The Vietnamese Style Boosting A Swedish Hospitality Success Story
The Steam Hotel in Västerås, on the bank of Lake Mälaren in Central Sweden, has become synonymous with the industrial city’s regeneration. With an elegant but informal vibe, the 227-room hotel is drawing a cool cosmopolitan clientele to this 100-year-old former steam power plant.
Today the location exudes a different kind of energy—the buzz of national and international guests and rapturous visitor reviews. So when we heard the Steam’s modern-industrial design featured made-in-Vietnam touches by furniture company District Eight, Vietcetera set off to Sweden to meet with Marketing Manager Felix Fuchs to understand how a single hotel is changing perceptions of an entire city.
How has the Steam Hotel changed the hospitality market in Västerås?
Västerås is the fifth largest city in Sweden. With the opening of the Steam Hotel, the market here saw an increase in hotel capacity of 24% overnight. We’ve only been open since August 2017, but the occupancy has been far higher than expected. At the same time, other hotels in Västerås have not seen any decrease in occupancy whatsoever. We’re seeing growth throughout the whole of Västerås’ market, meaning that the Steam Hotel has been able to bring a new type of guest in search of an entirely different experience.
How did a power plant become one of Sweden’s most popular destination hotels?
The power plant opened in 1917. It’s a special place, close to the hearts of many locals in Västerås. There are a lot of urban, young professionals coming here. Our common spaces double up as a living room away from home for locals. And there are often guests from nearby Mälardalen University. We regularly host conferences, where visitors come in by train from Stockholm. But guests are coming from all over Sweden and overseas.
Actually, the hotel hadn’t been used in any formal capacity for some time before the Steam Hotel took it over. The building’s owners approached a few different hotel chains, including Swedish-based hospitality companies Elite Hotels and Scandic Hotels, to see what could work here. Both chains were quite firm in their belief that Västerås didn’t need another hotel. The city’s market was too small, and a new hotel wouldn’t be able to significantly grow the demand in the market. In other words, they thought it would just take a piece of the current market. But that didn’t deter ESS Group. ESS didn’t want to build a hotel, they wanted to build a novel concept.
The venue is unique. And so the plan became to build something extraordinary here in this power plant. The conversation about this project actually began five years ago. It was a challenge to get started because it was marked as a cultural facility. There were administrative processes to overcome and to incorporate into the building process, things like getting the approval to modify the features and the exterior of the building.
The surrounding territory was previously just a bunch of trees and boat storage facilities. Now there’s significant development. The visible change is remarkable. This area is growing together with the rest of the city. Since the Steam Hotel broke ground, there’s most certainly been a building boom as a lot of residential real estate has started to pop up. The surge in residents means that currently there isn’t enough property to support the swelling population.
Economically, Västerås is home to many growing organizations, and its close proximity to Stockholm, just fifty-five minutes by train, makes it an attractive city to live in. Companies like Zurich-based ABB and Swedish battery maker Northvolt, started by a former Tesla executive, are establishing a lithium-ion research and development center in Västerås. It will provide the city with 3,000 additional jobs.
How does the Steam Hotel vision fit with ESS Group’s hospitality goals?
We believe each and every one of our hotels should provide its own original experience. There needs to be an interactive and social environment. Not only do we want each of our hotels to host their own experience, but on a smaller scale, we want each individual space within the hotel to do the same. Here, just outside the grand hall near our reception, guests and conference attendees play our game pieces, manufactured and designed by District Eight.
So, even while waiting for check-in the interactive experience has started. We have guests playing a quick game of ping pong, and in our other common spaces we feature board games, chess boards, pool tables and foosball tables. The games are quite special and fit the hotel’s aesthetic well—guests have remarked on the details like the leather material used to make the nets and to cover the paddles for the ping pong tables. The games have really been an effective way to enhance each visitor’s personal experience.
This concept developed in collaboration with our design and architectural partners Spik Studios. They also designed our sister property, the Hotel Pigalle in Gothenburg. Here, they were responsible for handling all of the details and bringing in things like the game pieces.
Did you know these game pieces and other furnishings in the hotel came from a company that designs and manufactures them in Vietnam?
Actually no, I did not. I was wondering why a team with a name like ‘Vietcetera’ would come all the way to Sweden to learn more. I would never have initially thought they would come from Vietnam, although I suppose it doesn’t completely surprise me. The quality of the products is outstanding. Aside from the spa and rooftop terrace area, the game pieces are one of the main talking points. We always direct our visitors who want to take one home to Sophia at Spik Studios or Jorge and Sara at Dunke Design.
What were your impressions of Vietnam before we met today?
I’ve heard many positive things about the country before. One of my former managers at a previous company lived in Ho Chi Minh City for four years. I’ve become familiar with Vietnam through hearing about his positive experiences, but I’ve never traveled there. Foodwise, Vietnam is well-known in Sweden.
Our executive chef draws a big influence from Vietnamese and Pan-Asian food. In fact, Skybar, our soon-to-open restaurant, will feature elements of Vietnamese cuisine. There aren’t so many Vietnamese people in Sweden, but when I worked at Education First in Switzerland, Vietnamese food was very popular there.
And, because we have to ask, what’s your favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Sweden?
When I used to work and live in the city, I’d always visit Pho & Bun on Tegnergatan 19, in Stockholm. The pho and spring rolls there, particularly the freshness of these dishes, isn’t something commonly found in Sweden.
What other hotels or venues should we check out that capture a similar vibe to the Steam Hotel?
If you’re looking for a hotel with a unique concept, I recommend checking out our sister property, the Hotel Pigalle. It’s inspired by sinful Paris of the early 1900s.