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This New Hotel For Activists Encourages Community (And Pampering)

The daughter of billionaire hotel scion Ka Shui Lo is launching a new hotel and coworking space where activists can attend lectures and do yoga.

This New Hotel For Activists Encourages Community (And Pampering)
[Photo: James-Alexander/iStock]

Hotels have adopted plenty of popular trends in recent years–eco-friendly, “experiences,” heated toilet seats–but a new brand might be attempting the most ambitious one yet: Activism.

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The newly announced Eaton hotel and coworking space in D.C. intends to be the brick-and-mortar hospitality brand of social good. The 209-room establishment, planted in Downtown Washington, will feature events and speakers, as well as bars and restaurants. It’s all meant to draw and support activists–or the activist-minded traveler.

D.C. is the first, but there are four total Eaton hotels in the works, with Hong Kong, Seattle, and San Francisco scheduled to open in the next two years. They are under the Eaton Workshop umbrella brand, part of Great Eagle Holdings Ltd, the parent company of Langham Hospitality Group. Eaton Workshop founder and president Katherine Lo, 36, previously served as executive director of Langham, with which she has family ties (her billionaire father is chairman Ka Shui Lo.). She decided to pursue her own hotel brand in 2014 after witnessing what she calls a cultural momentum.

“I feel like there is a zeitgeist happening among the younger generations,” explains Lo, pointing to  millennials’ more “woke” tendencies, as well as national events such as the Women’s March. “These hotels are going to get built anyway, so I thought ‘why not take the framework of hotels and really reconfigure them and funnel them toward social change?'”

At $250-$300 a night, Eaton D.C. will boast all the trimmings of a traditional four-star hotel, such as a rooftop bar and coffee shop, but it is built to appeal to journalists, entrepreneurs, community leaders, politicians, and “change-makers,” states the brand’s press release: “Eaton D.C. aspires to be a press club, a sanctuary for intelligent thought, and a canvas for rising neighborhood talent.”

While Eaton does not distinguish any one specific sector of interest, leaving the door open to activists in all fields and all ages or demographics, Lo is quick to point out that it’s more or less restricted to more “progressive” values. “Pretty much anyone can stay there,” she says, “but we do believe that [the customer base] is almost self-selecting,” since Eaton is gearing itself toward leftist beliefs.

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Katherine Lo [Photo: Julian Berman]
So what exactly constitutes an “activist hotel”? Lo imagines a multi-pronged approach, starting with an event series. Eaton will host speakers for talks on topics ranging from climate change to race relations. The goal is to house several activist-artists in residence, many of whom straddle both the nonprofit and creative fields; think filmmakers and artists who tackle timely issues in their work.

The D.C. location, for example, will have two rooms designed as visual artist studios. (In Hong Kong, the concept will be adapted as music recording studios.) Guests who desire a night at the movies can enjoy the hotel’s 50-person cinema, which will screen films centered on social good and human rights, potentially acting as a satellite arm of film festivals. The programming is also open to the public.

All locations will include a physical radio station to record incoming talent for a daily station and future podcast series, part of the Eaton’s atypical approach to branding, which centers on digital platform content. “We will commission a lot of original writing, photography, and video content, as well as podcasts to be our introduction to the world,” says Lo.

Rooftop bar [Illustration: courtesy of Gachot Studios]
Even the buildings’ layout is meant to facilitate interactions and community building. The public spaces are “inspired by town halls,” says Lo, who envisions visitors hanging out with their laptops or enjoying the talks, which will be free of charge to the public. In the lobby of the upcoming San Francisco edition, large Roman steps will serve as a convene space, though the space can easily convert into a concert auditorium in the evenings.

For those who aren’t in need of a place to rest  at night, there is Eaton House, the brand’s members-only coworking space. Much like a WeWork, it’s meant to be a day office, but members also have access to the hotel’s library of books and magazines on various topics of social change.

All these aspects together, Lo says, cement a complete center for anyone interested in learning about how to give back and make a local–or national–difference.

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Library [Illustration: courtesy of Gachot Studios]
“We’re using the traditional platform of a hotel being a gathering place and then subverting it by formalizing all this community creation with cultural resources like radio and cinema,” explains Lo. She looks to established brands such as Summit or Burning Man as inspiration on how to draw together a community of like-mind individuals: “They’re focused on entrepreneurial values but also on making the world a better place,” says Lo.

Of course, all that do-good work deserves a little play, no? A wellness center is in the works, naturally, as many hospitality brands now endeavor to include.

Instead of a typical treadmill-filled hotel gym, Eaton D.C. will boast a floor dedicated to new age health. Expect a yoga studio, meditation rooms, juice bar, alternative treatment areas for reiki and acupuncture, and other such options to “promote a holistic mind-body-health approach to life and work,” says Lo.

Exterior [Illustration: courtesy of Gachot Studios]
“A lot of activists frequently face burnout because you’re  constantly working, be it on passing an environmental bill or fighting an anti-war stance,” says Lo, who participated in some protests in the past. “It can be very taxing.”

Guests at Eaton have a chance to be inspired and get involved, but also to get away and re-set.  The $250-$300 a night price tag may not be ultra-luxury-level expensive, especially in a city, but it’s not cheap, either; at that price, guests can presume a little bit of pampering.

“We’re basically creating the conditions for people to be their best selves so that they can then create the best communities,” stresses Lo. “It’s really the inner-outer approach of: if someone is healthy on the inside, they’ll be able to better contribute to the community that they’re in.”

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One of the challenges, however, remains attracting the right talent to draw such a dedicated community. As a newcomer in the game, Eaton does not yet have the pull of say, TED Talks, to pull in household names or more experienced speakers.

“We hope to tap into people who are already wanting to come to D.C.,” Lo says of her current strategy, “so many nonprofits travel to D.C. to make a difference or to lobby–or musicians will come through town who are touring.” The company plans to partner with local organizations to book incoming talent and offer them free housing during their stay in the capital.

Reception [Illustration: courtesy of Gachot Studios]
Currently, Eaton’s parent company Great Eagle Holdings, finances all four hotels with no outside investors. Lo says she spent the better part of the last three years approaching industry leaders she admires, such as the heads of Ace Hotels and The Standard, to  better understand the intricacies of the hotel industry. D.C. will serve as the pilot, with lessons learned applied to the forthcoming editions, starting with Hong Kong in summer 2018.

The budding hotelier recognizes that there are plenty of successful social enterprises on a more local scale, but she has more ambitious goals.

“I am extremely interested in proving the social enterprise business model but at a very large global scale,” stresses Lo, who credits her father for allowing her to use the family business as a springboard for her progressive dreams. With Eaton, hospitality revenue will drive nonprofit and cultural initiatives occurring on the property, therefore potentially making it the first of its kind.

“I want to see whether this global hotel brand could be the first legally incorporated as a B-corp,” says Lo, referencing the certification label of for-profit companies committed to environmental or social good. B-corps are often held to different profitability goals. “I’m researching that with this precedent, and the purpose of that would be to ensure that a social mission is legally incorporated into Eaton’s charter.”

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Eaton D.C. doesn’t open to the public until April 2018. Leading up to its debut, Lo hopes to convey her message of a luxe, social good sleepover party to prospective guests. And while she stresses her hotel is meant for all ages, it’s clear Eaton is geared toward a certain sector: the wokest one.

“We’re bringing that college campus spirit into adult life,” says Lo, acknowledging the passion many youth have for saving the world. “Eaton is intended for everyone in the city to come in and hang out with their laptops–or have meetings or [attend] an acoustic concert … We are really trying to combine activism and the arts in a way that hopefully can make a difference in the industry.

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