Bank robbers, artists and technological advances: Helka’s recent history contains many stories
The travel industry has changed enormously during the last decades. Helka’s service manager Jutta Palo has worked at Helka for 32 years, and in that time, she has seen the change both in this one hotel, and in the whole industry.
The customers make Helka what it is
There have been many different travelers in Helka over the years, and some of them have left a lasting impression on Jutta.
One of these cases was the visit of a well-known bank robber in the mid-1980s. Jutta showed the customer the rooms, and the conversation led to the new locks in the hotel. Cylinder locks were considered burglarproof back then. The bank robber said to Jutta: “Oh, I can show you how to make a key for these out of a toothbrush, all in 15 minutes. There’s nothing safe about these locks”. The locks have been changed since then.
We haven’t seen famous bank robbers here in Helka for a while now. Despite of that, the travel industry hasn’t changed much when it comes to customers. However, although their basic needs have remained the same, people of Helka have noticed that trends have an influence on hotel customers.
“The traditional archetype of a salesman has faded away. People on business trips used to drink and cause trouble, and proceeded to go to work in a hangover. Now business travelers are looking out for their health. They go for a jog and want a healthy breakfast instead of the old hangover drink with bacon on the side.”
The years have also changed the image of Helka. The charity work made by the owner of Helka, YWCA, was not very popular in the late 80s and early 90s, and Helka had a reputation of being a Christian sobriety hotel. Helka’s restaurant already had beer and wine in stock when Jutta came in, and now the bar has the full A-license, but still the impression remains.
Despite its old, rigid image, Helka has been host to many artists and musicians during the years. According to Jutta, they like Helka because there they can relax.
“Also, there’s a good spirit among the staff that resonates with the customers. Even though the staff has changed along the years, we’ve always had a good and relaxed atmosphere. Returning customers have said that they are at ease at Helka”.
Helka has acquired a tight group of returning customers during the years. Unfortunately, one of them was lost when the soviet politician Zhirinovsky came to visit.
“Due to security reasons, we had to reserve a whole aisle for Zhirinovsky. On this aisle, there was also a room that one of our returning customers had always booked, but due to Zhirinovsky’s visit, the room was unavailable. Zhirinovsky’s visit went well, but we lost one returning customer in the process”.
One thing has stayed in the focus of visitors throughout the years: the price of staying. Regardless of price-conscious thinking, or maybe because of it, hotels are becoming more places of enjoyment, not just sleeping.
“Most of the customers used to only care about having a roof over their heads for the night. Now we get special requests from customers while they’re booking a room. These vary from having a room facing the yard or the street, or having a room with an especially beautiful view”.
Financial instabilities have manifested at Helka in the number of booked meetings. When companies and unions are doing worse, it’s more common to have meetings in their own quarters or via a video call.
“Meetings are clearly making a comeback. People seem to want the change in scenery once in a while”.
Technology is changing the travel industry as well
If there’s one thing that has changed the travel industry in the recent decades, it’s technology. When Jutta started in Helka, communication was done with paper tape via Telex. Now everything is in the internet, and hotels must use several booking and pricing systems.
One thing technology has affected is pricing. Before, Helka had fixed prices for weekdays, weekends and summer days. Now pricing is determined by demand in almost all of travel industry. People today might be surprised to hear that Helka’s weekend pricings used to be cheaper than the weekday ones.
“A few decades ago, the weekends in rural hotels were the priciest, while at Helka they were the cheapest. Back then, Helsinki didn’t have so much going on in the weekends. Now it’s the opposite, and weekends bring much more people to the city”.
The advancement of technology has sped up and, at least partially, made it easier to work in the travel industry. Learning new things sometimes means that the customers learn with you.
“Many travelers find hotels and prices on the internet, outside of the hotels’ own websites. When they then need to make a change in their booking, they call us directly. However, the changes need to be made where the booking was done. First, we had to learn this, then the customers”.
In 30 years, Helka has probably seen every technological appliance available. When Jutta started, Helka had a computer with a hotel software, and people used pen and paper to learn how to use it. The change from Telex to Telefax was a miracle, as it enabled the sending of pictures between fax machines.
“The biggest change has happened now, during the 2000s. I sometimes wonder, what’s still to come, and will the advancement of the industry ever stop?”.
A single hotel and a whole industry can both change tremendously in 30 years. But few things, such as good service and respect for clients, have stayed, and continue to stay, in the heart and spirit of Helka.