger says. "But then I wouldn't do anything I didn't want to." It's at this point you understand the crux of his vision. If all our future lives are as flexible and full of choice as Sendlinger's, then the future is very bright indeed.

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Semiramis Hotel, Athens, Greece

"The hotel's architect, Karim Rashid's approach to design is so innovative and colourful and the hotel uses some great new materials. It also has some fantastically funny elements. A bikini which dissolves in water provided in every bathroom? Hilarious."

Hillside Su Hotel, Antalya, Turkey

"With everything in this hotel all white, Hillside Su is, visually, incredibly futuristic. None of the rooms have any furniture in them. Instead the rooms are all cement and mattresses. And the oversized lobby is fantastically designed."

The Outpost, Kruger National Park, South Africa

"These stand-alone lofts literally hang off a cliff and overlook the Kruger National Park. When I saw this hotel, I realised we couldn't rate hotels in a traditional way. Especially, as in this case, where the rooms only have one wall. It is an unbelievable experience waking up there. You can see for miles."

Costa Lanta, Krabi, Thailand

"This hotel, on Lanta Island is very futuristic. The rooms are like wooden boxes, with no windows but with glass ceilings, and each has one huge mattress. Absolutely amazing, but not a place to stay if you're claustrophobic."

Puro, Mallorca, Spain

"The Puro is very cutting-edge. It's one of the only hotels where guests can enjoy lots of services not directly connected to the hotel. The Puro hotel is in Mallorca's old town, next to the cathedral. But guests can also make use of the Puro Beach Club at Palma beach. It's a day spa with nightclub attached, a completely new concept in holistic pampering."

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