Exploring the surge of repurposed hotels

As the demand for authentic travel rises, so too do the number of unique accommodations. Many developers are keenly aware of this, choosing to renovate and repurpose existing structures over ground-up construction. Click. explores the benefits and potential challenges of the concept

by Nicola Donovan, Click. Travel Writer, Booking.com

Topic: Innovation

Click. Takeaway

  • Searches for properties beyond the traditional experience are steadily increasing, with travellers seeking unique stay experiences
  • Many developers are now choosing to renovate and repurpose existing structures over ground-up construction
  • Repurposed projects tend to preserve historic features to give guests a glimpse into the history of a destination and offer a unique experience
  • While converting older buildings certainly has its benefits, it also comes with potential technical, operational and financial challenges

With 30% of global travellers looking to experience alternative accommodation this year, searches for properties beyond the traditional experience are steadily increasing.

One trend that’s emerged from this demand is the concept of converting buildings once used for other purposes into luxury hotels. This breathes new life into existing buildings with a storied past – such as churches, jails and breweries – offering travellers a glimpse into the history of a destination while evoking their curiosity and interest.

The art of storytelling

With travellers now sharing everything online, it’s critical for hoteliers to provide guests with a story worth telling. “It can be difficult to create a story for a hotel when it’s new-build,” says Glenn Sampert, General Manager of The Liberty Hotel, formerly Charles Street Jail. “It’s much easier for us to tell a story about who we are when we have that back history, so we love using old buildings and repurposing them from that perspective alone.”

Hotel Ottilia, Brøchner Hotels, formerly Carlsbergbyen Brewery. Photo: Cadwalk

“You can have a wonderful, luxury hotel experience at any new-build property, so we look at this as our opportunity to do both: provide a luxury experience while also allowing our guests to feel as though they’ve really connected to a destination through its history,” continues Sampert.

Repurposed projects tend to preserve historic features, incorporating architectural elements of the structure into the hotel to add to the guest experience. “Being able to leave as many elements of the jail was definitely the aim,” says Sampert. “We often see people who are intentionally staying with us for the unique experience of staying in a former jail, I would say more people rather than fewer are interested in that aspect.”

Developers are constantly pushing the boundaries in a bid to provide unusual locations and designs, so is the distinctiveness of the accommodation part of the attraction? “Most definitely. Certainly for hotel guests, but also for the locals that use the bars and restaurants,” says Sampert.

Positive impact

By taking on a new life, repurposed hotels have the power to positively impact their location. “We work strategically to create growth for the city and mark our market position,” says Søren Brøchner-Mortensen, Owner and Director of Business Development, Brøchner Hotels. “The driving force for us is to develop projects that can contribute to the city and help put Copenhagen on the world map. It is important that our hotels contribute to making the area an attractive location.

“The municipality and different institutions have an interest in giving the abandoned buildings new life, so the buildings will not be dilapidated and become ghost houses,” continues Brøchner-Mortensen. “Because of this, we have had a close collaboration with the municipalities of Copenhagen.”

Choosing to revitalise a structure can also have a postive impact on time and cost savings. “Adaptive reuse projects make good business sense. Converting an existing structure can be a good cost-effective alternative to ground-up construction and opens a world of options to honor the local community and revitalise the neighbourhood,” says Ave Bradley, Creative Director & Global SVP of Design, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. “Sometimes, and depending on a building’s original use, the timeline to bring an adaptive reuse to completion can be quicker than a new-build, simply because the structure is already built and it’s a conversion or renovation as opposed to starting with the construction of the overall structure.”

Iconic architecture can also help properties stand out among competitors in the area. “The unique accommodations become a part of the journey for the guests and I believe the demand will be higher for these kind of experiences,” says Brøchner-Mortensen. “Our boutique hotels are created in historic and iconic buildings that make us stand out as a company. By giving new life to the buildings, we also give new life to the city.”

Converting an existing structure can be a good cost-effective alternative to ground-up construction

Potential challenges

While converting older buildings certainly has its benefits, it doesn’t come without potential complications and you never know what you’re going to find once you break down walls. Renovating heritage-listed properties in particular often involves working with local authorities and historical societies to ensure important elements are kept in tact. “I would say that the Liberty Hotel project was particularly challenging not only because of the type of building, but also because of the need to collaborate with a number of Boston’s historical organisations as well as the National Park Service,” says Sampert. “There were also numerous engineering challenges that had to be overcome.”

The same was true for InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland, a luxury hotel constructed within an abandoned quarry. “There were many challenges created by the unusual location and the fact the building is an upside down tall ‘inverted groundscaper,” says Martin Jochman, Chief Architect of InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland. “These were technical, operational, financial and cultural challenges. Of the technical challenges, the most important were satisfying the seismic and fire regulations and ensuring safety from flooding and potential rock falls. All of these had to be solved to create a building that can safely function as a resort hotel.”

However, the benefits of the end result seem to outweigh the potential challenges. “The historic and original buildings are worth the investment,” says Brøchner-Mortensen. “It’s no secret that it takes a lot more resources to renovate and convert historic buildings that were built for a completely different purpose than a hotel. That said, we like to take a challenges, as I believe the outcome is a part of creating a unique hotel experience and making the hotel a destination in itself.”

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Hero image: credit to Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland

Nicola Donovan is a travel writer for Click.

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