Building hotels that uplift Black culture

featured-post
type - big idea
Big Idea
category - music
sector - diversity & inclusion
sector - health & wellness
sector - travel & hospitality
category - black history month
To celebrate Black History Month, we are unlocking a series of interviews and resources on our blog. Here, Damon Lawrence, co-founder of Homage, and Chimene Jackson, its chief innovation officer, discuss centring the Black hospitality experience on rest, healing and music

What's the concept behind Homage?

Chimene Jackson: Homage is a brand that uses hospitality as a medium to challenge the way innovators and originators use space. What sets us apart, what makes us different and what makes us impactful is that because we are a Black hotel group, we are deeply connected to the convictions and the narratives that are embedded in our history. And we use these to create dynamic experiences for our guests.

Can you tell us about one of the recent hospitality projects you’re developing?

Damon Lawrence: The Hotel Gordon in Albany, Georgia is next, coming in 2022. It’s a very interesting project because it's in the Deep South.

It also has a plethora of challenges. It's a food desert. It's a community that's 75% Black, but it's also one of the poorest communities in the country. So, for us, the challenge is creating a space that galvanises that community. Not just with the hotel, but the ancillary businesses we can create that are really going to give the community what it needs.

What's the thought process behind opening Homage hotels in second-tier cities such as Albany and New Orleans?

Chimene: For centuries, Black people were the thralls of industrialised hospitality, so we've created spaces for us to feel safe and humanised. For us, hospitality is not necessarily a means to attract the tourists that a traditional hotel might want. Hospitality is a way of bringing economic ecology to a city that uplifts our people by reminding them of their legacy. There's a lot of healing, great ideas and art that's taking place in our culture. And hotels are our way of making sure that those ideas stay incubated in the areas where they can have greatest impact. We don't call it a marketing strategy. It's a medium – just the way an artist uses paint, we use the hotel space.

Published by:

4 October 2021

Author: Holly Friend

Image: Homage, US

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Homage, US

I love the way you are merging music and hospitality, for example with playlists. How is music brought to the fore in the Homage hotel experience?

Damon: Music is such an important aspect of our community, so to give someone a playlist is one of the highest forms of hospitality. Music is another industry – like hospitality – where so much of the talent globally comes from our culture, but we don't have ownership of that creative work. In our research, some of the best conversations I've had were with DJs. The way that they have to curate different settings… I think DJs are probably the best communicators in the world.

Chimene: When we speak about what's next for a project, we always talk about how people will play their music. The creation of a vibe is extremely important, and music sets that tone – we can communicate an effective point with a specific playlist, and if you play certain artists, you're making a very clear statement. Since before slavery, our oral histories have been passed down through music. We lyricise our existence always, and that’s why it would be a miss for us to create a safe space and not give it music. That’s why our brand values are lyrics.

Your blog explains some of the reasons why the Black Lives Matter movement brought the Homage concept into focus. What effect has the past year had on your mission to give Black people a safe place to rest?

Damon: This past year has been interesting on many levels. Before the George Floyd murder, when we were out raising capital, a lot of people didn't understand why we should be paying homage to Black culture. But no other culture is held to that standard. If I wanted to open an Irish pub, or a hotel paying homage to Korean-American culture, no one would ask why these need to exist. But for some reason, our story intimidates people; it’s too strong a narrative. I think [in 2020] people started to understand why we need spaces that are safe for us. It's been a very sobering year, and I hope that the renewed attention that our brand has received is lasting. It's imperative for us to seize this opportunity and make sure we force people to pay attention.

‘We don’t call it a marketing strategy. It’s a medium – just the way an artist uses paint, we use the hotel space’
 
 

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