After closing the books on its toughest year to date, the hotel industry is still in the midst of a period of serious uncertainty. City hotels, once heavily reliant on business travellers, major events and conferences, are having to rethink their position. Here we look at how accommodations in and around major metropolises are turning inwards to offer respite from busy life. This is the first instalment in a five-part series we'll be publishing on Frameweb this week.

We don’t need to explain why the past year has been tough for the hotel industry. Not just tough, but by all accounts the worst year ever. Data from STR showed US hotels recorded their lowest occupancy rates in 2020 (44 per cent, compared with 66 per cent in 2019). And the US fared better than a number of other places, such the UK (40.5 per cent, a reduction of 47.7 per cent) and Europe (33.1 per cent, a drop of 54.2 per cent). Although 2021 holds the promise of more freedom of movement, research from McKinsey & Company suggests that hotels’ ‘recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels could take until 2023 – or later’ while global real estate advisor CBRE adds another year to that estimation. 

It’s too early to tell whether travel will look the same as it once did. The pandemic has certainly restrained globetrotters, and it may have altered their mindsets, too. Some are calling 2021 ‘the year of self-care travel’, prompted by the stresses of 2020. From the nearly 4,000 consumers from 48 countries and territories who responded to a survey by the Wellness Tourism Association, 38 per cent were looking for a wellness vacation that would help them to return to everyday life feeling rejuvenated, and 26 per cent sought to escape the demands of daily life. Other key motivators were finding peace and quiet (21 per cent) and getting a better night’s sleep (17 per cent). 

Cover and above: Located on a busy Beijing street, Read and Rest Hotel includes a library, with a central corridor and study alcoves shaping a calm space for concentration. 

With this in mind, regional hotels are arguably better placed to recover than city hotels. While the former will be a big drawcard for urbanites looking to escape the confines of smaller apartments – the spaces in which they’ve most likely spent more time than ever during the past year – city hotels are more reliant on business travellers, major events and conferences. But given predictions that travellers will stay closer to home in the near future, what if city hotels could provide a similar experience to their more remote counterparts? What if they could offer city dwellers an easily accessible getaway without having to physically get (as far) away? Or invite travellers to experience a slower-paced side of a crowded tourist mecca?

As we'll outline over the week, a number of new accommodations are answering the call. In bustling cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Seoul and Beijing, hotels are turning inwards and encouraging their guests to follow suit. In doing so, they’re diverging from the social-hotspot hotels that have dominated the airwaves over the past decade to provide places of rest and self-reflection instead. 

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