From e-sports to the expansion of a Chinese hot-pot restaurant in London, recreation is now a full-time global lifestyle for all.
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David Bell is the director of international leisure at London-headquartered property developer Savills, specialising in leasing, development consultancy and asset management. In the leisure property sector, he’s involved with major mixed-use schemes, and is currently overseeing the roll-out of China’s Haidilao restaurant group in London and throughout Europe, as well as the capital’s first e-sports arena in Wembley, Greater London.
What’s the biggest change in new-generation habits when it comes to leisure?
When you look at the retail and residential divisions, it’s all about amenities that add value. Millennials and Gen-Z are always looking for an experience, and in my world, they’re prepared to pay for it. They want a good experience – and if they don’t get it, they will move onto the next thing. I also think that big experiential leisure space is really moving right now.
Speaking of experiential spaces, your firm is closely involved with China’s League of Legends and the e-sports phenomenon.
In China, its size and scale is quite extraordinary. Savills has just set up a digital and culture team – we’re the only developer to have that right now. That’s because we’re in the process of creating what we call an “ecosystem” in Wembley, on behalf of Quintain. We’re doing a purpose-built e-sports arena and we’ve also done a joint-venture partnership with ESL, a leading e-sports company – so from our perspective, that works on a different level.
Not only do we look at it from a real-estate perspective, but as an entirely different lens to look through. E-sports in China is on another level and I’m still trying to get my head around it. One of our videos shows a stadium in China, with 80,000 people watching these kids play League of Legends. The audience is very different to traditional sport, as it’s a totally different demographic. It’s still a really immature market in the UK and Europe, but the influence from China is huge. So many people want to know more about e-sports. You can’t ignore it. It’s on a global level, too, crossing different demographics. The gamers are young, but the audience is usually late 30s.
So we’ve seen this early and are working in collaboration to hone our skills. It also doesn’t necessarily have to be on such a massive scale. You could have different sizes – a 10,000sqft box or a smaller entity still. League of Legends almost becomes like a multifunctional space, where you’ve got your F&B and your live music, meaning that operators can be flexible morning, afternoon or night. And this is where play becomes more than just people. When you make it a destination, when you bring all those things together, people want something different.
Tell us about the major Asian food-and-beverage operators moving into the London market.
One of my big clients is global hot-pot chain Haidilao. I’m seeing them in Shanghai on this trip and we’ve just done the first site for them on Shaftesbury Avenue in London, between Piccadilly Circus and Chinatown – it’s an 8,000sqft to 9,000sqft restaurant. We’ve also just agreed to deals with them in Toronto and Frankfurt. Ultimately, we’re hoping to roll out to Holland, Spain and Switzerland. So that’s taking up a lot of our time at present.
There’s another group I’m working with now called Happy Lamb; we haven’t done much with them yet, but we are in talks. Tonight I’m also having dinner with another operator here in Hong Kong; they’ve been over two or three times and we’re hopeful they will go to London. There is such a huge Asian population now in London, so it’s about these groups that understand local retail spaces and the demographic. These places tend to be hugely popular. They focus on high-profile, high-footfall locations – so the likes of Covent Garden, Piccadilly, et cetera. If they get it right in London, then that’s a springboard to a host of big regional cities.
You visited K11 Musea yesterday. What did you make of it?
Adrian Cheng must have spent an absolute fortune! I’ve seldom seen anything like it. It’s all very upmarket and it does feel special when you’re in there, but in terms of location, it feels a little bit out-on-a-limb. It’s a very interesting tenant mix. I think they probably threw a lot of money in some tenants’ direction to get them over and to create international interest.
Savills is also involved in fitness, beauty and wellness. What trends are you seeing in those sectors?
The beauty and fitness market in London is incredibly buoyant right now. In terms of consumers, what you find with millennials, and no doubt Gen-Z following, is that 25% are teetotallers. Back in the day, vertical drinking was part of the scene, but that doesn’t happen to the same degree now. The young crowd today is so focused on how they look and how they feel. For them it’s not about hangovers, but yoga classes early in the morning; it’s within their make-up. What tends to happen is that New York and LA always set the trend, and then there’s a ripple effect, which can take three or four years before it gets to London and rolls out. I’ve never seen so many requirements in that space right now.
That operates at different levels, too. It’s what I call the “squeeze middle” – it’s not premium, it’s not budget, but it’s somewhere in-between. In many cases, it’s about finding out your identity for these operators now. One big trend is the movement for one-on-one fitness and wellness classes. If you look at well-established brands in the States like Barry’s Bootcamp, which is now in London, you can’t even get a class – it’s fully booked. I can’t see the wellness trend changing anytime soon.
And that’s all pointing the way of veganism, or what we’re now calling “flexitarianism”. America has been like this for a long time in places like San Francisco, with its organic barns that allow customers to know where everything is coming from. We talk about such things in London, but we don’t really focus on it to the same extent. But that’s now changing, too.
Sounds like leisure’s a busy business.
I think recreational, leisure, sport and fashion are all crossing over into one entity now. The definition of leisure is much wider than it’s ever been and, as a result, starts to attract a different audience. We’re also working on an art project for London right now; it’s not art for the masses exactly, but it has some of those Team Lab-esque elements and you begin to see the same people who buy athleisurewear gravitating to something like this. I can’t tell you more about it just yet, as it’s also in discussion, but watch this space.