As travel shifts from ticking off bucket lists to more personal, meaningful encounters, city hotels are securing their role as a home base. This is the fourth 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.

After a period of forced self-reflection, many travellers are reconsidering their motives. ‘[They’re] not yearning to go to Times Square; what they’re yearning to do is see their friends and their family,’ said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in an interview at the Reuters Next conference in January. ‘Mass travel is going to be replaced by meaningful travel . . . and I think this is a semipermanent shift.’ 

Although Chesky’s words can certainly be interpreted as a marketing spiel for a platform selling the experience of staying in other people’s private dwellings, the idea is materializing in hotels, too. Jordane Arrivetz of Notoire Agency designed the interior of Nuage as a home. She realizes homelike hotels aren’t a new concept, but says the difference is that here, it’s not just a concept. The Paris hotel was owned by hotelier Olivier Breuil's late grandfather and incorporates personal family references. A light wall in each room, for instance, features the leaf of the ginkgo biloba tree – not only the oldest tree on Earth, rarely found in nature, but Breuil’s father’s favourite tree. ‘That’s just a small example to tell you that it’s not a concept hotel,’ he says. ‘It’s a real hotel from real people. I think that people travelling from abroad want to hear this kind of story – and to meet people who have lived in the city for a while.’ Breuil’s local knowledge also extends to a more meaningful way for guests to experience the city when they do venture out: a concierge service that provides ‘slow experiences to (re)discover Paris, away from the hustle and bustle’. ‘The “slow” is more about quality than quantity,’ says Breuil. ‘For me, enjoying Paris is very simple. It’s sitting on a cafĂ© terrace people-watching, going to a museum without queuing – maybe to see just one painting before leaving. We create slow guides for our guests: go to this local patisserie, order this, eat it on that bench – the best bench in the entire park. Or if they’d rather chat with an artist in their studio than visit a museum, we could arrange that instead.’ 

Cover and above: Singapore’s first ‘garden in a hotel’, The Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay includes an urban farm that supplies herbs and vegetables to one of its restaurants, as well as bird’s-nest-like pavilions where guests can recline amid foliage. Photos: Masano Kawana

Slowness is also one of the selling points of Hoy, which introduces meaningfulness by way of wellbeing. The Paris hotel promotes the ‘subtle art of slow living and slow travelling’ in a place where people come to practice yoga, have a massage or try a holistic therapy. It’s a positive side-effect of the pandemic, believes owner Charlotte Gomez de Orozco, that people had no option but to sit with themselves, to slow down, to let go, to do nothing. ‘This forced meditation has made us more aware of the importance of the present moment,’ an awareness she believes will continue in life after COVID. Like Nuwa, there are no TVs in Hoy’s guestrooms (although personal computers have rendered them largely redundant in hotels anyway). ‘We replaced them all with barres, like those used in ballet, to offer our customers another way to spend their free time – more focus on the body and less on zoning out with media.’ 

What many cities like Paris lack is a strong connection with nature – precisely what people tend to seek out to find more balance and self-connection. True to the translation of its French name, Nuage features a number of cloud references, and Hoy includes planters in the restaurant and a small flower shop, but it’s hard not to look at some of the greenery-filled workspaces featured in Frame in recent years without wondering what it would be like to check in instead of clock in. Singapore proves such urban hospitality oases are possible with the Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay, the Garden City’s first ‘garden in a hotel’. Featuring a 13-m-tall green wall and more than 2,400 different trees and plants, the interior includes bird’s-nest-like pavilions where guests can recline amid the foliage. But at a reported cost of just over €28 million, the renovation also proves such interventions come with a substantial – and for many, an unfeasible – price tag. 

Key features at Hoy – a Paris hotel where people can practice yoga, have a massage or try a holistic therapy – include stretching bars instead of TVs in the guest rooms and a small flower shop. Photo: Sophia van den Hoek

This is where city hotels on the outskirts may have the upper hand – there’s often more space and more affordable land. The Unbound, for example, is located on the edge of Amsterdam amid wild gardens and organic fruit and vegetable fields. Since it’s just a short cycle from the central city, it’s easy to understand the appeal for locals and visitors alike who are encouraged to ‘connect to nature and reconnect with the city whenever [they] like’. Like Hoy in Paris, The Unbound has a wellness focus, with a sauna, yoga pit, meditation circle and recreational pond. It’s a category that’s predicted to particularly flourish as people search for more meaningful travel experiences. As Philippe Brown, travel consultant and author of Revisit: The New Art of Luxury Travel tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence: ‘Expect a greater focus on travel as a therapeutic tool, with travel advisors going beyond the product and a quick sell to share insights in new realms like wellbeing, happiness, flow, creativity, play and transformation.’

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