Still some years ago the hotel capacity of Helsinki increased approximately by one hotel per year. If there were a couple of new hotels in the market, at the same time, one was removed from the market for basic renovation or some other reason. None of the architect offices had any remarkable need to specialise exactly to hotel design because the market was so small.
AS&H’s first hotel design task was in 2007, at the foundation times of the company. This task started as a totally different design task; we were asked to investigate if it would be possible to add commercial space to a commercial and office property next to Hakaniemi market. The additional commercial space was to be added to the cellar and the second floor in addition to the existing ground level. During the property tour we stated that “Yes that works, but what about those upper floors?” We made a tour of floors 3–9 and asked a question, or more a statement “It would be so easy to design a hotel here, the measurements are just right and there is a sea view, too.” The owner of the property stated that their fund doesn’t develop hotels. We drew what was asked – the store spaces, but we also sent at the same time the hand made ground plan drafts of the hotel saying “Just look now how well this works!”. A few weeks later the same property owner called and asked if we would be interested in designing a hotel.
The design was for Cumulus Hakaniemi and the project started immediately. Of course this wasn’t anything new for me or Teemu (Asikainen), as we had done several hotel projects around Finland in our previous mutual workplace. This was the first hotel project executed with modelling though – the customer, however, heard about modelling only when the project was finished (“Oh, you have a model too?”).
Later on, I have executed many hotel projects with Teemu. During the years, other architects and drawers have specialised in the design area, and nowadays there are approximately 20 professionals in our hotel projects. Together with Teemu, we have investigated a great number (probably already half) of value properties in Helsinki and their suitability for hotel use. At the same time we have created probably a hundred new concepts. There are always some that are going to be implemented – sometimes quickly, sometimes after years of delay. There are various reasons behind the hotel boom:
– The prohibition of conversion of the inner city restricts the re-use of the properties, the office market is not great and the properties aren’t allowed to be changed into apartments. Only hotel or apartment hotel use is left. The latter is also linked to new models of living and working, increasing nomad lifestyle and changing family models.
– The moving of offices and schools away from the inner city opens fancy buildings located in the top spots of the market. Changing these to hotels is clever in order to be able to also open the indoors of the building to a wide audience.
– Egg and chicken dilemma of the hotel industry: there should be more accommodation capacity that would make it possible to have bigger events in Helsinki and vice versa. The amount of different events is increasing all the time and it requires different accommodation possibilities.
– The location of Helsinki between the flight routes from the East and the West brings us transit passengers, some of which stay in Helsinki for a few days or even longer. This feeds primarily the hotels of the airport.
– The increase of international interest in Helsinki and Lapland brings more curious people who want to get to know the culture and nature of Finland. Tourism is still fast growing globally, also.
– The Rise of China and other Asian middle-classes increases the travelling of Asian people to Finland.
– Operators from abroad landing in Finland. Many big (and smaller) international hotel operators have found their way to Helsinki, Vantaa, and Tampere. Before the market was divided between a few domestic actors; now strong international brands are increasing the competition. At the same time it forces domestic ones to update their old hotels to correspond with the competition.
– The change of consumption behavior of the customers; new demand is polarised to high-class and experiential service hotels and simplified, efficient budget hotels where the services are produced with technology. Middle-class three star basic hotels, which suits all, do not serve almost anyone anymore.
– The increase of domestic demand; for example a couple’s weekend in a good hotel for example in their own hometown is acceptable and trendy.
– The increasing need for more ecological buildings also drives hotels to make energy renovations.
– Even though the hotel capacity increases fast, we are still greatly behind Stockholm or even Tallinn.
The change directs the market and at the moment the change is happening on many levels. It is important to understand the drivers of change, so that we can serve the customer in the best possible way, in other words by producing the right kind of brand product, at the right time, and in the right place. Perhaps just for this reason AS&H has been able to rise as one of the most remarkable hotel architecture agencies in Finland. The proof of this are several finished and on-going projects. Also the future in this regard seems good, there are several projects starting and many concepts on the tables of the designers that we will surely hear more about later.
Chairman of the board