Old industrial buildings are finding new leases of life as converted hotels. Operators are not only cutting costs with low-investment opportunities they are also embracing new ways to reimagine the hotel experience.

By Eva Kirstine Brünnich

Hotel conversions have historically been marked by standardised requirements from operators for the bearing of a construction, the width and depth of the building and minimum room space and window size, among other things. But the hotel market has become increasingly open to inventive change as market players are now emerging who see opportunity and profitability where others saw limitations.

Today, operators are seeing possibility in a wide range of buildings of very diverse original usage – and even buildings as small as 1,500 – 2,000 m2 as long as the location is right.

A DUTCH SUCCESS 

The Dutch CityHub chain launched its first hotel in 2015. In just six months, a dilapidated industrial space in central Amsterdam was transformed into a hotel with 50 private sleeping units organised as an internal hub surrounded by shared hangout space.

CityHub Amsterdam has experienced constant growth since its launch and enjoys occupancy rates exceeding 98 percent as well as an amazing social media following. In April this year, CityHub expanded to Rotterdam, while there are plans for more hotels throughout Europe.

“The most important starting point for us is a building that is centrally located. Once we have found our spot we are very flexible. Other hotels look for buildings that live up to specific requirements for the number and size of rooms. We, on the other hand, can easily get something good out of a building that is either very narrow or deep, for instance. We don’t need windows or natural daylight, we simply look at opportunity,” says Martial Robardet, Director Development & Investment at CityHub.

CityHub Amsterdam not only represents a new approach to hotel conversion; it also represents an entirely new conceptual approach to hotel design somewhere between hostel and hotel. The clientele is young, international, digital savvy and see themselves as part of a creative community. So, the CityHub concept is simple: cool, affordable, centrally located and with digital solutions for everything.

“Nobody expected that a former storage facility could become a hotel like the one in Amsterdam. With these types of buildings, the rent is lower than in a traditional hotel building. We can also double the number of rooms compared with traditional hotels, allowing us to offer low rates. This means that a variety of industrial buildings may be relevant to us.

“We have a room layout that allows us to convert the building without major investments within a short period of time. We just have to install bathrooms because everything is centralised in the hubs,” says Robardet.

Their flexible approach to hotel design offers advantages when it comes to sourcing properties in markets where supply is limited. While hotel conversions are often a daunting task, a concept such as CityHub sees opportunity rather than limitation.

“Often there are far more opportunities in moving into an industrial building with high ceilings and large open spaces compared to traditional office buildings with long narrow hallways. That allows us to place the rooms wherever we want and make the most of the space. At the same time, the supply of industrial buildings is great since they are not in demand for hotel operations. We can move into everything from office space and warehouses to old factories,” Martial Robardet concludes.

CityHub hotels offer ample common areas for socialising and community activities. Photo:PR

INVITING SPACES

Modern travellers are increasingly seeking hotels that ooze with charm and localhood. One of Scandinavia’s leading architectural and engineering studios specialised in hotel conversion, Copenhagen-based AI Architechts & Engineers has set new standards for repurposed luxury hotels, having overseen the transformation of a number of landmark buildings into new luxury hospitality experiences.

“In cities, hotels are today places that invite locals as well as guests to drop in. Traditionally, hotel guests spent their time out in town. Now, hotels have become part of the city and organise events and concerts and more. This is why the building must also be inviting in its design.

“For example, by offering a greater sense of flow between the rooms or by opening glass façades towards the street to show that the restaurant is open to all,” says Business and Project Manager, Morten Fougt, who with 25 years of experience with the company has helped shape and develop their approach to architectural conversion.

Among their Copenhagen projects is Hotel Skt. Petri, a heritage-listed Modernist building that was formerly a department store. Recently opened, Nobis Hotel Copenhagen was previously the home of the Danish Royal Academy of Music.

Both these projects offer street-level dining options with an appeal to passers-by as well as staying guests. Currently, AI is repurposing Copenhagen’s imposing Neo-baroque central post office to become a 380-room flagship of Nordic Choice Hotels.

One of AI’s noted recent Copenhagen projects is Hotel Sanders, which is technically speaking not a conversion (most of the building was already a hotel). Nestled behind the old Royal Danish Theatre, Hotel Sanders has been transformed into the kind of laidback hideaway even locals seek in a buzzing city increasingly geared for fast-moving stays.