You can’t discuss design trends in hospitality these days without talking about the impact of COVID and a trio of industry executives recently addressed some of the ways the pandemic has altered how hotels need to approach design and potentially created new long-term solutions.
The executives offered their opinions during an educational session as part of last week’s BITAC Purchasing & Design Virtual Connect 2021. The panel was entitled “Design Directions: What’s Trending In The Changing Hospitality Landscape?”
One of the more prominent trends that has emerged is the movement toward outdoor spaces and away from communal spaces and large gatherings within the hotel.
Ben Nicholas, senior principal, Gettys Group, acknowledged the current preference for the outdoors while pointing out the company is taking a longer-term approach.
“One thing we’re looking at is anything you can do to connect people to outdoor air quality, whether that’s panel walls or optical windows to create that fresh air environment. We’re designing for the future. We understand where we’re at now, but people will gather again and people will travel again. I think what we’re looking at is making sure the environments we’re designing are not only flexible in nature, but that they can be repositioned as needed or they can be brought together for larger groups. It’s the idea of creating flexibility in design, but it’s also about the experience,” he said.
Nile Tuzun, chief creative storyteller, Nilebrand, also emphasized the importance of flexibility, but isn’t ready to completely discount the idea of communal spaces, albeit executed slightly differently.
“I think that’s what hospitality is; people gathering together and experiencing spaces and things together. So I’m a huge advocate for that. My hope is that it’s going to come back sooner than later. We are human beings and we want to be interactive. We want to be together apart and that flexibility is going to definitely be in our future,” she said.
Tuzun also acknowledged the continued movement outside as well as the emergence of biophilic design “incorporating nature into buildings.”
She added, “Outdoor spaces are huge right now, especially in states where the weather is nice most of the time such as California, particularly Southern California. I’m seeing a lot of indoor/outdoor spaces open up with big windows and they’re bringing the outside in.”
Zach Cohen, director of development, Vista Investments, reinforced the point. “We’ve really been leveraging the outdoor spaces a ton,” he said.
With a portfolio of properties in California, Cohen has also observed a shift in guest preferences, specifically citing the company’s Sea Sprite Hotel in Hermosa Beach, CA.
“People really go there [a lot] and they like to sort of feel like they’re outside and back to living a normal life,” he said, adding “they’ve really been enjoying the patios.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to accommodating some of the new cleanliness standards and protocols designers insisted there are ways to make it fashion-forward.
“How do you start integrating sanitation and things like this that you’re seeing across the board? One thing that we try to do is to integrate it into the design,” said Nicholas, adding that manufacturers have done a good job of creating sanitized dispensers that are “high design but still give you that function.”
He continued to elaborate on the importance of guests’ perception. “Psychologically when you walk into a space and just sort of see the free-standing Purel that creates one mindset as far as the type of experience you’re about to have. Versus if you walk into a space and it’s there, you use it and you move on and it’s just sort of part of the experience. It’s about how you integrate the appropriate level of safety given where you are in the world into the design,” said Nicholas.
Cohen touted the importance of branding when it comes to these solutions.
“We’re really branding a lot of the materials and making them really nice and friendly on the door seals and things like that. It really sort of adds that little bit of an extra flare when a guest comes in. It’s just another level to communicate your brand message. So we sort of leverage that to our advantage, especially with our lifestyle brand,” he said.
“We’ve done even some properties where we branded the face masks for the team members so you don’t have people wearing these surgical masks. That’s kind of off putting. But a highly designed mask that is on brand that integrates into the overall environment the guests react well to,” added Nicholas.
The panelists emphasized that while there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic the industry may ultimately emerge stronger from a design perspective.
According to Tuzun, “COVID-19 was a disruptor for the hotel industry as well as many other industries and with that disruption in my mind comes creativity and the opportunity to make things better. I’m not sure how soon this thing is going to go away, but we are human beings and I think we adapt very quickly to our environments or we try to find ways to make it work for us. I don’t know if you’re ever going to go back to the way things were,” she said.
Cohen, for his part, remains generally positive for an imminent recovery.
“I think we see some light at the end of the tunnel, especially in California. When the travel bans are lifted we see a huge wave of travelers coming into our hotels again,” he said.
Nicholas pointed out with regards to any recovery “it’s about the vaccine,” but he also emphasized the potential benefits of change.
“I think as far as the timing, whether that’s Q3 or Q4, a lot of that’s out of everyone’s control, but I think what we can do is focus on what have we learned during this. I think there’s probably things that we do now from a process standpoint or how we look at the design and apply that going forward. I think that we look at the last 10 months as being kind of bad, but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it,” he said.