An attractive design is always important in a hotel, regardless of its typology (luxury or economy, chain or independent). However, if an infrastructure does not operate efficiently, image takes a back seat. Today we take a look at the latest trends for efficient and operational hotels, without losing sight of the appeal of design.
That was a central topic of discussion last November at the Boutique Design New York conference. The event addressed the hot topics of design in today’s hospitality industry. Here are the conclusions of the roundtable discussion featuring Kip Vreeland (Marriott International), Lisa Knight (ABI Design), Justin Jabara (Meyer Jabara Hotels), Vito Lotta (Hilton Hotels & Resorts), and Gary Isenberg (LWHA Asset and Property Management Services).
To understand how guests use a room (or the rest of a hotel’s facilities), and how brands can adapt to better meet their expectation, designers and hoteliers need to change the way they think.
1. Long term vs. Short term
Invest for the long term in sturdy, quality neutral elements that can be complemented with “soft” (easily replaceable) elements that add a touch of color or a trendy touch. The latter are much less expensive to update, while the former ensure adequate functional durability with minimal maintenance. Limiting the use of the more rigid pieces of furniture, such as cabinets, can reduce intervention time in “soft” renovations.
From the right balance between the base elements and the complements comes the greatest profitability for the owner and the hotel manager, maintaining a competitive operation at all times.
2. Multipurpose and flexible
Increasingly, the use of flexible and multipurpose spaces allows for greater profitability of the operation, especially when available space is limited. For example, a large shared table that in the morning is a breakfast area, during the day a work area, and in the evening a place for dinners and meetings between guests. Efficient hotels are characterized by their great flexibility.
Another strategy is the use of mobile modular elements. Breakfast buffet furniture may not be operative in hotels with a lower volume of guests or with occupancy valleys, and prevent an alternative use during the rest of the time.
3. Minimum, minimal and high-tech
The high impact of the price per square meter is causing rooms to get smaller and smaller. The lower limit is set by regulations, but there used to be a somewhat more generous market constraint. This is changing, and even in higher positions, maximum utilization is being sought, which presents a design challenge. On the one hand, superfluous elements are being eliminated, and on the other, the aim is to offer the guest a more personalized experience, which involves technological transformation.
If “soft” renewals to keep the product competitive are planned every 6-8 years, the technology cannot support this long period; the devices have updates in 6-month periods, so that before the year the hardware would have become obsolete. It is necessary to play with this dual time scale: decoration is measured in years, technology in months.
Faced with this fact, the solution is to shift the focus of technological innovation and design the room to connect with the customer’s device, instead of implementing costly devices in the room that would become obsolete before their amortization.
And allocating the technological investment to getting to know the customer better (through loyalty programs, on-site beacons, etc.) in order to increase customer satisfaction by personalizing the characteristics of the room from the moment the reservation is made until the customer arrives.
4. Local personality
Guests (especially millennials) demand authenticity. For this reason, hotels must make an effort, within the necessary economies of scale to make a business profitable, to offer a local feeling in each location. This can be achieved through decoration, gastronomy, music or any sensory aspect. In this sense, hotels compete directly with Airbnb for this “feeling local” valued more and more.
Not surprisingly, the so-called “soft brands” are emerging to respond to this demand. There where the chains cannot reach due to the demand for somewhat rigid standards, there is a market opportunity for alliances between independent hotels (fully integrated into their local environment) and the chains under a flexible, minimal brand. This video shows the soft brand concept of The Unbound Collection, by Hyatt:
However, big “hard brands” can also compete in design by trying to make their product more flexible to make it more local. And for all demographic segments and market positions this aspect of uniqueness is highly valued, so it should not be ignored if you want to maintain a leadership position.
5. Brand portfolio segmentation
Hotel chains often create different brands to serve the different market segments they identify among their customers. In this sense, they declare that they usually create a new brand at the moment they detect a gap in the market.
But this brand architecture must entail a coherent design strategy where, for example, the finishing materials are consistent with the positioning of the brand within the portfolio. Large chains such as Hilton must identify which brands are acceptable for laminate flooring and which, on the contrary, it is necessary to use real wood, even if the investment and maintenance cost are higher.
For instance, the trend of using open wardrobes has different meanings depending on the client. If the brand concept is well articulated, it makes sense in market positioning where it would be rejected as a low-cost solution. The challenge of design consists on many occasions of going beyond the constraints established a priori by traditional categories.
(*) The original article from which this adaptation has been made can be found at Hotel Management.