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SOKOS HOTELS 40 YEARS
In 1974, the Sokos Hotels chain is created as the result of organising SOK's 1- to 5 -star hotels and motels throughout Finland under one brand. The chain establishment aims to enhance marketing and create an image of an extensive and unified network of quality hotels.
The Sokos Hotels chain includes some of the oldest still operating hotels in Finland: Grand Hotel Tammer, Hotel Hamburger Börs, as well as Hotels Helsinki, Torni, and Vaakuna.
In the 1970s, a large proportion of hotel rooms were still not equipped with in-room toilet and shower facilities. The interior decoration trend of the time featured carpeted floors and colour palettes revolving around brown, orange, and yellow. After the chain creation, cooperative societies start making major investments in hotel renovations, including the addition of in-room bathrooms. In addition to cabinets, meetings are held in hotel sauna facilities, and nightclubs with top international entertainment are the most interesting phenomenon of the era.
The hotels in the newly established chain have such employees as concierges, hotel switchboard operators, bellboys (who, in Finland, are called 'piccolo'), sauna attendants, assistant maids, dishwashers, laundry room attendants, butlers, office employees, and janitors.
The oil crisis that started in 1973 is also reflected in the hotel business: hotel room lights are put out for the night and pools are not heated, for example. On a positive note, the OSCE summit held in Helsinki in 1975 gives the tourism industry a boost.
The 1980s, marked with rapid economic growth, bring consumption into fashion. "Yuppies" and representatives of the upper middle class spend generous amounts of money on the good life, including hotel and restaurant services. Golf and downhill skiing are popular hobbies.
The chaining of restaurants is the biggest change in Sokos Hotels in the 1980s.
Traditionally, hotel restaurants had been seen as slightly awkward places where hotel guests ate when they did not know where else to go. Now, the aim was to make hotel restaurants comfortable and relaxing, attractive even for local residents. The idea of a French country-style restaurant is born. Named descriptively 'Fransmanni', the first restaurant representing this brand is opened in Rauma in 1989. Created in 1978, the Rosso chain had already proved that chain restaurants were a good fit for the S Group, and Fransmanni restaurants further confirmed this fact.
Gradually, hotels start to replace pencil-filled order books with computers. Specialties of the 1980s include waterbeds and Jacuzzis, as well as exercise bikes and facial tanning devices available for lending to the hotel room. Air fresheners are provided for guests with allergies. Minibars are introduced in hotel rooms in 1987.
Starting in 1990, Finland faces an economic recession, which also leads to a radical
decrease in business and conference travel. The recession leaves its mark on the hotel business for years. Investments cannot be made and lay-offs are inevitable.
The World Trade Center bombing in 1993 does not make the situation any easier for the hotel industry.
Sokos Hotels seek new ways to attract leisure time travellers
to occupy the beds left vacant due to the decrease in business travel. The chain launches new service packages entitled Avec,
Fun, Kids, and Lähde, and starts investing in international marketing. The ice hockey star
Teemu Selänne becomes the face of the chain in Finnish marketing. The hard work pays off, and Sokos
Hotels get through the recession relatively well.
In the 1990s, the environment becomes an increasingly important topic in the hotel business. Hotels purchase waste presses, and the small shampoo bottles in rooms are replaced with dispensers. Cleaning detergents are replaced with more environmentally friendly alternatives, single-portion butters and marmalades are abandoned at breakfast, and different bins for sorting waste are introduced.
The start of the new millennium is a period of internationalisation and network expansion in Sokos Hotels. Three new, high-class Sokos Hotels are opened in St. Petersburg, and the traditional Hotel Viru in Tallinn is added to the chain. Previously, Sokos Hotels had been located in city centres, but now the concept expands to other areas: new Sokos Hotels are opened in holiday resorts such as Levi, Koli and Vuokatti. To complement the chain, Sokotel Oy purchases six Holiday Club spa hotels.
Nightclubs are converted into gyms and conference rooms, and frequent guests prefer sports vouchers to free drinks.
In 2012-2013, Sokos Hotels undergo the biggest brand reform so far. Customers are looking for unique experiences, and a hotel concept based on offering similar services in every location is no longer a viable answer to this need. The reform divides the over 50 Sokos Hotels into three hotel types aimed to provide unique options for various customers: the energising Break, individually unique Solo, and profoundly Finnish Original hotels.
In 2014, the Sokos Hotels chain comprises over 50 quality hotels in Finland, Estonia, and Russia. Technology has enabled an array of new service opportunities, and social media gives marketing a boost. The trend of the era is labelled by individuality and adventure.
Sokos Hotels keep looking ahead. Food products and restaurant business ideas are developing, responsibility is a focus area, customers are listened to even more keenly, and new hotels are opened. The latest addition to the chain is the Solo Sokos Hotel Torni Tampere, a modern high-rise hotel with its roots in old train engine bays. It is the tallest building in Finland.
Milestones of Sokos Hotels 1974-2014
1970 The Helsinki Club restaurant is opened in Hotel Helsinki, and it becomes the most popular evening restaurant in the city for decades. In the first years of operation, the Club arranges traditional Beauty Balls.
1974 The Sokos Hotels chain is established.
1974 Sokos Hotel Tapiola Garden is opened in the traditional cultural district of Tapiola, Espoo.
1972 Hotel Viru is first opened – it will join the Sokos Hotels chain 30 years later.
Hotel Viru made history as the first high-rise building in Estonia and the finest hotel in the region.
1980s Sokos Hotel Vaakuna in Helsinki is the first Finnish hotel to start a Business Class service, which is an upscale alternative for demanding business travellers. The idea was inspired by airline business class concepts.
1980 Hotel Presidentti is opened in Helsinki by the President of Finland, Mr. Urho Kekkonen, right before the Moscow Olympic Games.
1981 Sokos Hotels are divided into three categories. The marketing company Oy Sokotel Ab is established.
1983 Sokos Hotel Vaakuna in Helsinki serves shrimp in its rooftop restaurant, and the Sky Bar hosted by Caron Barnes becomes the number one nightclub in Helsinki.
1988 Sokos Hotel Seurahuone in Turku is completely revamped and reopened. The renovation includes floors decorated in different styles.
1986 Sokos Hotel Ilves is opened. The hotel has 336 rooms, its premises lit by approximately six thousand lamps, the nightclub has a fountain, and the building is decorated with works by leading Finnish artists. In keeping with an international tradition, the hotel has no floor 13.
Nevertheless, the hotel faces misfortune, as a major electrician strike starts on the day of its planned opening and persists for three months.
1989 Sokos Hotel Vaakuna is opened as a modern castle next to the old Häme Castle. The newspaper Hämeen Sanomat makes note of "the peculiarity that one floor is reserved for allergy suffering guests only".
1989 Grand Hotel Kuopio is sold to the Kuopio Cooperative Society. It is connected to the Hotel Puijonsarvi located across the street with an underground passage.
1987 Sokos Hotel Kouvolan Vaakuna is opened. Local citizens are charmed – and, initially, also a little baffled – by the pink hotel building.
1991 KGB, the Soviet Committee for State Security, leaves Hotel Viru in the spring. The 23rd floor of the building accommodates the KGB's listening room, which is still one of the most popular sights for tourists in Estonia.
1991 Hotel Ilves hosts its first Finnish Independence Day Ball. This fine tradition is still alive today.
1992 Sokos Hotel Vaakuna is opened in Rovaniemi, in the centre of this modern city right at the footstep of the fascinating, exotic Lapland.
1995 Vaakuna Mikkeli is reopened as a Sokos Hotel.
1997 On Tuesday, 22 October, Steen Christensen from Denmark robs Hotel Palace in Helsinki, kills two police officers during his escape, and checks in at Sokos Hotel Vaakuna in Hämeenlinna. He is caught outside the hotel on Saturday evening.
1999 Hotel Caribia, the first themed spa in Finland, is opened. Caribia is to become a Sokos Hotel in 2006.
1994 S Group's co-op members start getting bonus for their purchases in Sokos Hotels.
2000s The first decade of the 21st century introduces a new employee role: the revenue manager, who is in charge of determining to whom rooms are sold and at what price.
2003 Tahkovuori and Koli Hotels join the Sokos Hotels chain.
1 Sept. 2006 Sokos Hotel Ilves becomes the first fully non-smoking hotel in Finland.
2007 Sokos Hotel Vuokatti located in the natural national landscape in Sotkamo, joins the chain.
2008 Sokos Hotel Aleksanteri, named after the adjacent Theatre Aleksanteri, is opened in Helsinki.
2008 The brand new Sokos Hotel Flamingo is opened in conjunction with the Flamingo entertainment centre in Vantaa.
2009 Sokos Hotel Tammer undergoes a thorough renovation. The original glory of this valuable building is restored.
2011 Sokotel Oy sells Holiday Club spas back to Holiday Club Resorts. Some of the former Holiday Club spas remain in the chain as Sokos Hotels.
2012 Original Sokos Hotel Savonlinnan Seurahuone is opened.
2013 Solo Sokos Hotel Estoria, a showcase of Estonian stories, is opened.
2014 Solo Sokos Hotel Torni Tampere, the newest member of the chain, is opened in Tampere in October.