Seniors are eschewing traditional nursing homes. It's a potential boon for hotel investors.

BERLIN—The line between senior living and traditional hospitality is blurring, with the hotel sector encouraged to learn from emerging concepts that perceive the “trajectory of life” differently.

With older populations reportedly seeing cruise ships and hotels as alternatives to nursing homes, a panel speaking at the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) on suggested hospitality and senior living were increasingly merging.

Celine Vadam, founder and CEO of hospitality wellness consultancy WE(i) Think, said that multiple generations can be accommodated for in the same properties through tweaks, such as gyms offering adapted equipment for older people.

Meanwhile, Christina Kainz, co-founder of assisted living operator LIVELY, which is due to open its first property in Gronau, Germany, in late 2023, urged operators not to design properties with “stigmatising elements” as an afterthought, but to consider these elements early on.

She offered examples from her brand, such as open lobbies and common spaces designed to connect neighbourhoods intergenerationally, with LIVELY’s first site set to house a kindergarten, a restaurant and a nursing home.

“There’s a great share of seniors that would love to travel but maybe do not because they are afraid or maybe uncertain,” she said. “A lot of hotels are not yet addressing this potential target group, which is really big and has a high spending power.”

She added that hotels can serve as a space for seniors to temporarily recover after hospitalisation if their living arrangements are unsuitable; however, people don’t want to be isolated, "they just want to be treated as a normal guest."

Making Operational Sense

Jan Garde, founder and CEO of co-living concept The Embassies of Good Living, agreed that target guests should be engaged before a property is even built.

“Take off the labels and look at the people and their needs,” he said, “where the magic is in terms of the financials is giving people something they really want, rather than a one size fits all approach.” The business plans to build a “network of residences” in top global markets between which residents can travel.

"People getting older does not stop them from wanting to eat and drink well and experience culture," he said. “When you look at the operations side, we are very comparable to a hotel. Our P&L looks rather similar. The difference is on profit. Our profitability on rooms is more than 90% because we don’t have the daily amenity change or the daily cleaning.”

Wilhelm Froon, CEO of Authentic Resorts Villages, agreed that operators needed to “propose not impose” a trajectory of “evolutive lodging." The group is set to open a property in Portugal with an onsite Alzheimer’s research centre.

Vadam agreed that living spaces needed to be flexible to adjust and offer more services as residents increasingly need them, catering to the demand of people moving into senior living spaces earlier—before the decision is made for them.

She said the obstacle with traditional hospitality operators was concerns over guest data. She said that operators were happy to have it on file—which drinks a guest likes or their pillow preferences—but were averse to storing medical information.

Philip Bacon, senior director, Horwath HTL, who was moderating the session, said afterwards: “From an investor's perspective, the question is whether senior living is a niche market that offers short-term upside potential in an increasingly competitive 'beds' market, or whether it is part of a more structural shift in the way that residential living and hospitality are coming together,  each adding value to the other. There is no doubt that the demographics are in everyone's favour, especially in western Europe, but in the end, aren't we just talking about 'living', and, more importantly, living well, without adding labels to it? There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Villages have been dealing with multi-generational living for centuries; and in a post-pandemic world, we are at last realizing that we got lost somewhere on the way here. It's time to fix the problem.” 

Despite stories of COVID-19 ripping through care homes and creating a difficult market for investors in the short-term, in the UK, the population of those older than 75 is set to increase by 56% over the next 20 years.

Research by Cushman & Wakefield suggested this group’s projected combined housing wealth is expected to reach £2.4 trillion by 2040.