Jacques Levy-Bonvin

The history of hotels is intimately connected to that of civilisations. Or rather, it is a part of that history. Facilities offering guests hospitality have been in evidence since early biblical times. The Greeks developed thermal baths in villages designed for rest and recuperation. Later, the Romans built mansions to provide accommodation for travellers on government business. The Romans were the first to develop thermal baths in England, Switzerland and the Middle East. Later still, caravanserais appeared, providing a resting place for caravans along Middle Eastern routes. In the Middle Ages, monasteries and abbeys were the first establishments to offer refuge to travellers on a regular basis. Religious orders built inns, hospices and hospitals to cater for those on the move.

From antiquity to the Middle Ages - The history of hotels is intimately connected to that of civilisations. Or rather, it is a part of that history. Facilities offering guests hospitality have been in evidence since early biblical times. The Greeks developed thermal baths in villages designed for rest and recuperation. Later, the Romans built mansions to provide accommodation for travellers on government business. The Romans were the first to develop thermal baths in England, Switzerland and the Middle East.

Later still, caravanserais appeared, providing a resting place for caravans along Middle Eastern routes. In the Middle Ages, monasteries and abbeys were the first establishments to offer refuge to travellers on a regular basis. Religious orders built inns, hospices and hospitals to cater for those on the move.

Inns multiplied, but they did not yet offer meals. Staging posts were established for governmental transports and as rest stops. They provided shelter and allowed horses to be changed more easily. Numerous refuges then sprang up for pilgrims and crusaders on their way to the Holy Land.

Travelling then became progressively more hazardous. At the same time, inns gradually appeared in most of Europe. Some of them have remained famous, for example, l' Auberge des Trois Rois in Basle, which dates from the Middle Ages.

Around 1200, staging posts for travellers and stations for couriers were set up in China and Mongolia.

In Europe, or more precisely in Belgium, l' Auberge Cour Saint Georges opened in Gant, while the Angel Inn was built at Grantham in Lincolnshire, England.

The start of the hotel industry - In France, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the law required that hotels keep a register. English law also introduced rules for inns at that time. At the same time, around 1500 thermal spas were developed at Carlsbad and Marienbad.

During this epoch, more than 600 inns were registered in England. Their architecture often consisted of a paved interior court with access through an arched porch. The bedrooms were situated on the two sides of the courtyard, the kitchen and the public rooms at the front, and the stables and storehouses at the back. The first guide books for travellers were published in France during this period.

An embryonic hotel industry began to develop in Europe. Distinctive signs were hung outside establishments renowned for their refined cuisine. At the end of the 1600s, the first stage coaches following a regular timetable started operating in England. Half a century later, clubs similar to English gentlemen's clubs and masonic lodges began to appear in America.

In Paris in the time of Louis XIV, the Place Vendôme offered the first example of a multiple-use architectural complex, where the classical façades accommodated boutiques, offices, apartments and also hotels.

In the nineteenth century, hotels take over the town -The industrial revolution, which started in the 1760s, facilitated the construction of hotels everywhere, in mainland Europe, in England and in America.

In New York first of all, and then in Copenhagen, hotels were established in city centres.

At the beginning of the 1800s, the Royal Hotel was built in London. Holiday resorts began to flourish along the French and Italian rivieras.

In Japan, Ryokan guest houses sprang up. In India, the government-run Dak bungalows provided reliable accommodation for travellers. The Tremont House in Boston was the first deluxe hotel in a city centre. It offered inside toilets, locks on the doors and an "à la carte" menu.

The Holt Hotel in New York City was the first to provide its guests with a lift for their luggage.

In 1822, in Venice, a certain Giuseppe Dal Niel transformed an old palace into a hotel and gave it his name, "Le Danieli". As trains began to replace horse-drawn transport, highway inns for stage coaches started to decline.

During this period, the Shepheards Hotel in Cairo was founded, the result of a complete transformation of an ancient city-centre harem.

L'Hôtel des Bergues was built in the spring of 1834 on the shore of the Lake of Geneva. One of its founders, Guillaume Henri Dufour, became a famous Swiss general. In 1840, l'Hôtel des Trois Couronnes was established in Vevey in Switzerland and the Baur au Lac in Zurich, fully refurbished since 1995.

In New York, the New York Hotel was the first to be equipped with private bathrooms.

The "Bayerischer Hof" was built in Munich in 1841, followed in 1852 by the "Vier Jahreszeiten" . These two famous establishments were completely renovated after the Second World War.

Le Grand Hôtel Paris -The inauguration of the Grand Hôtel in Paris took place on 5 May 1862 in the presence of the Empress Eugénie. The orchestra, directed by Jacques Offenbach, played the Traviata. This building was designed by the architect Alfred Armand, in order to "show the élite of travellers from all over the world the progress made under the Second Empire by the sciences, arts and industry".

The exterior façades with their high arched doors and their Louis XIV windows were in the style required for the surroundings of the Opéra.The greatest names in painting and decoration participated in the completion of this hotel, the grandest in Europe in its dimensions, luxury and installations. The first hydraulic lift was installed in this hotel. "Lighting was supplied by 4000 gas jets; heating by 18 stoves and 354 hot air vents.

In 1890, the entire hotel was equipped with electric lighting.

Due to the installation of steam central heating in 1901, baskets of wood were no longer sold on the floors. Some years later the hotel was renovated. Further renovation took place in 1970 and 1985.

In 1982, it became a member of the Intercontinental chain.

Since 1992 the hotel has been equipped with a central Building Management System.

In June 2003, Le Grand Hôtel Paris has re-opened its doors following an eighteen-month multi-million dollar renovation.

The Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City was the first in that period to provide lifts for its guests. 1869 saw the inauguration, near Cairo, of the Mena House, an oasis of calm and luxury, at the foot of the famous pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Mikerinos.

In 1870, the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago was the grandest of all hotels. Its structure, the first of its kind, was fire-resistant.

In 1873, the Palais de Würtemberg in Vienna was transformed into a superb luxury residence for the notables of the epoch, l'Hôtel Impérial. Kings and queens became regular visitors to what is without doubt the finest example of the refined architecture of the Ringstrasse in Vienna. It is said that Richard Wagner directed the first productions of "Tannhäuser" and "Lohengrin" there. Two years later in 1875, the Grand Hotel Europe opened its doors in St Petersburg. This prestigious place where Tchaikoswky spent his honeymoon and where Shostakovich played a sonata for Prokofiev in his suite.

In 1880, the Sagamore Hotel on Lake George in the state of New York was the very first to provide electricity in all its rooms.

The first school for hoteliers was founded in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1890 by J. Tschumi, Director of the Beau Rivage in Lausanne, and A.R. Armleder, the "father" of the Richemond in Genève.

In Monte Carlo, l'Hôtel Hermitage opened its doors in 1896, offering its guests the refined and luxurious atmosphere enjoyed by the rich at the close of the nineteenth century. Shortly afterwards, the Victoria Hotel in Kansas City offered bathrooms with every room. The Netherland Hotel in New York City then became the first to provide all its guests with their own telephone.

In Athens in 1874, Stathis Lampsas, a chef by profession, realised his dream by building l'Hôtel Grande Bretagne. Athens was suffering at that time from a shortage of water. It is said that the personnel bought water from carriers in the street to bring to the 80 bedrooms and ... the two bathrooms. Of course, the establishment has undergone several renovations since that time.

In 1894, the Grand Hôtel became the first Italian hotel to boast an electricity supply.

The Swiss hotelier Caspar Badrutt opened the famous Palace de Saint Moritz in 1896. In 1898, César Ritz, from the Valais in Switzerland, who became, to quote the famous phrase of King Edward VII, the "king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings", opened the hotel which bears his famous name in the Place Vendôme in Paris.

The twentieth century: the age of prosperity -The early years of the twentieth century were rich in new hotels which rapidly became prestigious.

Edouard Niiermans, the "architect of palaces", transformed the Villa "Eugenie", the summer residence of the Emperor Napoléon III and his wife Eugénie de Montijo, in 1900. In 1905, he built l'Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz. In 1913 his "Négresco" was opened in Nice, in the presence of seven kings!

In Madrid, King Alphonse XIII was anxious that the capital should have a luxurious and prestigious hotel, and as a result the Ritz was inaugurated in 1910. Seville paid its own homage to the king by opening a splendid establishment, constructed by the architect José Espiau, the Alphonso XIII. Not to be outdone, Barcelona inaugurated its own Ritz in 1919. This was equipped with an unheard of luxury at that time, bathrooms with hot as well as cold water!

We could also cite, among many other hotels built in the same period, the Ritz and Savoy in London, the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, le Négresco in Nice, the Plaza in New York, the Métropole in Brussels, the Plaza-Athenée and l'Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, the Taj Mahal in Bombay and so on. The latter was renovated in 1972 by the Inter-Continental chain.

The prosperous nineteen-twenties saw a veritable boom in the hotel industry. Numerous hotels were established in this decade. In 1923, the architects Marchisio and Prost constructed a hotel in some wonderful gardens in the heart of Marrakech in Morocco, and for decades it was considered the most beautiful hotel in the world: La Mamounia. Winston Churchill helped to forge its reputation by becoming a frequent guest.

Hotels were built not only in cities, but also in the mountains. The first ski resorts in Switzerland (Saint-Moritz, Gstaad, Montana, etc.) welcomed tourists (often English ones) to some very comfortable establishments.

The worldwide depression which followed in 1929 did not prevent the construction of the famous Waldorf Astoria in New York. This was the greatest hotel edifice of those troubled times.

After the war, the fifties saw the second boom in the hotel industry. The Club Méditerranée (G. Trigano) created the now famous, but then revolutionary concept of the club village. These years were also notable for the construction of the first casino hotels. This was also the time when the airline companies began to develop their own hotels.

In the sixties, new tourist resorts flourished around the Mediterranean. From Spain to Greece and from the Balearics to Yugoslavia, numerous city and beach hotels opened their doors to summer guests hungry for relaxation and a good dose of sunshine. Portugal and the Scandinavian countries soon followed their lead.

Hotels for business people1970 saw the beginning of the construction of hotels for business people. This movement was supported by several factors. First of all, there was the will of the airline companies to extend their efforts in the domain of hotels.

Then there was the sudden prosperity, due to black gold, of Middle Eastern countries which attracted business people from the entire world. This engendered an important business travel trend - not limited to this region alone - which initiated the development of hotels primarily designed for business people in Middle-Eastern cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Jeddah, to mention only the most important.

Hotel chains, attentive to their customers' wishes, started to offer an increasingly varied range of services. Their rooms became more spacious and the cuisine more refined.

Gradually, too, various first class hotels (among them former palaces and city centre hotels) which had fallen into disrepair began systematic renovation programmes.

The end of the seventies, when China opened its doors to foreign tourists, also saw the first congresses of international hotel experts.

The third hotel industry boom -The third boom in the hotel industry began in 1980, marked by more inventive marketing and the development of hotels increasingly adapted to a particular type of clientele.

This trend prompted the construction of hotels near airports, hotels for conferences, health hotels, ski holiday hotels, holiday villages and marina hotels. The first Property Management Systems (Fidelio, Hogatex, etc.) appear in the hospitality market.

In Istanbul in 1984, work began on the renovation and transformation into a hotel of the prestigious sultans' residence, the Ciragan Palace in Istanbul. The resulting hotel is no less prestigious than the Ciragan Palace was. Managed by the Kempinski chain, it opened its 322 rooms to guests in 1991.

The first administrative hotel management systems, offering hotels greater independence from human resources, then appeared on the market. The hotel industry was becoming more and more competitive. Business travellers and retired people became important target customers.

In the eighties, too, the Far East began to prepare itself to welcome both business people and the tourists who were beginning to discover the countries of the rising sun, such as China, South Korea, Thailand and Japan. The international chains (American for the most part) prepared expansion plans for Europe, the Middle and Far East which were mainly aimed at congress participants and business people.

The nineties: technology starts to make an impact -The early nineties were characterised by a recession in the hotel business, without doubt caused by reductions in multinationals' travel budgets and the growing crisis in the Gulf.

The Gulf War helped to create great insecurity for both individuals and business. 1991 is considered to be the black year of the hotel trade. It forced hoteliers to become more creative in finding ways of attracting guests (special programmes, offers for "frequent travellers", high performance reservation systems) and thus emerge from the crisis with the minimum damage.

For the first time, the environment and energy conservation played an important role in the marketing activities of numerous chains (thanks in part to the green movement) and even helped to win the loyalty of numerous clients while safeguarding assets at the same time.

Reservation systems became more efficient and offered the hotelier a new dimension in the creation of customer loyalty, the database. The records of each guest's individual history have helped create individualised marketing programmes and have enabled hotels to satisfy a guest's personal needs from the moment of his arrival.

Hotel Adlon Berlin is a legend reborn. From its opening in 1907, until it was destroyed in 1945, it was a symbol of Berlin, a lavish host for royalty, heads of government, stage and screen stars, and the greats of literature and science. Now, it has been rebuilt (1997) on its original site, the corner of Unter den Linden and Pariser Platz, facing the Brandenburg Gate. Outside, it is a virtual replica of the original; inside it is testimony to what smart hotel operators (in this case the Kempinski group) can accomplish with an investment of $260 million. The hotel's 337 rooms and suites are the ultimate in luxury. Interiors, designed by England's Ezra Attia and Sweden's Lars Malmquist, dazzle with marble, sandstone, stained glass, gold leaf, stuccowork, cherry wood panelling, and damask draperies. This hotel is today equipped with the most advanced technology with regards to the Room Management System communicating with the Property Management System.

Since 1992, the most important international chains have been vying with each other in ever greater imaginative feats related to the vital process of renovating their establishments worldwide.Technology has started to take its rightful place in hotel administration (simplification of check-in and check-out procedures, global reservation systems, marketing management etc.). In 1995, the first Hotel Room Management System is launched at the European level. It is linked to the most popular Property Management Systems to make the front desk more efficient and near to the guests.

At International Technology Forums, speakers unanimously, underlined the impact of technology on hotel rooms.

Hotel chains have been searching for alliances and some of them. For example: Holyday Inn, Intercontinental, and Crown Plaza have merged to form Six continents hotels Chain; Marriot absorbed Renaissance and Ramada International; Sol Melia opened a new line of Boutique hotels, Accor signed several joint ventures in the East and the Far East, etc.) Forte acquired Méridien to reinforce its global position. Starwoods (Sheraton) absorbed the Italian Ciga chain and Westin.

The main expansion zones for the hotel industry in 1994 remained Asia (particularly China and India), the Middle East (above all, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and Latin America.

In Europe, hotel enterprises in the eastern countries (Russia, Croatia, Slovakia, etc.) decided to renovate dilapidated palaces built at the turn of the century. All the European capitals started to invest in preparations for the major event of this fin de siècle period, that is, the celebration of our entry into the third millennium.

The 3 star hotel Millennium enjoying top level of On-line Room Management System is situated at the best site in Opatija at the Mediterranean coast. Opatija in Croatia corresponds, in terms of reputation, to the level of St. Moritz in Switzerland.

Capitals throughout the world were busy developing the necessary infrastructure to welcome the millions of tourists for the celebration of this event.

Major hotel chains are drawing up development plans in almost all parts of Europe. These plans primarily involve the renovation of numerous prestigious hotels in both western and eastern European countries. Gradually, the great capitals of Europe have been endowed with hotels boasting three, four and five stars, offering quality services, innovative architecture, style, charm, and interior design (city Boutique hotels). Specialised hotels offer wellness programs including health and beauty centres, personalised services and treatments, anti-stress, revitalising, regenerating programs, etc.

Extravaganza - In 1995 construction began in Dubai of one of the most ambitious and prestigious tourist complexes in the region, the Jumeirah Beach Hotels (Jumeirah Beach hotel, Burj Al Arab, etc.). These comprise several establishments capable of satisfying the needs of average tourists, business people and those who can afford real luxury. The talk now is of six- and seven-star hotels, a surprising designation which is nevertheless perfectly justified by the luxury of the bedrooms and the facilities they offer, the impeccable service, the high degree of modern technology, as well as the beauty of the surroundings and the high-quality environment.

In 2004, another Emirate, Abu Dhabi, will welcome the delegates of the Gulf Council Countries. in the new Conference Palace Hotel (CPH). This superior construction has been specified "to offer the most outstanding services with a challenging 9 star definition"… We will, of course, report on it on a later stage.

On-line in seconds, work surf, communicate -everywhere -Today in 2003, travellers, mostly businessmen, carry their personal PC to make presentations, communicate with their office, via e-mails, etc. One possibility offered to them today consists in the use of so-called Pad offering, in particular,

  • Cable-free and universal access to Internet or intranet, wherever you happen to be
  • Brilliant colour touch screen
  • Ready to go in seconds (instant on)
  • Freedom in the selection of transmission standards by interchangeable PC cards
  • Unlimited flexibility by open platform Windows CE 3.0
  • Comprehensive office software package
  • Virtual keyboard and handwriting recognition

For sure, new technologies are continuously offering innovative and more comfortable ways to the traveller.

The 160 rooms 5 star Palafitte Hotel in Monruz Neuchatel(CH) offers the visitors of the Swiss Expo 2002 a vision of so called in-room available technologies.

Conclusion - Lodging facilities are not anymore corresponding only to the truly definition: "A lodging accommodation for travellers". Nowadays, architects, designers, developers, engineers, managers, more and more are conscious that taste of guests could be different, according to their wishes or needs. Hotel specialists permanently analyse new trends, define better criteria, present modern standards in order to improve quality of life in hotels. In the third millennium, the permanent competitive hospitality market of suppliers is definitely more and more able, combining "savoir faire" and the good use of technology to offer their guests an "A la carte" environment.

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Article by Jacques Levy-Bonvin

International Consultant
Jacques Lévy is an International Hotel Consultant and graduated from the School of Engineering in Geneva. For 20 years, he managed the International Division at Staefa Control Division and, in 1996, became manager of the Hotel Marketing Department of Siemens Landis & Staefa in Zug, Switzerland. More information is available at www.jlevy.ch.