When designing a new luxury hotel, it’s a brave man who will take his inspiration from the budget airlines. Especially if the property happens to be in Davos, the smart Swiss ski resort that this week will host the world’s business and political leaders for the annual World Economic Forum.
But then few know the town as well as Tino Morosani, whose family have been running four-star hotels here for more than 100 years. “We wanted to convert some apartments into a hotel but we had no space for a reception or dining room,” says Morosani. “So we made it automated. If a budget airline could do it with automated check-in, we didn’t see why we couldn’t with a hotel.”
The result is Fiftyone, which opened in December as Davos’s first “automatic” hotel. Set back from Davos’s main street and opposite the four-star Posthotel (also owned by Morosani), the Fiftyone has an industrial chic entrance that you might at first glance mistake for a multi-storey car park. There are no staff to greet you – instead, check-in is via the computer attached to the wall to the right of the glass front door. Rooms can be booked only online; guests punch their confirmation number into the computer and receive an electronic key in return.
Swipe the key on the reader and the front door swings open. And there you have it: an entire hotel, unsupervised and at your disposal. I expected anarchy. I expected skiers being wrestled to the floor by automatic boot racks gone haywire. I expected frustrated holidaymakers to be locked out of their rooms while snow gradually piled around their ankles.
This being Switzerland, none of the above happened. The hotel oozes stylish efficiency. The 24 rooms are decked in a tempered palette of grey, cream and black, and have snake-print bedheads and sections of dark wood panelling. “You still have the traditional warmth of wood,” says Morosani, “but we wanted it to be trendy, to be more design-focused.”
There are white-tiled wet rooms with televisions inlaid into the bathroom mirrors, large balconies, WiFi, and corridors that look like something out of a Mondrian painting. In the morning, the lengthy performance that is breakfast in many grand Alpine hotels is replaced by something altogether simpler: a suite of vending machines selling coffee, apples, crispbreads, orange juice, granola bars and so on. Those who want the full breakfast can cross the road to the Posthotel (where they pay extra for it) but, with snow conditions as good as they have been this winter, getting straight to the ski lifts is an attractive option.
It’s not far: the Jakobshorn lift is a five-minute walk and gives access to wide pistes of mainly intermediate grading, descending from an altitude of 2,590m back to the resort, at 1,550m. On the other side of the mountain you can ski the 12km Parsenn run – the setting for Switzerland’s oldest ski race. In all, Davos and neighbouring Klosters offer five linked ski areas, with a total of 320km of pistes.
It’s true that when you return from the slopes, there is no relaxing log fire or bar to sit at and muse over the day’s activities, but again you can go to the Posthotel for that, or head to the Schweizerhof, another Morosani hotel, to use the spa, for an additional CHF20 (£14).
But though staff are not visible at Fiftyone, they do exist. Rooms are cleaned and serviced daily and there’s even a turndown service if you want. Public spaces are monitored remotely by CCTV, and if something goes wrong there is help at the end of a phone. “After all, you’re not dealing with complete robots,” says Morosani.