Michel Brokke - Alumnus, Lecturer and Researcher in Hospitality Design

Everything I say is not true

11/28/2023 - 13:43

Alumnus Michel Brokke – lecturer and researcher in Hospitality Design – on feeling at home, assumptions, critical thinking and the ‘complex simplicity of hotel development’.
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I'll start with a small piece of Michel Brokke's CV – just because it's fun 😊

Fetching coffee, mail and printouts for managers (Radisson Cape Town)

Advising brave tourists to risk their lives in the adrenaline capital of the world (Novotel Queenstown)

Bringing more chaos to structure (Starwood Hotels & Resorts)

Scribbling and doodling hotel experiences with a team (…) (The Orange Studio)


‘You shouldn't take yourself too seriously,’ Michel laughs. ‘I take others seriously. I take subjects seriously, but not myself. If you take yourself too seriously, you don't dare think outside the box.’ 


You came from The Orange Studio. That made the move to BUas easy. Or did it?

‘I was Head of Creative there and started as a lecturer at BUas in September 2018. At the time, the convent had just been taken into use and the campus was indeed flying the new orange BUas flag. Pretty weird, I myself had done the study programme at Sibeliuslaan, when it was still NHTV, which I knew mostly. But I must say, for a hotel school, this is the best you can have, a piece of authenticity, diversity too.’ 


I read an interesting piece in De Telegraaf about the exit of identical rooms, check-in counters, breakfast buffets and saunas. And the entrance of shared living spaces and feeling at home. 

‘I didn't say that last part in that interview. Nor is it true. After all, why do you travel? Because you want something different and precisely not to feel at home! I don't understand a tagline like Home away from Home either. Well, I do get it, what they mean is that it should feel comfortable.’


So we should stop talking about ‘feeling at home’?

‘Look at our students, for most of them, home is not that nice in the sense of, they have a small student room or are still living at home, where there might be all kinds of problems. Students don't want to feel at home on our campus at all, they just want to be able to be themselves. The Social Hub, a student hotel, makes great efforts to specifically make this target group feel at home. Inclusive? Well, then I could start critically questioning actually everything. Sometimes exclusive is also okay, I think.’


Questioning critically, that’s what you do, calling yourself an assumption demolisher. 

‘Indeed, I keep asking questions. Student associations are not inclusive either. Is that a bad thing? Everything together becomes grey, whereas you want to see the different colours. Differentiation is really important anyway. That is also what we do as a hotel school, we distinguish ourselves from The Hague, Maastricht and Leeuwarden.’ 


But then what exactly is the function of differentiation, of standing out? 

‘Good question, once again, it boils down to ‘being yourself’. Even as a university of applied sciences. Not frenetically doing what others are doing.’


And where’s that distinction found, I mean, in BUas versus the others?

‘Our students dare to break with conventions. For example, you don't just see ‘jackets and ties’ here. In that sense, we don’t have the typical hotel student here at BUas. But that's about the outside. In terms of content, we mainly distinguish ourselves in terms of creativity, guts and critical questioning. See here also my background, I did the master's in Imagineering. Creative and critical, that suits me.’


You feel at home with that? Just kidding, what exactly do you mean by creative?

‘Especially creative thinking, the value of which is often underestimated. Of course analysis is important, you start with that, but it doesn't stop there. We train students in coming up with creative solutions. At the beginning of the year I always say: everything I say is not true until you have checked it yourself, have seen it, have experienced it.’ 


In other words, Discover Your World?

‘Exactly! Go out and explore and find evidence. I teach Research & Design. This involves talking about statistics, but do these graphs and charts actually tell the truth? Think carefully about it yourself, I then say.’


‘Sorry, but I just overheard you talking about Research & Design, I find that course really annoying!’

Speaking about being yourself. The student sitting next to us was in class with Michel just this morning. What do you find so annoying about it, I ask her. 

‘We had that subject last year too and every lecturer says something different.’

‘Exactly,’ says Michel, ‘and that's how we teach you that there is no one truth and that you have to think for yourself!’ 


How does it affect you, this feedback?

‘A few years back, this would have kept me awake. Now it doesn’t. I think it's actually good when students criticise class content and sometimes even completely change it, because they want something completely different. As a lecturer, you don't know exactly what students want, do you? The reasoning is often, ask what someone wants, then you can give that and everyone will be happy. But that's not how it works.’


So how does it work?

‘Famous example. Henry Ford. Who also asked, what do you want? Faster horses was the answer. And he made a car. Such an answer is not weird, people simply did not know the car. So people don't always know what they want. As a developer, you shouldn't then blindly develop a faster horse. You have to look at the context, think critically and, above all, think outside the box.’


Extending that to the hotel industry, what do hotel guests want? Checking in via apps or robots?

‘Not everyone! And especially not when people spend a lot of money on a hotel. Luxury does not equal technology. And all movements have countermovements. Mind you, we're going to see that with AI soon. I made a mistake here myself. Students want as much digital as possible, was my assumption and I created an all-singing, all-dancing set-up in BrightSpace. Guess what? They (also) want a book, preferably one that contains everything. Not everything has to be digital. I was just emulating someone again.’


What do you think is the most persistent assumption in the hospitality industry?

‘Maybe again the thing we started with, a ‘Home away from Home’, that people want to feel at home.’


But what do they want then?

‘That's not easy.’

Isn’t that your core business? The complex simplicity of hotel development.

‘You have to remember that one person can assume several different roles. A business traveller stays in a hotel because he is going to a conference, he has his wife come over for a romantic night, and invites his parents to a birthday party the next day. In short, things get mixed up and that is what the term Bleisure was coined for, a contraction of Business and Leisure. That's what De Telegraaf article is about.’ 


And the transformative experience. Tell me about it. 

‘Yes, funny, never thought De Telegraaf would include that in the article. The transformative experience is next level, so to speak. So how you develop yourself during such a stay or what contribution you make to your social context with it. It's actually about the impact this it has on you or the environment. You might start thinking differently about eating meat because a hotel offers tasty vegetarian options. Indirectly, you contribute to the local business environment because you have breakfast at the bakery on the corner. You can also develop yourself mindfully. For example, through all kinds of wellness facilities.’


But surely the sauna was moving elsewhere? Weren’t we supposed to explore the area and connect with locals? 

‘Like I said, every movement has a countermovement. Hotels are also developing as experiences and destinations in their own right. Mandali Retreat Centre is a great example of that.’ 


Nice, that comment by Tourism and Leisure colleague Goof Lukken, about serious competition. How do you see that? Competition or cooperation with other domains of BUas?

‘There was a wink from Goof, sure we'll go for cooperation. There is so much to gain. Let me just take two extremes. Games, and also AI, with a lot of technological power and Hotel with the human hospitality disposition. If you bring them together, such great ideas come out of it!’ 


Such as?

‘Take the banking app, very convenient and efficient all round, but you do want to be welcomed. Moving the hospitality that used to take place mainly inside a building to the online world is an interesting challenge. The other way around, in other words. We don't just bring apps and robots into the hotel world, we also bring hospitality into the virtual world. Awe-inspiring movements all round!’


Interview: Maaike Dukker-’t Hart