Best of Both Worlds? Yes!

by Chris Bjorklund


Nowadays, we have a lot of options for accommodations when we travel—hotels, B&Bs, motels, Airbnbs, vacation home rentals and more. This summer, I came across a new and exciting
one. I would call it a hybrid, with all the amenities of a boutique hotel and the charm of a neighborhood apartment. This operation is growing in Europe and claims to offer the best of both worlds…hence the name, “Bob W.” 

In June, I booked a unit for 10 days in Helsinki, Finland. Fingers crossed, I hoped it would deliver on its promises and measure up to the rave reviews from guests. I was not disappointed. My initial skepticism stemmed from how the place operates. It’s only staffed with a part-time concierge, check in and access to rooms are via keypad codes, and most communication with the “hotel” is by text on WhatsApp and email. Was it going to be too impersonal? What if something goes wrong and no one is around to help? To my surprise, staff (or a bot) kept checking in by text throughout the visit to see if we had everything we needed. And when the Wi-Fi went down, we could easily reach an operator by phone. It was good to know there were humans on standby to help. 

We did face a few challenges during our stay, but either we solved them ourselves or the part-time concierge helped us once we tracked her down. For example, the combo washer/dryer (such different systems in Finland) didn’t fill up with water. We didn’t know that a water setting on the bathroom sink connected to it and had to be set. The induction stovetop was baffling until we figured out that the pots had to be on the burners for the heat to come on! 

The amenities exceeded our expectations. They provided phone chargers, European voltage adapters, a Bluetooth speaker, an espresso machine with pods and milk, a regular coffee pot set up with coffee and accessories, a yoga mat plus free online yoga classes for two weeks, high-end appliances, generous closets and storage, fresh flowers, a heated towel rack, dreamy linens and comforters, and free cinnamon rolls delivered every Friday morning. The human touch was also there in the messaging. For example, we had an unusual and attention-getting sticker on the dryer door that said, Empty your pockets. I also liked the messaging at the apartment about using local suppliers and reducing waste with an organized system for sorting and disposal. 

The location was outstanding, too. Our historic building was in Helsinki’s Design District and walking distance to major attractions and the Baltic Sea. A parklet with plants and flowers, a local dive bar, a church with a free weekly organ recital, and an electric tram stop were just across the street. 

I was amazed that such an arm’s length, hi-tech, automated style of hospitality and customer service could be so efficient and yet warm and welcoming at the same time. The hospitality industry is undergoing big changes, and we consumers are benefiting from all the experimentation and innovation. 

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