Designing the hotel of the future

Despite a new emphasis on safety and security, hotel design is set to continue foregrounding sustainability, technology and personalisation.

EAST Hotels properties address guests’ growing preference for multifunctional spaces through their Domain spaces

Good hotel design transcends ‘soft’ power and appeal; they can heavily impact a brand’s return on investment and guest loyalty. As economies around the world gradually reawaken and travel returns, the future of hotel design may be forever altered.

“Increasingly, the (hospitality) essentials will relate to hygiene, sanitation and operational reliability. In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’ve moved right back to the bottom of the pyramid – in the short term, at least – where safety and security are much more important than self-actualisation. Brands seen as able to guarantee standards of cleanliness will benefit,” opined Matt Turner, founder, AHEAD Awards.

EAST Hotels properties address guests’ growing preference for multifunctional spaces through their Domain spaces

AHEAD Asia recognises hotels and hotel facilities in the region that have effective design and features, and this year’s edition saw the judges convene via a virtual meeting.

While transparent and consistent hygiene standards are expected to become a mainstay in hospitality, customers are likely to continue to favour flexible, engaging spaces.

Turner added: “Effective design today must be from the point of view of delivering great guest experiences, rather than just design for design’s sake which (is to look) nice, eye-catching or unusual in some way.”

Meanwhile, Toby Smith, managing director of Swire Hotels and judge of AHEAD Asia 2020, remarked: “Appropriate design can have a huge influence on business performance, whether that be through maximising space, optimising efficiencies or (effecting) more aesthetic influences that shape a brand.”

Flexible and sustainable
A key feature that many customers are drawn to now is the appeal of flexible common spaces for both leisure and corporate guests.

The lobby bar of The Opposite House, Beijing is a flexible space that allows a variety of seating options

Smith told TTG Asia: “Something that was repeatedly raised in our discussions was versatility in design or creating spaces that effectively accommodate guests at various points of their day or life.”

Notable examples of this include EAST Hotels’ Domain spaces, which function as cafés, meeting spaces, co-working zones and early evening bars, as well as UNION at The Opposite House in Beijing that provides an elegant environment with a variety of seating arrangements.

Consumers are also getting smarter when it comes to choosing sustainable stays. Providing environmentally-responsible amenities alone is no longer adequate; guests now pay attention to a hotel’s commitment to minimising waste and impact, even in its design.

“A sustainable approach is now table stakes. The degree to which sustainability is achieved is becoming more important and distinguishable, especially (among the) younger generations,” observed William Harris, founding partner, AvroKO and judge, AHEAD Asia 2020.

According to Harris, needing to be sustainable has driven hotels towards solutions that are more unconventional or register as more authentic. This has spurred hotels to redefine their offerings and do their part for the community, making the need for sustainability a “positive challenge”.

For instance, more properties are using natural and recycled materials, LED lighting, as well as renewable energy technology in their design. “Less talked-about features that are equally important include innovative water treatment and waste management systems,” said Nicholas Clayton, CEO, Capella Hotel Group, and judge, AHEAD 2020.

Visually, sustainability efforts can be communicated through “biophilic forms in hotels”, said Harris. These include outdoor experiences brought into the public spaces of hotels and resorts, such as indoor waterfalls, all-season terraces, rugged outdoor-style furnishing, oversized plants and panoramic views.

Such features also serve to help guests “feel soothed and balanced in a world where many people in urban settings can be spending up to 90 per cent of their days indoors”, explained Harris.

Personalised tech matters
No talk of the younger generation is complete without mentioning the need for technological integration.

As personalisation climbs in importance among well-heeled and discerning consumers, the use of technology has become ever more critical in creating the ultimate guest experience.

Casting his eyes into the future of hotel design, Clayton predicted: “Technology and personalisation will work in tandem. Going beyond pillow selection and customised toiletries, guests can expect to arrive in a room that’s set to their preference, from desired lighting to work and entertainment systems that mirror their standards back home.”

The main challenge, posited Smith, is being able to “successfully blend the digital with the human”, as people are ultimately social creatures who “thrive (on) face-to-face interaction”.

He added: “Creating vibrant, interesting spaces that ignite conversation is key, while at the same time harnessing the benefits of technology.”

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