Hoteliers: Claus Sendlinger

radit mahindro
12 min readJul 15, 2023

Claus Sendlinger is a perpetual transformer who understands the catalysing effect of trends in the travel and design markets on other industries and society as a whole. He is a German native and global nomad who has created a culturally sophisticated network of artists, architects, designers, hoteliers, journalists, and like-minded travellers who share his vision and philosophy.

Claus is a frequent speaker, panelist, and jury member on topics related to travel and design. He has been honoured for his outstanding contributions to the industry at the European Hotel Design Awards and received the Special Award from German hospitality publications, AHGZ. In 2018, Condé Nast Traveller listed Claus among the 48 top influencers worldwide who are changing the way people travel.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Design Hotels, ere’s a short story about Claus Sendlinger, compiled from various sources.

Early Life
Claus Sendlinger was born in Augsburg, Germany, in 1963. In his 20s, he worked in the PR department of the German Air Force, traveled the world, and did PR for the nightlife scene. He bought a travel agency at age 23 and led it to success. He then took nightlife and travel to a new level by organising unusual company events, such as raves in ski areas, and providing brands with parties that were always differentiated by design. The opening of one of the first Design Hotels in Paramount connected him even more with the design scene, and in 1987, he (with friends Hans Peter Knodler and Oliver Jamitzky) launched a creative travel agency, CO-ORDINATES GmbH.

Design Hotels
It all started in the early 1990s, when Claus had what he calls a brainwave. He became convinced that a hotel’s design, its architecture, its interior decoration, and its service concept would soon be viewed very differently by guests and gain in importance significantly. Previously, he had worked several years in the event organisation of raves and experienced firsthand the era of the first techno DJs in Berlin, Chicago, and Detroit. He also has a passion for globe-trotting that started during the summers he travelled by train throughout Europe in his youth — without a penny in his pocket, sleeping on beaches, at railway stations, or even on the street.

As the first boutique hotels appeared in New York, Claus’s diverse experiences fused and sparked his awareness. He reasoned that the clients who enjoyed techno and liked his unusual events were part of a growing movement that would result in a whole new generation of tourists. Regardless of how much money these people would ever earn, they would never become your classic Grand Hotel client. Based on his conviction that individual, service-driven establishments in beautiful, comfortable locations were a concept worth investing in, he founded Design Hotels Inc. in Sausalito, California, in 1993.

In 1998, CO-ORDINATES and Design Hotels Inc. were consolidated under the holding company lebensart.net GmbH, subsequently known as lebensart Global Networks AG in 1999. The holding company went public in Germany on Dec. 10, 1999. In 2004, after several relocations of its headquarters from Arizona, California, to New York City, the firm settled its headquarters in its current location in Berlin, Germany, under the name Design Hotels AG, or simply known as Design Hotels.

Always knowing where the trip takes you, “connecting the dots” as Claus called it, is what motivates him — analysing trends and linking the zeitgeist to a certain lifestyle. He describes himself as the research department of his company. “I have to take new trends into account all the time, be they in the area of fashion, art, or technology,” he told FRAME. If his enterprise is to remain innovative, he has to continue to identify new trends, societal developments, understand what pressures are being applied to society, and understand what society itself requires. “Most people don’t pay enough attention to such details,” he said. The core question at the top of his list has always been: “Where are we heading now?” and Claus doesn’t just sense what the current direction is — he knows.

In a few years, Claus said, it will be a basic requirement that hotels handle their resources responsibly. In order to anticipate this development, Design Hotels cooperates with leading environmental certification providers such as Earth Check, and organisations like Finding Infinity, a project that plans unusual events to demonstrate the use of renewable resources.

Made by Originals
In 2009, Claus introduced Made by Originals, Design Hotels’ new message, which emphasises the people behind its member hotels. “The importance of ‘soft factors’ such as quality of life, and well-being is growing along with a re-discovery of simple human, even humble values. We are also observing growing human-centric innovation within the hotel industry and the Originals we’ve chosen to portray are just a few of the people from our member portfolio, who are driving this movement forward,” said Claus to Hospitality.net.

The Originals are at the heart of the Design Hotels brand; their stories and their passion will be brought to the fore across all of Design Hotels’ re-launched communication platforms, including a new website, a new Design Hotels BOOK, a re-launched consumer magazine named New Directions, an a dedicated Made by Originals online magazine.

BOOK

In contrast to the previous editions of its Yearbook, the Design Hotels BOOK is bigger and bolder than ever before. Totally redesigned, the book comprises stories and striking images that reveal the individual concepts behind each of the 170 portrayed member hotels at that time, available as a 488-page hardcover coffee-table book. While the Made by Originals online magazine takes readers on a journey into the worlds of these ‘Originals’. Image galleries, films and stories reveal the passion and inspirations that led them to create such one-of-a-kind hotel concepts. Individuals featured include hoteliers, architects, designers and other artists, who together make up the Design Hotels creative community.

Directions

Papaya Playa Project
Papaya Playa Project consists of 99 cabañas with 900 meters of beachfront in one of the most pristine locations in the world. The energy infrastructure at Papaya Playa consisted of a rental 80kVA diesel generator resulting in significant consumption of finite fuels and carbon equivalent emissions. The water infrastructure at Papaya Playa consisted of pumping brackish water from a cenote below Papaya Playa and pumping it into various tinacos ready for consumption, the waste water system results polluting the cenotes. The waste infrastructure at Papaya Playa consisted of combining all waste in one location and sending it all to local landfill in Tulum resulting methane emissions and other environmental degradation.

The owner of the site Emilio Heredia had aspirations to protect this land, and maintain it in the way it was once found. Emilio told Finding Infinity “my aim is to help preserve that for the generations to come.” Emilo Heredia and Claus Sendlinger organised a symposium in Tulum in November 2010 with all of the most influential landowners in an effort to discuss the future of Tulum with respect to sustainability. This symposium that left the land owners with something to think about: the lands owner will make a fortune out of Tulum regardless, it is in the control of the landowners if they protect it or destroy the natural environment in Tulum for future generations.

In December 2011, Design Hotels, led by Claus himself, and Emilio Heredia, decided to transform Papaya Playa Project into a space for like-minded, creative individuals to unwind and connect with self and nature. Claus brought in his creative team from Berlin to make simple stylish improvements to the 99 structures — “make it a bit more comfortable but keep the rawness,” he told the New York Times — leaving about half of them with shared bathrooms, including a clutch of jungle huts with communal bunk beds that rent for $25 a night to the many backpackers, yogis and spiritual nomads who regularly drift through town. The new incarnation of Papaya Playa Project is a spiffed-up campus of cabanas once belonging to three now-shuttered resorts on about a half mile of beachfront land.

There are 40 ocean-facing cabanas with private decks and hammocks, a spa, a boutique, raw food to go from 42°Raw, and a restaurant run by the folks behind Bar 25 and KaterHolzig in Berlin. An international network of DJs and artists will provide weekly entertainment and contribute to monthly full-moon events dreamed up by the Berlin creative agency Mamapapcola. “The fun part is that we brought our friends,” said Claus, who adds that no one’s arm had to be twisted; most of them were already fans of Tulum.

Papaya Playa Project

While the Papaya Playa Project didn’t create a massive success financially, it put Tulum on the map, attracting high-end spenders that fit the gypset target and leading to an explosion in interest in the once barren beach town. Many of his clients, Claus noted, were looking for a sense of community, much like they had experienced at Burning Man, a cultural and musical festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock desert that espouses the same type of gypsy-nomad concepts Design Hotels pursued.

Papaya Playa Project remains a member of Design Hotels until now.

Starwood and Marriott
In 2011, Starwood Hotels & Resorts acquired 72% ownership of Design Hotels. At that time, Design Hotels was the world’s 23rd-largest consortium, and a publicly traded company that provided distribution, sales, marketing, and consulting services for more than 200 member hotels in 40 countries. The transaction retained Claus as the CEO of Design Hotels, and was seen as Starwood’s strong commitment to developing a brand-first ethos, as demonstrated through the company’s previous success in the launching, rebranding, and franchising of the St. Regis, W, and Westin brands. After the transaction, Starwood remained outside Design Hotels’ daily activities and did not include its financials in quarterly reports.

Following the merger of Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Marriott International in 2016, Claus left Design Hotels, and the Made by Originals online magazine was discontinued. Marriott International currently owns 100% of Design Hotels.

SLOW
After leaving Design Hotels in 2016, Claus moved to Ibiza to live on a farm with his children. There, he got involved in regenerative farming and profound questions like “Where does the rubbish go?” This grounding experience shaped him and his children, as did festivals like Burning Man, Summit at Sea, and Wonderfruit. It was at this intersection that the idea for his current project, SLOW, matured.

Claus Sendlinger

When Claus founded Design Hotels in 1993, he wanted to create authentic and unique places. However, he felt that the large hotel groups had taken over the concept of authenticity and that it was no longer what it used to be. He believes that there is a fine line between lodging and hospitality. He said lodging is like: “I need a room, I need something, it needs to be clean, I need to get from point A to B and I get some food if I need some food.” ‘I think 90 percent of what we see in hotels is lodging. Hospitality, for me, is where you care; where you’re generous, where you’re happy — not because a textbook tells you to smile when you check someone in — but where you’re just happy because you love the job.”

SLOW is not a new sustainable hotel group because it is simply too different for that. SLOW’s properties are owned outright. From the selection of the property comes the process of curating a purposeful experience that harmonises with the location. SLOW is the umbrella term for the mindset of a new avant-garde with a holistic lifestyle. It is described, on its official website, as ‘a collective of people, places, and projects that reframe the way we live and interact.’

La Granja and Encyclopedia of the Farm

The collective has been quietly unfolding since the creation of La Granja Ibiza in 2016. The project transformed an agricultural plot in Ibiza into an elegant, contemporary take on an agriturismo (farmhouse retreat). The working farm practices regenerative agriculture, and teaches visitors how it benefits the planet through workshops and community-based projects. In this project, SLOW began to assemble a community of designers, farmers, writers, artists, artisans, and architects whose work engages with SLOW toward a resetting of values in hospitality and beyond.

SLOW’s Places offer not a temporary respite from the hectic pace of daily life, but a continuous journey of reconnection with nature and our communities. The Slowness journal, launched in March 2021, brings these ideas, stories, and creative minds to life through original reportage, photography, film, and illustration.

Three of SLOW’s Places are already open: La Granja Ibiza, an award-winning agritourismo concept with a no-waste ethos; Tulum Treehouse, a hybrid guesthouse with an open-air kitchen that facilitates the exchange of ideas between artisans, chefs, farmers, artists, and designers; and Casa Noble, a reimagined noble house, cultural salon, and urban renewal project.

Casa Noble, inspired by Brazilian modernism and the architectural traditions of old Lisbon, comprises 13 guestrooms, a restaurant set within a tropical garden, a gathering space with a library and open fireplace, and a residence for longer-term stays with a private garden and terrace. This summer, Simple, Casa Noble’s beach house, will open as the first step in Slow’s transformation of a scenic stretch of beach just outside the favela-like fishing village of Cova de Vapor on the laid-back northern end of Portugal’s Caparica, just 20 minutes from central Lisbon.

Future Projects
Arnesse and Flussbad are the next SLOW’s Place to open in 2024. Arnesse is a 19th-century Prussian neo-gothic manor house set on a private lake outside Berlin. The vast property features 15 guest rooms, a garden restaurant serving farm-to-plate cuisine, a historical gymnasium, an outdoor pool, expansive gardens, and a plant-filled solarium for private dining and events. Built as the countryside idyll of a 19th-century count and sometimes poet, Arnesse reopens itself in the spirit of German Romanticism as a home for contemplation, relaxation, and holistic health within the hilly landscape of the stunning Uckermark region.

Flussbad

Flussbad is a creative campus at the intersection of wellbeing, culture, and sustainability. The complex is being built at the disused site of the Weimar-era Spree River Baths in Berlin’s Rummelsburg neighborhood, led by Neo-Brutalist master Arno Brandlhuber. The site will include an academy, a library, restaurants, a hotel, and a subterranean performance space designed by Austrian architect Monika Gogl. One of the original structures of the baths will be home to a multi-tiered restaurant concept helmed by renowned Danish chef and restaurateur Frederik Bille Brahe.

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