Sky high demand: The surge in skyscraper hotels

From the transitioning markets of Asia to established urban centers in Europe and the U.S., rapid development has created challenges for dynamic cities.

May 03, 2017

Hotels are well versed in making their guests feel on top of the world but a growing number are now allowing them to wine, dine and sleep hundreds of meters above ground level as well.

When the Wuhan Greenland Center takes its place as China’s tallest building in 2018, a hotel will open in the top 35 floors of the 636 meter super-structure. Similarly, Seoul’s just-finished Lotte World Tower, the world’s fifth tallest building, includes 25 floors of hotel space in the top third of its 554 meters.

Indeed, 18 of the world’s tallest 50 super towers currently contain a hotel. But of the generation now in construction, half of the tallest 50 will boast a hotel, according to data from the Skyscraper Center.

“Skyscraper hotels are emerging as a trend in the luxury segment,” says Corey Hamabata, Senior Vice President at JLL’s Asia Pacific Hotels & Hospitality Group. He expects to this trend to foster the creation of new guest experiences beyond that of the rooftop restaurant and lounge.

More than just a great view

Attracting high-end tourists is not the only reason behind the trend; there are other incentives for developers on mixed-use projects. “Hotels may also act as an amenity for office, retail or residential components,” says Hamabata. “There is often an additional, less quantifiable benefit to having a hotel as part of your development.”

The hotels in Beijing’s tallest buildings in the China World Trade Center, for example, attract an elite level of business traveler and diplomat – drawing them into one of the world’s largest up-market commercial developments and showing them the new face of the People’s Republic.

The inclusion of a hotel also particularly suits certain types of developer. “In a market like Korea, in which large-scale development, is dominated by large diversified conglomerates it is often the case that the developer controls a hotel business,” says Hamabata. “As such, including a hotel in their development is adding to their existing businesses.”

In markets such as China, Hong Kong and Singapore, “the government often times specifies uses which need to be included as part of the project during the land tender process,” says Hamabata. “In these cases, a hotel is often a part of this requirement.”

Thinking around design challenges

Once the space has been allocated, designing and maintaining a skyscraper hotel is a rather different proposition to those closer to the ground. “A major difference in design is around the arrival experience,” says Hamabata. “We’re increasingly seeing hotels utilizing a sky lobby, which has the dual benefit of reserving prime ground-level space and offering a lobby with excellent views.”

The tallest hotel in the world, the Jin Jiang at the 632 meter Shanghai Tower, will have its own sky lobby and gardens when it opens this year just under the observation floors. The Shanghai Tower will also offer the world’s tallest swimming pool. The Ritz-Carlton at the top of Hong Kong’s tallest building, the 484 meter International Commerce Centre, currents sets the benchmark here – with its 118th-floor rooftop pool. Others are embracing rooftop bars and glass bottom floors to provide their guests with memorable experiences.

More functional features are just as important – especially when it comes to safety. Due to open in 2020, the 1,000 meter Jeddah Tower, including its Four Seasons Hotel, will be served by 65 elevators. Some of these elevators work in ‘lifeboat’ mode – meaning that they can be operated manually by security staff while other high-speed service elevators are reserved for firefighters and buildings maintenance specialists.

Elevator layout is also crucial for the flexible zoning of some of these hotels. The Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa is located just above the Armani Residences which it serves. The two spaces are connected by elevators, a feature which is particularly important in peak periods when the Residences are used as overflow to house hotel guests. The same access has been designed into the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences in the Jeddah Tower.

Heading ever upwards

As cities become denser and buildings rise upwards to find the space they need for development, more high-end hotel brands could be accommodating guests at cloud level. In Tokyo, for instance, hotels are located in only ten of the fifty tallest buildings.

But change is already happening in Japan: “Hotels are increasingly being often being included as a part of high-rise projects because developers can receive incentives such as excess density for including a hotel component,” Hamabata says.

And there is demand for high-end, sky high hotels. With today’s guests placing increasing emphasis on new and unique experiences, activities such as pre-dinner drinks in a rooftop bar, a swim in the lap pool or a morning workout acquire an extra dimension with the views spread for miles in all directions.

“Hotels are exploring exciting ways to differentiate themselves beyond just location and room design,” says Hamabata. “For now skyscraper hotels are redefining the top end of the luxury market, certainly in city centers across Asia but increasingly in other parts of the world. They are using their height to add that extra wow factor.”