With visitors from abroad no longer guaranteed, some hotels are focusing on the audience in direct reach: their neighbours. This is the second instalment in a five-part hospitality series we're publishing on Frameweb this week, examining how accommodations in and around major metropolises are turning inwards to offer respite from busy life.

Hotels and locals: the two have been trying to link arms for a while now. Our Sep/Oct 2017 Frame Lab was dedicated to the topic, looking at how hospitality spaces were striving to be local in every sense of the word, from the food they offer to the plates on which it’s served. Back then, going local was about sustainability – using what’s around you – and trying to create a so-called ‘authentic’ experience for guests. A shift away from the cloned spaces of chains across the globe towards providing visitors with a sense of place instead.

Post-pandemic, hotels are facing a different challenge. How can they treat tourists to a genuine experience when there are barely any walking through their doors? According to the latest research from global real estate advisor CBRE: ‘The recovery of the European hotel market will initially be driven by domestic travel demand, with hotel revenues not forecast to recover across the market to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.’ Going local has thus taken on a new meaning. A number of existing establishments pivoted their offer towards ‘staycations’ throughout 2020, a term whose Google search figures skyrocketed during the same period. Hoy in Paris, for example, had been open for only two months when the pandemic struck, forcing owner Charlotte Gomez de Orozco to change tactics. ‘We turned it into an opportunity to get closer to our clients and to offer something different,’ she says, ‘a retreat in the heart of the city.’

Cover and above: The tendency to travel closer to home means smaller cities are now competing with their country’s well-known destinations as staycation spots. Hishiya, Fumihiko Sano Studio’s renovation of a folk house in Fukuchiyama City, is within two hours’ drive of Kyoto.

But that was 2020, right? With vaccinations underway and travelling high on the agenda once borders reopen, surely staycations will soon be replaced with old-fashioned vacations? Not necessarily. As mentioned in Frame 138, October 2020 research published by Booking.com covering over 28 major markets shows that ‘consumers [are] evolving from tourists to “familiarists” as they look to explore their local context more fully’. The platform revealed that 38 per cent of people still plan to travel within their own country in the longer term (in over a year’s time). ‘Many are looking again at what’s on their own doorstep, with 43 per cent intending to explore a new destination within their home region.’ 

Junghyun Park, CEO and design director of Seoul-based studio Z_Lab, believes COVID-19 was the drop in the pond that caused a ripple effect – one that will continue even after the pandemic. What started as the search for ‘short but focused experiences in more isolated places in the city centre due to the difficulty involved in travelling freely and far’, says Park, will evolve into ‘a more sensitive experience in the “untact stay” market’. (‘Untact’ – a portmanteau of the prefix ‘un’ and the word ‘contact’ – is often used in South Korea to refer to contactless interactions such as online shopping and self-service kiosks.) Z_Lab recently designed one such space: Nuwa, a single-room guesthouse tucked down a narrow alleyway in the residential area of Seochon in Seoul. 

This tendency to travel closer to home also means smaller cities are now competing with their country’s more well-known and well-trodden destinations as staycation spots. Japan has a number of strong examples, such as Sou Fujimoto’s Shiroiya Hotel in Maebashi, a city within two hours’ drive of Tokyo (see Frame 139), and Hishiya, Fumihiko Sano Studio’s renovation of an 80-year-old folk house in Fukuchiyama City, less than two hours’ drive from Kyoto. Realizing that locals might make up a signification portion of Hishiya’s guests, and that those who live nearby are more likely to become repeat visitors, Fumihiko Sano Studio designed each of the guest rooms differently. The team used various colours and materials to create a private encounter that can be experienced in multiple visits. Sano says that despite a number of pandemic-related factors affecting the shift, it’s also influenced by the accessibility of land-based public transport in Japan, which connects large cities to smaller ones. ‘This will continue to develop after the pandemic.’ 

This series was originally published as the Frame Lab in Frame 140. Get your copy here.