Make room for more! Warsaw’s lifestyle revolution captures the imagination as capital’s booming hotel market aims to emulate Berlin
Warsaw’s hotel revolution has been thrust into the spotlight after a report issued by JLL earlier in the summer asked if the Polish capital could develop into “a second Prague” in terms of its hotel offer.
The boom has been unprecedented, with 12 new hotels opening in the city in a time period of approximately 18 months – more than Berlin. Yet more are slated to open in the coming future, among them Nobu, a luxury chain fronted by film producer Meir Teper, chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Hollywood legend Robert De Niro.
But whilst the report concludes by citing fundamental differences between the tourist markets of Prague and Warsaw, strong similarities are noted between Berlin.
“Warsaw presents a story of an extraordinary transformation, where ultra-modern skyscrapers stand in a post-communist architectural neigbourhoods,” Agata Janda, Head of Hotel Advisory at JLL and the report’s author tells TFN.
“It is impossible not to notice the comparison with Berlin,” she continues, “which, although not a typical tourist destination, attracts guests from all over the world. Therefore, one can conclude that besides the picturesque Paris, Madrid, and Rome, tourists are also captivated by intriguing, charismatic and vibrant cities.”
Though still regarded as an emerging hotel market by analysts, the offer has developed rapidly over the years.
“Euro 2012 was a major driver in the development of the city’s hotel base,” says Janda, “and in my opinion, it triggered both interest and awareness of Poland as a place to visit – Warsaw started to be recognized as a leisure destination.”
Last year saw Chopin and Modlin record a combined passenger increase of 23 percent, with the two airports serving 18 million people and transporting them to several destinations not covered by Berlin such as Seoul, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Dubai. With Berlin offering six times as many hotel rooms, the potential and room for growth is clear.
“Corporate demand is unquestionably strong,” says Janda, “but although the leisure side has taken longer to develop, that is now in the process of happening. Of course, Warsaw lacks the surface beauty of Prague, Budapest and suchlike, but preconceptions are changing.”
Even so, corporate demand remains the largest factor shaping the hotel sector, with the city’s reputation as Central Eastern Europe’s business hub ensuring that hotel development has been built around this.
“The office market has had a huge influence over the hotel side,” says Janda, “and with Warsaw’s CBD shifting westwards we’re seeing that the city’s centre of gravity is moving with it. It’s important to understand this dynamic.”
“Twenty years back you had average room rates that were high,” continues Janda, “but low occupancy with an international guest base spread around a few landmark hotels. Since then, Warsaw has developed as a place of business and that’s helped fuel domestic demand.”
For the traveller, of most interest is the style with which the revolution has been conducted. Last year’s launch of the Raffles Europejski set a new benchmark in luxury, while November’s long-awaited debut of the Hotel Warszawa added top-class aesthetics to a field already bristling with design-led operations such as Indigo and H15.
Other lifestyle concepts have also entered the market, such as Puro, a Polish brand frequently referenced by kingmaker titles such as Condé Nast, Dezeen and Wallpaper*.
“We think of ourselves as a forward-thinking hospitality brand that offers guests a contemporary, design-led hotel experience, without compromising on local culture or creativity,” says Małgorzata Jankowska, Puro’s head of marketing.
Working closely with local design teams and artists, the brand has become one of the big success stories on Poland’s hospitality landscape, with their April entry into Warsaw causing waves across the country.
“Our hotels are siblings, not clones,” emphasizes Jankowska. “Each hotel is an individual and although the DNA is shared, we would never describe ourselves as a chain – every project has a one-off style, approach and aesthetics and offers our guests something distinctive in each city.”
In many ways, Puro have helped lead a domestic shift by using their lobby as a living space to act as the brand’s calling card.
“In the past,” says Agata Janda, “room size was key when measuring the differences between a budget, a middle-of-the-range or upmarket hotel. Nowadays, it’s the lobby that’s important – they need to be lively, fun, well-designed places.
“The room size is no longer an obstacle in how hotels are perceived, so long as they have nice features – whether that be tablets or local artwork – and that Warsaw has fully embraced this trend is proof that the city has become a truly European destination.”
Much ink has been spilled in praise of these new formats, but it’s not just the giants that have dominated the press. In central Warsaw, Autor Rooms have captured the imagination with a four-bedroom boutique concept whose mission was “to fill the niche between cheap hostels and private accommodation on the one hand, and chain hotels on the other.”
Lionised by titles such as Elle, Vogue and Forbes, its design lauds Polish design while offsetting such against an ambient atmosphere whose central point is a gorgeous living space complete with vinyl records and coffee table tomes. An eclectic mix or retro and contemporary, it’s not unlike checking in to stay with an ultra-cool friend.
“A lot of our guests follow the ‘design hotel’ path and, in fact, some of them choose to visit Warsaw simply to stay with us,” says Magda Ponagajbo, one of the creators of Autor Rooms. “That said, we also get a lot of business people picking us; corporate travellers who are spending a lot of time in their room are now seeking something more like ‘home’.”
“We’ve seen a lot of very interesting and good quality projects falling within the four or five-star range,” she adds, “and more and more people are looking for something with authenticity. A human touch. They want well-curated music, local food, nice conversation or a good inside tip from somebody local. These small details make a stay unique, and that’s what we offer. Seriously, I don’t think people are choosing us just because our interiors are beautiful. It’s about people and experience.”
That Warsaw’s hotel market has seized this lifestyle-forward model is by no means accidental rather a reflection of its own bold and ambitious metamorphosis as the city of tomorrow.
“Using a couple of examples,” says Agata Janda, “we’ve seen it emerge as one of the world’s top vegan cities, not to mention the implementation of hugely popular regeneration projects such as the Wisła boulevards – the changing face of the hotel market has captured this dynamic perfectly.”
It’s also acted to further drive Warsaw’s outside appeal.
“Corporate mid-week demand is incredibly strong, but the development of Warsaw’s leisure side provides a good recipe for growth,” she concludes.
“I’m hugely optimistic about the direction that the market is going in, in fact, it’s absolutely astonishing what is happening. We’re in a completely different place to where we were ten years ago, and I expect to be saying the same thing in another ten years. It’s definitely a market to watch.”