A Glimpse Towards Unlikely Gems
Named for the average number of hours we spend on earth, 700’000 Heures is the world’s first “wandering hotel,” a radical new project that pops up in locations from Brazil to Italy, offering guests personalized and exclusive travel experiences. We talk to its charismatic founder, Thierry Teyssier about sustainable tourism, responsible travel and the future of the industry.
What was the motivation behind 700’000 Heures?
I needed to go further than with Dar Ahlam and The Memory Road, my hotel and itinerary in South Morocco. Luxury isn’t about the biggest private pool or a presidential suite- unique moments with people you love can be simple and dedicated to local culture. I wanted to work with non-professional people to create a new kind of hospitality, I wanted to give tourism back to locals, to help them understand what we expect when we are traveling and to show them that what they have in their hands is precious.
What is the key to a successful and sustainable hospitality business?
Micro-hospitality is key. If you focus on running a small business of between three to five rooms, you can easily deliver a wonderful experience with local people and support a circular economy with local producers and suppliers. And by refurbishing amazing traditional houses all over the world, you don’t have to build any more new buildings either.
Luxury isn’t about the biggest private pool or a presidential suite- unique moments with people you love can be simple and dedicated to local culture.
Which global destinations do you see the most opportunity for sustainable tourism and responsible travel?
Everywhere! 90% of tourism is on just three percent of the planet. This should change, no? I am currently in a small village close to the Sea of Japan, two-hours from Kyoto. It’s an amazing place, but not on the “classic program” for tourists; there are so many destinations that could share real experiences of local life with visitors and if we propose this, then it will also mean a new generation will stay in these villages instead of leaving them for big cities.
Are there any topics you think should be addressed more within sustainable tourism?
Balance of the business model and the role of intermediaries. I recently received an email from a Destination Management Company (DMC) who threatened to stop working with us if we didn’t cut 30% off and sign their own booking and cancellation policies. I am fine to pay fees to professional people who have added value, but the industry is full of companies who want to make money off their clients and the supply chain- which can be up to 40 to 50 percent of the final invoice. This money could be used in a more sustainable way between clients, suppliers and local communities.
What initiatives have you taken during the coronavirus pandemic to help communities in need?
Before the pandemic, we launched our own initiative to support the communities where we are operating with hospitality training and advice on running their own businesses. We had also signed a partnership with Global Heritage Fund to help transform local communities by investing in heritage preservation. Since Covid-19, we have been fundraising with our members and have decided to give the communities the money to help them stay alive and safe. We will go back to hospitality training next year.
How can we emerge from the pandemic in a way that facilitates a more sustainable future for travel and tourism?
We need to understand that it’s not just in Peru that the potatoes are amazing—we have wonderful potatoes in France too. We need to open our eyes and our minds to look at the people around us; all the cultures and the communities around the world are interesting and we should start to be curious and enthusiastic again.
What have been your biggest challenges with 700’000 Heures?
As with everyone, it has been to find a way to stay alive last year, with incomes completely canceled. Then it was to find solutions for the future. We decided to change a few of our destinations and stay focused on where the majority of our clientele is, but we didn’t change our way of working. In a way, we are already an answer to this crisis: We accept only one guest a night in our house and we create exclusive experiences just for you, so it’s easy to feel confident and safe. We also created a new offer for our members: 700’000 Heures @Home, where we organize hospitality and create wonderful experiences for our clients’ in their homes.
What sustainability initiatives or projects are you particularly proud of?
Every time we operate somewhere, we have a special goal with the local communities. In Salento, we worked with the young unemployed people from the village and with African migrants; our project was to gain an understanding from each other and see how we can live and work together.
How do you envision the future of the hospitality industry?
Mass-market is over, which is a good, because tourism is a disaster everywhere. It’s easy to say others are wrong, but we must change our way of working and our offers to propose a more sustainable future. To be back in a more conscious way of tourism is great.
What’s next for you and 700’000 Heures?
We spent time scouting for new locations for 700’000 Heures and also organizing a few events within our community. We miss them and they really miss us; we have an unbelievably strong relationship—definitely much more personal than your usual contract between hotelier and guest.