Hotel design

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Can Luxury be Accessible?

Can Luxury be Accessible?

by David Klemt

Poolside seating at luxury resort hotel in Cabo San Lucas

Can everyone experience luxury or is this category of hospitality inherently exclusive, serving only a small percentage of consumers?

During a panel discussion titled “Brand Identity: The Evolution of Luxury in Lifestyle Hotels” at Hospitality Design Expo 2021, one speaker answered this question.

Moreover, this speaker’s answer was simple and definitive.

What is Luxury?

Blame luxury brand marketing but it seems many people define luxury through the Three Es: exclusive, extravagant, and expensive.

However, as people reflect and rethink their priorities, a new view of luxury appears to be emerging.

Lee Shuman, director of project management at Peachtree Hotel Group, defines luxury through the Three Cs: comfort, convenience and contemplation.

Interestingly, comfort is included in the dictionary definition of luxury as well. (And yes, I know it’s cliché to point to dictionary definitions in articles.)

We’ve been hearing for a few years now that more people, particularly younger Millennials and Gen Zers, favor experiences over material items. Time is more valuable to these consumers than possessions.

Shuman’s Three Cs, then, speak to these consumers:

  • Obviously, people seek out comfort, particularly when it comes to hotels, resorts, restaurants, and travel.
  • Convenience reduces friction and removes pain points, allowing guests to spend their valuable time seeking out memorable experiences seamlessly.
  • When it comes to contemplation, Shuman says this is a design component that provides guests with several opportunities to notice and experience design “moments.” Contemplation also relates directly to experiences.

Operators who embrace and embody the Three Cs will meet guest expectations of luxury.

Can Luxury be Accessible?

Shuman answered this question succinctly: “Luxury has to be accessible.” Not can be accessible, not should be accessible, but luxury must be accessible.

Going further, Shuman said that “everyone in every strata should experience luxury.” There are a couple of ways to interpret this view of luxury.

Looking at this subject through the lens of convenience, one can take Shuman’s opinion on luxury literally. Everyone, regardless of the category or price point of hotel or resort (or restaurant, for that matter), should have access to luxury.

An alternate view that still relates to convenience is that if luxury is too exclusive, too few consumers will have access and the venue won’t be profitable.

Another viewpoint is that luxury needs to be accessible physically. In other words, if it can’t be touched, it’s not luxurious.

Per Shuman, guests don’t want luxury they can see but not touch.

Make it Happen

Shuman likes to see how guests are using a given property. Observing guests in situ provides him with insights that can be used enhance their experiences and improve design.

Hotel and resort guests are, from what Shuman observes, trending younger. Although, he said that could be because operators are aging.

As we’ve been learning, many younger guests are after experiences, comfort and convenience regardless of where they’re staying. Ticking those three boxes will help operators attract these younger guests.

Of course, older guests, due in part to a reshuffling of priorities during the pandemic, also have an interest in the Three Cs.

Shuman is also seeing that hotels and resorts must be enjoyable to use. Interestingly, he’s observing pools falling out of favor while the demand for well-designed health centers. His commitment to observing and learning about guests constantly provides these insights.

To make luxury accessible moving forward, operators should embrace the Three Cs, observe their guests continuously, and realize that luxury doesn’t necessitate excluding guests.

As consumer desires and expectations change, operators must adapt more and more rapidly. Increasingly, change is impacting the perception of luxury.

Yes, the Three Es still exist and likely always will. However, the Three Cs are informing a more modern view of luxury.

Image: GaPeppy1 from Pexels

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Meeting Expectations Through Hotel Design

 

Lit neon hotel sign with blue and purple background

During Hospitality Design Expo 2021, the show’s version of a live “Ask Me Anything” addressed meeting and exceeding new guest expectations.

On the design side, firms must meet the needs and visions of clients and brands. In turn, design clients are attempting to best meet their guests’ expectations in the short and long term.

Additionally, agencies are designing for the pandemic-driven new normal. The way guests use hotels and resorts has changed. Hotel and resort operators must adapt, and so must the designers with whom they work.

Gonzalo Bustamante, Executive Vice President, Design and Development, MGM Resorts International

Quick to point out that he comes from the design world rather than the hotel world, Bustamante is proud of how fast MGM embraced the pivot.

The company adapted to meet the needs of guests while also doing what’s necessary for the bottom line.

Bustamante feels we’re all living and working “in the new version of reality.” Therefore, moving forward, MGM properties will feature design based on the new normal.

When collaborating with designers, Bustamante looks for storytellers who can listen and stay on budget.

Kristen Conry, Senior Vice President, Global Design, US & Canada, Marriott International

What was once a guest desire, says Conry, is now an expectation.

For instance, guests expect hotels and resorts to build and operate sustainably; offer health and wellness features; and provide access to outdoor spaces.

Conry is curious about two specific elements of hotel and resort design.

One, she has an interest in how all-inclusive stays and properties will perform and progress.

Two, Conry wonders if hotel groups shrinking their carbon footprints will encourage guests to make more repeat visits. If a guest is motivated to support a particular brand because of their commitment to “green” operations, the hope is that they won’t cut back on hotel stays to shrink their own footprint.

Conry is encouraged by the increase in conversations designers and their clients are having about utilizing indoor-outdoor and outdoor spaces.

Gary Dollens, Global Head, Design / Product and Brand Development, Hyatt

Leisure travelers are returning to hotels, meaning they’re more important now to the bottom line, per Dollens.

However, there are two other developments that seem to have really caught Dollens’ attention.

One is hotel and resort properties operating with smaller teams. The second is that margins are “better than they’ve ever been.”

If groups can operate with smaller teams without impacting the guest experience negatively, why would they return to working with larger teams? Operators, encouraged by improved margins, are now used to new changes and are unlikely to go back to pre-pandemic operations.

For example, Dollens stated that Hyatt’s current RevPAR (revenue per available room) is up 19 percent compared to 2019. The company also acquired all-inclusive luxury brand Apple Leisure Group for $2.7 billion this year.

Helen Jorgensen, Vice President, Design and Procurement, Host Hotels & Resorts

Jorgensen and Host, like so many companies, adapted to working remotely.

Of course, teams used to gather to discuss design projects. Now, they gather digitally to review virtual room models.

However, it seems she’s eager to return to working in person. After all, while we’ve definitely made leaps and bounds in terms of technology, nothing beats experiencing a hotel room physically. There’s no better way—at the moment—to gauge the guest experience than actually touching and seeing everything in person.

Host and Jorgensen, like MGM and Bustamante, have been moving quickly. She expects Host to complete 16 major property renovations by 2023.

Part of those renovations has to do with room size and amenities. For instance, Jorgensen says suites will account for 19 percent of property rooms. That’s more than double current Host inventory, which is eight percent.

In terms of other design trends, Jorgensen expects sustainability to become more important to more guests. Certainly, that’s related to another trend Jorgensen identifies as crucial moving forward: wellness.

Larry Traxler, Senior Vice President, Global Design, Hilton

All-inclusive experiences are the future for hotels and resorts, per Traxler. Given the increased stress guests are experiencing on a daily basis due in large part to the pandemic, this makes sense.

Guests want to show up and know that everything is handled—eliminating friction is a luxury.

Speaking of which, luxury and lifestyle categories are performing very well for Hilton. However, extended stay is the current category leader for the brand.

When it comes to design challenges, Traxler and Hilton are focusing on a few crucial elements: F&B, outdoor experiences, and air quality.

During this session, Traxler said that F&B must evolve. Destination restaurants on property are performing well for Hilton.

That speaks to another crucial element Traxler mentioned: avoiding cookie-cutter design and experiences. Guests want unique experiences, and that extends to all markets. In fact, many guests want access to more outdoor areas, from balconies and pool areas to lawns and restaurants.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, Traxler says that hotels and resorts can improve property air quality without a “massive outlay” of money. In fact, Traxler says there’s no better time than now to build hotels, with Hilton projecting five-percent growth but achieving seven percent.

Summary

When it comes to hotels, resorts, and design, there are a few key factors operators should focus on now and for the future:

  • Luxury, extended stay, and all-inclusive categories are performing well.
  • The leisure traveler is returning.
  • Food & Beverage offerings must evolve.
  • The use of outdoor spaces is now integral to design.
  • Sustainability, health, and wellness are important to a growing percentage of guests. This includes air quality.
  • Smaller teams may shift from trend to standard operating procedure.
  • The time to build is now.

Image: Ph B on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

6 Takeaways from HD Expo 2021

6 Takeaways from HD Expo 2021

by David Klemt

Lobby of Crockfords inside Resorts World Las Vegas

Crockfords lobby inside Resorts World Las Vegas

This year’s Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas reveals an industry set to undergo seismic shifts that will reverberate for years to come.

While the pandemic certainly plays a role in transforming the industry, it’s not the only factor.

Here are six major takeaways from HD Expo 2021.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Hospitality—indeed, the world—is in the midst of reckoning with inequality. This is both long overdue and nowhere near complete.

Truthfully, we’re just at the start of the process. There’s much more work to be done.

However, many global hospitality brands and their partners are taking steps to be more equitable. The focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is holistic, spanning C-suites to fronts and backs of house.

Refreshingly, this commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t limited to hotel and restaurant chains. Smaller, independent operators are also up to the challenge of eschewing long-standing inequalities and toxic norms.

We have a lot more work to do but change is in the air.

Sustainability

Another widespread hospitality industry focus is sustainability. Again, global brands and equipment manufacturers to independent operators and small design firms are seeking to operate more sustainably.

Hotels, resorts, and restaurants are committing to design and operations that lessen their impact on local areas and the globe. Equipment manufacturers are doing the same.

While a smaller show this year, the HD Expo floor featured several exhibitors proudly pursuing LEED and other environmentally-friendly certifications.

Certainly, the hospitality industry has been focusing on sustainability, “going green,” and responsible operations for a few years. From what we saw at HD Expo 2021, the desire for sustainability and environmental design is only going to grow stronger.

Return to Nature

Intriguingly, many designers and boutique operators are changing how we think about resorts. Airstreams and intimate cabins that encourage guests to recharge and reconnect with nature are on the rise.

For example, Getaway intends their guests to disconnect and immerse themselves in nature. Ideally, a guest won’t even consider bringing electronic devices and trying to work or spend any time on their phone.

A quick exploration of the Getaway website makes the brand’s mission clear. Slides have titles such as “Getaway from Nashville” and “Getaway from Chicago.” The navigation bar lists Getaway locations under the heading “Escape From.”

Conversely, there’s Yonder. This resort in Escalante (more locations are on the way) also wants guests to disconnect. However, they do offer WiFi and aren’t about escaping from the world.

Rather, Yonder encourages guests to engage with one another. The Escalante property features a communal clubhouse and robust food and beverage program. A massive hot tub spans the length of the pool. There are no showers in the Airstreams or cabins—guests commune with nature when they bathe.

Of course, more traditional hotels and resorts, along with restaurants and bars, are also embracing the outdoors.

In terms of this design change, one can certainly draw a straight, well-defined line from the pandemic to outdoor spaces. Leveraging outdoor areas continues to be one of the most common solutions for navigating and surviving mandates and public health recommendations.

Nearly every panel discussion at HD Expo 2021 at least made a passing mention of maximizing the usage of outdoor spaces. Clearly, this isn’t a design trend—this change is here to stay.

Guest Tech

Increasingly, hotels and some restaurant brands are going out of their way to allow guests to control their stays through technology.

Want to order room service? A few clicks of your phone make that possible. Not completely comfortable? Adjust temperatures, lights, drapes and shades digitally.

From check-in to check-out, a guest can essentially control every aspect of their visit via the little device in their pocket.

This is, in part, a response to the pandemic. It’s also about adapting quickly to shifting guest needs and desires.

Hotel, resort, restaurant and bar, and entertainment venue guests are skewing ever younger. And each successive generation is ever-more technologically savvy.

If something can be handled via phone or tablet quickly and conveniently, a significant percentage of guests feel it should be handled that way.

Additionally, smart increases in tech implementation speak to another guest expectation: If they’re accustomed to having something from home, they want it at hotels and resorts as well.

In fact, Lee Shuman, vice president of construction and design for Peachtree Hotel Group, says guest expectation is impacting hotel pools. According to Shuman, pools “seem to be falling to the wayside” in favor of larger, better-equipped health centers.

Of course, this another change partly fueled by the pandemic. More and more people are focusing on their health. People are working out more and expect hotels and resorts to provide them with convenient ways to work out when away from home.

After all, a hotel is intended to be a home away from home.

Local Culture

As trends, locality and hyper-locality are growing stronger and stronger. Interestingly, a focus on local culture is impacting all areas of hospitality, not just F&B.

Several hotel, resort and design groups spoke to the importance of embracing locals in as many ways as possible.

Hotel and resort owners and groups are retaining the services of local designers. In turn, those designers influence exterior architecture, interior design, artwork, and a specific project’s color theory.

Who better, after all, to ensure a property fits within the landscape and speaks to locals? It’s only logical to work with local designers and artists—they’re immersed fully in a location and and its culture.

Local artists and artisans also imbue a property with its personality. They also help to attract local support.

We expect more hotel and resort groups to focus on differentiating one property in their portfolio from the next. Indeed, there are groups with portfolios wherein every property is unique.

F&B Focus

It’s fair to say that, traditionally speaking, many hotel groups treated their F&B programming almost as an afterthought. In fact, some groups made it clear F&B was unimportant to them.

That’s changing.

Locality and hyper-locality are permeating F&B programs, and hotels, guests and locals are better for it.

It’s no longer uncommon to find local food items, beer, spirits, wine, and soft drinks on hotel restaurant and room service menus.

The pursuit of the local is very real and very effective. Locals are encouraged by some hotel operators to work, relax, play, dine and eat at their properties. In fact, many groups seek to make their hotels and resorts a part of everyday life for locals.

Interestingly, hyper-locality isn’t new to today’s restaurant operator. We expect this “trend” to gain a stronger foothold throughout the hospitality industry.

Image: Crockfords / Resorts World Las Vegas

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