Sanitized or Energized: Hotel Design Seeks a Balance
Sanitized or Energized: Hotel Design Seeks a Balance

Sanitized or Energized: Hotel Design Seeks a Balance

As hotels prepare for the future, they face a new set of challenges. Can they convey cleanliness without becoming sterile? Which emerging consumer preferences will continue? And which will fade? Ultimately, hotel operators are attempting to pivot without over-correcting for the current situation. In other words, they’re seeking balanced and resilient design strategies.

Hotels will continue to offer a hybrid of living, leisure, office, and wellness experience. The proportions will shift. The iterations will be new. Hotels will reinvent themselves, as they always have. They are not ostriches. And neither are hotel designers. We understand the financial impact of the pandemic and any ensuing design changes. It is necessary (and responsible) to be visionary yet pragmatic.

Leisure travel is poised for a comeback, certainly sooner than business travel, or group meetings and conventions. For that reason, we’re focused on the guest experience. How can hotels adjust their design strategy to maximize near-term return on investment? We’ve compiled an initial list of trend predictions and corresponding high-impact design choices worth considering.

Minimizing the spread of germs will not go out-of-fashion

Sharing the TV remote with the last hundred guests was always gross. But now, it’s unimaginable. We expect consumers will have a lingering aversion to any shared-touch surfaces, especially those that seem hard to clean. Person-to-person contact with staff will also be avoided — and avoidable with new technology. Contactless check-in will be de rigueur. Elevators will exchange buttons (with lots of crevasses for germs) for flat-screen touchpads. And guests will soon expect to control all in-room electronics with their smartphones.

Finishes will be freshened with a lighter palette

For the last several years, guests have placed a greater value on the quality of materials and design over the size of individual rooms. We expect this preference for quality over space will continue, but the expressions, finishes, and material choices will evolve. Highly-textured materials and fabrics, like barnwood, brick, rich draperies, and poured-form concrete, were widely used pre-pandemic for their authenticity and warmth. With a greater emphasis on cleanliness — both in and function — we anticipate dark finishes and variegated surfaces may be eschewed for uniform, easy-to-clean, and durable choices, like tile, blinds, and metallic surfaces, executed in a lighter, brighter palette.

Fitness will go outside or offsite

Hotel gyms were once relegated to dank basements with dim lighting, a few treadmills, and hand-weights. This changed, of course, over the last decade. Fitness is now front-and-center as a key aspect of the guest experience. It is a core attraction with an elevated location, expanded footprint, and enhanced programming. But gyms are germy, even under the best circumstances and cleaning policies. So should hotels invest in fitness facilities, long-term? If fitness and wellness are part of a brand’s core positioning, the answer is likely yes — but we expect to see more indoor / outdoor facilities, greater connection to exterior activity spaces, and in-room exercise options. However, if an urban hotel has excellent nearby fitness options, they can take fitness out of the hotel, offering guests comp passes to local gyms and studios instead.

Spaces will be designed with work(ers) in mind

Workers have been, largely, displaced from the office. Many now have the option to “work from anywhere.” And that’s likely to continue. But the truth is, not every “where” is conducive to work. Hotels can offer a place to concentrate, away from home whether in-room, in the lobby, or alcoves in shared spaces. Throw in excellent Wi-Fi, a coffee counter, and audio/visual set-ups and hotels are the new office. Many brands report an uptick in day bookings as a result of the work-from-hotel trend. And teams are getting creative, booking connected rooms as temporary office space.

Buzzy lobbies and F+B will return

We expect two key aspects of hotels to come roaring back — the lobby and F+B experiences. Lobbies will continue to double as comfortable hangouts and arrival spaces. And they will create an authentic connection to the surrounding neighborhood, street, or community. Check-in desks will function as coffee counters in the morning and cocktail bars in the evening. F+B experiences will also return to full swing, but they will likely utilize more flex space, share the lobby, and deliver room service via robots.

Guests will expect fresh air

Room balconies, rooftop bars, and outdoor dining were already in vogue. Now fresh air is a guest requirement. With this in mind, hotel operators are attempting to eliminate the seasonality of their outdoor spaces — building in permanent infrared heating, cooling and covering solutions. Expectations for fresh air will also extend to the interior. Mechanical system improvements, including ventilation and air filtration upgrades, are increasingly common.

Key Takeaways

Hotels are seeking to balance sanitation and warmth in their design strategies. Guests will expect fresh air, touchless technology, and clean finishes. They’re longing for the return of the energy, serendipity, and style of the lobby. And they’re looking for a new workspace. Investments in these areas will yield returns, and, if predictions bear out, hotels can pivot without overcorrecting.

Reconsidering a hotel design strategy?

If you need guidance on how to holistically approach your next project, get in touch. Our hospitality design experts are happy to discuss challenges and help you achieve a balanced and resilient strategy.