• February 25, 2024

Interview: Kai Schomann reflects on 20 years in business

Interview: Kai Schomann reflects on 20 years in business

Interview: Kai Schomann reflects on 20 years in business 1024 683 micebook.

Twenty years ago, Kai Schomann, founder, owner and MD of hotel republic limited, took the plunge and set up his own hotel representation business in the UK.

To celebrate, the company recently hosted a showcase, networking and celebratory event in London, attracting an impressive crowd of 178 event profs (see photos and highlights from the event).

We caught up with Kai on his journey so far and future plans…

Congratulations on your milestone achievement. Let’s go back to where it all began. How did you get into representation?

I always wanted to work in hotels, ever since I was 16. I didn’t want to finish my A Levels and am happy to admit that I hated school. So, I sat my dad down and told him I knew exactly what I wanted to do and that I wanted to work in hotels. He helped me to get my hotel apprenticeship, which I completed in my home country of Germany. It lasted three years, and I worked across every department from the kitchen to housekeeping and banqueting. I just loved it and knew I had found my niche.

After that, I worked in hotels around the world, from Berlin to Saint Barthélemy in the West Indies, and was part of the opening crew for Disneyland Paris. I worked in guest services and reception, and then I transferred to convention sales and that’s where my sales career began. After seven years there, I moved to London and worked for several hotels, before joining Great Hotels of the World (GHOTW), where I looked after MICE sales for the hotels and got the idea to start my own hotel representation business.

What was your vision?

I didn’t have a grand vision to be honest. I knew there were, and still are, some amazing representation companies out there. But many of them focus on high end luxury hotels, which is not my strength. My background had always been more four-star properties, specifically conference hotels and I didn’t really know anyone on the representation side at the time that only specialised in conference hotels.

I knew I could sell a conference hotel because I had plenty of experience doing that, and lots of the agencies I had worked with had a lot of business for four-star hotels, so I decided to go down that route. I told some of my hotel contacts that I was going to set up my own business, and asked if they would consider working with me, and immediately I had four clients.

It just grew from there really. Almost every single client we have won in the last 20 years has been through word of mouth – either by somebody who has worked with us in the past, or we have been recommended by one of our clients.

What have been your biggest highs and lows?

The first thing that comes to mind on the challenges side is the financial crisis and of course, Covid. During the financial crisis, it was hard as there was a lot of pressure from hotels to hit targets, but finding business was difficult for them. Another low was losing Movenpick as a client after 15 years because the brand was bought by Accor, and they didn’t need us anymore as they have their own global sales offices.

There have been so many highs along the way that it’s hard to single them out. From writing my first invoice, and getting our first office, to growing the team and hitting those big revenue milestones. We’re proud to have many longstanding clients that have been with us for a big part of the journey. Sana Hotels has been with us for 17 years, and The Hotel Brussels and Portaventura are both 15 years.

I’ve also worked with some great people along the way, including people like Paul Hutton and Sarah Tennant, both of whom have gone on to set up their own representation businesses. It’s great to see the success they have had.

What’s new?

For 2024, we have signed four new contracts, one of which is Palladium Hotel Group, which I am really excited about as I’ve been trying to get them on board for many years. I really wanted to work with them as they have some fantastic hotels around the world, and some amazing properties in Spain and Ibiza. We have also started working with The World Forum The Hague, a great conference venue, Botanic Sanctuary in Antwerp, a luxury property with really good meeting space for up to 250, and Oliva Nova in Valencia.

Why are you still here? What’s the secret to your success?

My team. I wouldn’t still be here without them. hotel republic is not must my baby, it’s been built by the team, many of whom have been with me for a long time. They are the ones who are going out and meeting people. They have the relationships with the buyers. That’s why we are still here, because I have a great team who have strong relationships and because we have hotels in our portfolio that stay with us a long time because we get business to them.

How has the landscape changed in the last 20 years?

One of the big things that has changed is how enquiries are sent. A lot of agencies are tied into systems they must use, and sometimes for us it is very difficult to be copied in, but so far, we have managed to make it work.

Another thing that has changed a lot are all these industry networking events and forums. There seems to be a constant stream of events that didn’t exist 20 years ago. We have attended some of these and it’s a great way to meet new clients, but on the downside, buyers are so busy now that it can be difficult to invite people to events because there is so much going on.

What do you see changing over the next 10 years?

I think technology will evolve massively, also the way people communicate is changing. The younger generations are different communicators and have totally different lifestyles so they will want different things from events, if they even want to go to them. So, we’ll need to think differently about how we get them along, maybe we will have to do more online.

I think we’ll see a lot more holograms like the Abba show, and people will present in meetings via their holograms instead of being there in person. Perhaps for our 30th anniversary party, we’ll have a mix of people there for real, and some as holograms. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

I’ll still be working in 10 years – I’m too young to retire, and I would be bored. But I would like to live by the sea and work a bit less less by then.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in setting up their own business?

If someone wants to set up a business, I would 100% encourage them to do it, but it is a lot of work and my advice would be you need to work on what you have and on keeping your clients happy, not just chasing the next piece of business.

Don’t be afraid. It really isn’t a big risk, and if you fail at least you have tried. That has always been my philosophy.

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