There has been intense speculation regarding the future of hotels, and how they may and will change as we transfer into living with COVID-19, and eventually a post- COVID phase.
The hotel sector has been decimated this year, and a limited number of hoteliers in cities have found their main and core business changed to providing urban quarantine accommodation.
Extended stays of 14 days in urban hotels are not what hotels are designed for; with an average guest stay of less than three nights, and the isolation and servicing requirements that neither the designed infrastructure nor the operational framework were purposed for.
This makes us ask – what changes do we need to make in the design phase, to better equip them to be capable of supporting and withstanding our long transition out of COVID, and future pandemics? The answer is not in bigger rooms which may be hypothesised, as for new hotel builds, the economic environment for hotels has not improved since COVID.
The global emergence of lifestyle and micro hotels in urban locations stems from the increasingly harder economic background to hotel development, and the need to focus on areas of impact and attraction to guests rather than superfluous space in guestrooms.
The changes need to come within the design fundamentals of the room, the technology to support safer interactions, the capacity for adaptation and personalisation for longer stays, rethinking the role, location and division of front of house/ guest communal areas, and in materials selection to prevent transmission.
Reimagining the hermetically sealed room
Breaking down the tightly controlled a/c façade in urban hotels is going to be important in future flexible hotel design, providing guests with the capacity to have access to fresh air, and to break the spiral of cabin fever with engagement to the local context.
Urban hotels have developed well to have clear zones of work rest and play over the last decade, but this staid view of zoning needs to shift to make the design and FF&E more flexible for longer stay personalisation, and to incorporate aspects of exercise and choice.
In this regard, a benchmark hotel – Space Aparthotel have made some great progress, with Brands such as Zoku in Amsterdam with flexible rooms where exercise equipment can be hooked up in your hotel room upon request; and with robust flexible elements that can transform the use of the space from extended work, to relaxing and entertaining or exercising. Consequently, design to future proof needs to focus on a smarter use of space, not an increased use of space.
A rethinking of Front of House
Trends in lifestyle hotels have in recent times been focussing on developing richer options of F&B and zones of relaxing, co-working, meetings and options for diversity for longer stays. Working with brands such as Moxy and Adina we look to develop flexibility in FOH spaces, creating diversity in destinations, and increased ‘stickiness’ of custom. Rethinking circulation and vertical access, and increasing the attractiveness, design and access to stairs between levels will reduce the reliance on lifts.
Technology to support
Near-field communication technologies (NFC) are revolutionising the way developers and designers plan, operators manage, staff service, and guests experience hotels. In terms of guest expectations, from the concierge in a pocket to personalisation of room environment for entertainment streaming, lighting and service extras, technology is critical infrastructure.
The NFC technologies are also incredibly important in removing a key area of exposure and risk in terms of transmission, as well as supporting ease, personalisation and choice which is driving guest convenience and experience.
Finishes and safe touch
Antimicrobial surfaces and a rethink of the soft-furnishings component will bring a key shift in the way we design hotels. The pitted surface of stainless-steel mean that in a COVID and post- COVID environment, high touch areas such as lift call buttons and handrails are logical candidates for copper and copper alloys. Hospital studies have proven these materials actively prevent superbugs from mutating and contribute to a 58 percent reduction in overall infection rate.
Copper handrails and other high touch surfaces have been implemented by theme parks in Chile and hospitals in the US recently, to address high traffic transmission. The reconsideration of hard surfaces in tandem with technology will greatly reduce the transmission likelihood, the next target area for design is the soft furnishings. The absorption and retention properties of upholstery pose real issues for safe hotel environments, so design will need to consider and embrace new fabric and surface technologies.
Hotel design is changing rapidly, and in the tectonic shifts of the market in 2020 alone, the competitive landscape requires innovative and cognisant design choices to ensure surviving and thriving.
* Lisa-Maree Carrigan is a director at GroupGSA