The modern hotel business developed in the 19th century having been preceded by billets and inns. In Helsinki, tourism started to grow at the end of the 19th century when the first premises for holiday accommodation and spas were established. The business was accelerated by increased standard of living, urbanization, new means of transport and regulations for annual leave entitlement.
The first famous hotels in Helsinki were the Seurahuone (1833) beside the Market Square, the Kämp (1887) on Pohjoisesplanadi and the Fennia beside the main railway station. These were all high-end hotels that attracted both businessmen and the colourful cream of Finnish artists. The Hotel Hospiz (currently the Hotel Arthur), built in Kaisaniemi in 1907, and the Hotel Helka, built in Kamppi in 1928, were more modest and more affordable hotels.
Many hotels were closed because of the war. Some served as hiding places for émigrés and political refugees, as offices for international journalists and the Allied Commission (the Hotel Torni) or even as military hospitals. After the Winter War broke out in 1939, the control of serving alcoholic beverages became a lot stricter, and they were only allowed to be served with food. Many restaurants bought their ingredients on the black market during the war. The regulation of restaurant prices was eased in 1947 and the ban on dancing was lifted in 1948. During all this time, the Hospiz was used as a hotel and its profits were the income of the YMCA, the founder of the hotel. In the 1920s, the Hospiz had about 30,000 overnight stays every year, and extra rooms were provided in the summertime by the student accommodation upstairs. During the 1930s depression there were fewer guests and parts of the building were used as a boarding house. The restaurant was opened in 1927 and it became an immediate success. In 1945 the Association met financial crisis when price control forbade any increases in room pricing, but in the 1950s the hotel could start developing the business again and by 1952 there were 68 rooms. In the same year, 29,388 bed nights were recorded. The new building was completed in 1957, and the hotel expanded by 50 rooms and a large restaurant that could also be used as a function room. The restaurant had no licence to sell alcohol until the beginning of 1990 though.
In the wake of the 1952 Olympic Games, the number of tourists increased in Helsinki during the 1950s and 1960s. Hotel chains gained a foothold, and congress and holiday centres were established. International hotel chains arrived in Finland and Helsinki in the 1970s, and The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe summit filled Helsinki’s hotels in 1975. In the early 1990s Finland was hit with a severe recession, which had an effect on hotels for years to come, but when the upturn started, the business could develop again. The presidency of the Council of the European Union in 1999 attracted more congress visitors to Finland and the country became known for organising such events successfully.
The tough competition during the past couple of decades has meant that more hotels now belong to chains, and Hotel Arthur is indeed one of the few privately owned hotels in Helsinki. Some hotels only offer basic services in order to guarantee low prices. An example of this is the Omena Hotels chain, where the hotels do not have a reception or staff and customers make and pay for their bookings online. Examples of another trend include design, lifestyle and boutique hotels, such as Klaus K, Glo and Haven.
Hotel Arthur’s approach is straightforward; it focuses on individual features, a home-like atmosphere as well as personal and good service. It follows the traditions and values created during its 100 year-long history. The Hotel Arthur has survived the fierce competition and is now a popular city hotel and venue for conferences. Its occupancy rate is one of the highest in Finland. In 2012, almost 90,000 guests stayed at the Arthur; over 60% of them were overseas visitors.