Innovation? It’s a ZIP!

If someone asked you whether you’d want to stay in a hotel that only charged around £19 a night, you might not say yes. But why? Well, for me, when I was first asked to pack my bag for a night away, it conjured images of a pretty terrible proposition – tired building, old fashioned décor, lumpy mattresses and stuffy smells…that was until I was told we were off to a new Premier Inn concept hotel, promising to be “basically brilliant.” Premier Inn has been trusted with many a mini-break, hen do, girls’ weekend and business stopover in the past and I’ve never been let down, so I started to warm to the idea.


ZIP by Premier Inn is a new idea for the hotel chain. A new concept. A fresh approach. Taking out everything that doesn’t qualify as an ‘essential’ (which includes a hairdryer and hand towel), Premier Inn has stripped its offer back to basics, which is why they can sell their ZIP rooms for much less than more familiar Premier Inn prices.

This visit was part of our Business Learning Programme which sees us go behind the scenes of some well-known brands and businesses. With a theme of ‘transformation,’ this final visit on our programme aimed to explore insight-led innovation and the future of customer experiences – both areas that absolutely can transfer to the housing sector. So, what did we take-away?

1. If you manage customer expectations correctly, they won’t ever be disappointed. Basically brilliant is what ZIP by Premier Inn promise, so I’d already mentally prepared for a tiny room, for a bathroom / toilet / sink space and for the possibility that I’d be lucky to get a window. Because I knew we were paying less than £30 a night (on this occasion), I was pleasantly surprised with my room and stay. The beds were small but comfortable, there was a TV with all major channels, I had somewhere to hang my clothes and the use of lighting, mirrors and careful room layout meant that it felt bigger than it was. Access to hairdryers and ironing boards were bonuses too – making my first impressions really positive – all because the entire sales process and price point set my expectations. It certainly gave us food for thought about how organisations in social housing manage residents’ expectations – and whether some complaints come from a misunderstanding of a process, a proposition or a person’s roles and responsibilities.

2. Be brave and make your own market. Premier Inn didn’t need to create ZIP. The business wasn’t at risk, there wasn’t a huge surge in competition threatening their position, there wasn’t a regulatory, political or legislative change that forced their hand; they saw an opportunity and they seized it. They looked at the market, could see room for a ‘sub-budget’ offer and wanted to make it happen. As we learned, the process wasn’t simple, or straight-forward – because it was an entirely new concept (in fact, we learned that they needed to invent a new mobile cleaning station to work around their new rooms – there’s a vacuum backpack included too!) but they had the vision, the opportunity, the investment and the buy-in…and they had the data as evidence to provide confidence in doing something new.  We had a healthy debate about applying similar thinking to the housing sector. Is it time to create new types of tenancy for next generation housing tenants? Should we be developing new types of homes and housing that cater for modern living, home working, multi-generational families under one roof?  What could we do differently if we gave ourselves the space to challenge the existing ways of working?

3. If you want to make it happen, you need to get your governance right – and stick to it. The lesson from the team behind ZIP was to set the governance structure first – and keep referring to it. A new project is exciting, and people will want to get involved. But too many decision-makers will slow your progress and perhaps a new solution won’t ever get off the ground. Do the hard work first and get buy-in and agreement for your project team, for the reporting lines and mechanisms and then stick to them – especially when your concept is in pilot and the novelty may have worn off. The hotel has been ‘live’ for over six months, but the ZIP team still report weekly, via the innovation lead, around how the concept hotel is performing, what they are learning, what could be improved, what works well – getting data and feedback from customers and crew members. It was a good reminder that making innovation a reality is as much about good process and project management as idea generation and problem-solving.

One of the best parts of these programmes is the people – offering up opinions, feelings, thoughts and experiences – so I’d love to hear more about what the rest of the sector thinks to some of the observations I’ve made. Let me know what you’re doing differently and what you think about innovation by contacting me at or @elainecmidds on Twitter.

If this snippet of out-of-sector inspiration has left you wanting more, take a look at our blog from last year’s Digital Transformation Programme launch at BT, or, sign-up for this year’s programme here.

By Elaine Middleton

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