Hotel design

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Is Your Brand Engaging the Community?

Is Your Brand Engaging the Community?

by David Klemt

Sign on wall that reads, "We like you too"

Many speakers at HD Expo 2022 are focusing on an important element of design and the hospitality industry: the people we serve.

In other words, designers, their collaborative partners, and their clients want to engage communities.

Now, it’s true that HD Expo 2022 speakers were mainly talking about the hotel side of hospitality design. However, much of what they have to say on the subject of community relates to restaurant and bar projects as well.

Below are helpful insights into engaging the community your business operates in and serves.

Valuing the Community

Crystal Vinisse Thomas, vide president and global brand leader of lifestyle and luxury brands for Hyatt Hotels is bringing Caption by Hyatt to life.

A core element of Caption is community engagement. Yes, travelers are crucial to the success of a hotel brand. However, so are the locals.

After all, hotels, restaurants, and bars employ people from the community. Engaging the community leads to the creation of a loyal guests. During slower times, those loyal locals keep those registers ringing.

As Vinisse Thomas says, operators need to focus on locals as much as travelers. Further, she defines her approach to community as creating a space that’s open to everyone.

One way that Caption is staying true to Vinisse Thomas and Hyatt’s vision for the brand is the Talk Shop. As the name suggests, this is a hangout space. Talk Shop is a communal workspace, a a restaurant, a coffee shop… It’s a hangout for everyone, hotel guest or community guest.

However, Vinisse Thomas does admit that there are challenges when designing and operating for community engagement. One of those challenges is scalability.

Then there’s another big challenge. Designing and operating with the community in mind looks great on paper. But there’s no guarantee that this approach will give an operator an edge of the competition.

To that point, Vinisse Thomas suggests it may be best to speak with one’s competitors to partner on community engagement efforts.

Honoring the Community

An additional challenge when attempting to engage a community is authenticity. It’s a great buzzword, as Vinisse Thomas says, but it needs to be more than that.

Dyonne Fashina, principal of Denizens of Design, has some thoughts on community engagement and authenticity.

Putting it bluntly, Fashina says that honoring a community requires more than a Google search. Rather, designers and operators need to spend time in a given community. They need to get to know the people, the culture, and the vibe.

At KRG Hospitality, we agree. One of our services is site selection. We conduct intensive research to identify the best site for a concept.

However, operator clients need to ensure they know the location. Not just the ZIP code, not just the address, not just the cross streets—the community.

After KRG identifies ideal sites, the client should spend time in those communities, speaking with the people who live and work in them.

Fashina also has another excellent piece of advice for operators. The project, as we often say at KRG, isn’t over after the grand opening. Fashina’s advice speaks to that point.

If an element of an operator’s business isn’t working for the community, she says, they need to be flexible enough to fix it. For owners who perhaps don’t spend every day inside their business or businesses, Fashina recommends visiting to analyze community engagement.

Hospitality is about service, and service requires commitment to being a responsible host and steward. To that end, operators should ensure their concepts improve communities rather than exploit them.

Image: Adam Jang on Unsplash

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What’s Next in the F&B Design Space?

What’s Next in the F&B Design Space?

by David Klemt

Interior of world's first crypto bar

Design driven by a story and narrative, technological innovation, and people’s desire to socialize are what’s next in hospitality design.

The influences above are factoring into the current approach to design in the F&B space. Be it a hotel or restaurant, the F&B landscape is going to look different for several reasons.

Five leading industry experts addressed this topic during HD Expo 2022‘s “F&B Trends: What’s Next?” panel.

Technology

Well, let’s start with arguably the biggest “trend” in F&B. Our industry is finally making major advancements in the area of technology.

It may not seem like it to some, but speaking generally, hospitality hasn’t always found itself on tech’s bleeding edge. That’s changing.

In fact, some industry experts feel we may be moving too quickly. For example, an interesting prediction from Restaurant Leadership Conference 2022 is a more deliberate approach to developing and implementing hospitality-specific tech.

Now, that doesn’t mean we’ll see a significant slowdown in tech innovation. Rather, innovators may take a more calculated approach to truly relieve hospitality pain points.

For example, Adam Crocini, senior vice president and global head of food and beverage brands for Hilton, points to a few innovations now common throughout the industry. Digital order, digital pay, and the ability to deliver food essentially anywhere within a hotel, resort or casino property are tech solutions driving efficiency.

However, Crocini sees one segment in need of a specific solution. In the luxury segment, guests prefer in-person engagement with staff and tactile engagement with physical menus.

Ari Kastrati, chief hospitality officer for MGM Resorts International, seems to agree. Tech, says Kastrati, shouldn’t replace human connections. Rather, technology needs to enable and enhance.

The Experience

When it comes to design, much of the focus is on the impact it will have on the guest or consumer. However, the end user is hardly the starting point.

For Kastrati, a successful project begins with the development of a relationship. That relationship is between the designer, the operator, and the concept. If care isn’t taken to nurture that relationship, it will likely show in the final product.

In Crocini’s eyes, that relationship informs the development of the operator’s concept. How? Through the development of a story and narrative.

If the designer and operator can develop a story, the design can be grounded in said story. Further, every element of a design can be held up against that story to see if it “fits.” If it does, the design will deliver a holistic experience and engage the guest or consumer.

In terms of F&B, Kastrati and Crocini make similar points. Both feel knowing the guest and anticipating their needs is crucial.

Addressing design elements that impact the experience, Crocini believes design should start with lighting. A design without proper lighting, Crocini says, is like a Scorsese film without the score.

Alexis Readinger, founder of Preen, is focusing in part on unique floorplan design. In particular, Readinger likes features that encourage interaction between guests, such as communal loveseats. However, “protecting the introverts” is also important for some guests’ comfort levels.

It’s safe to say that Caroline Landry Farouki, partner at Farouki Farouki, agrees with Readinger and Crocini. Seating, says Landry Farouki, can create different levels of intimacy to engage extroverts and introverts, and lighting designers are crucial and can really tell the story.

F&B Trends

In terms of consumer trends, Kastrati points to something specific he’s seeing in Las Vegas. People are seeking out specialty restaurants and luxury retail. At least anecdotally, this confirms what many reports and experts have been saying for the past few years: Consumers are showing increased interest in luxury.

However, Kastrati’s focus in the F&B space isn’t solely on guests and consumers. Rather, he suggests that the next step is bringing people back to the workforce. As Kastrati says, there’s no hospitality without people. Kastrati believes all of us in the industry need to encourage people to pursue hospitality careers.

Switching gears, Jessica Gidari, director of design and concept development for Union Square Hospitality Group, points to an effective pivot as a possible industry trend.

At least one concept in the Union Square portfolio has pivoted from a restaurant to a cocktail bar. A menu with shareable plates leverages guest desire to socialize and share. Gidari also says doing away with some traditional two- and four-top tables and replacing them with communal seating can “rebrand” a space as a “convivial” lounge.

Landry Farouki thinks operators can count on two compelling trends in the F&B space. One is the return of the restaurant as “the bar.” As someone who lives and works in Las Vegas, I can attest to treating restaurants more as bars myself.

Another possible trend Landry Farouki predicts is “mature dining” replacing fine dining. Explaining mature dining, Landry Farouki says such a concept is chef-driven but doesn’t focus solely on the chef.

Trend predictions must be taken with a grain of salt. However, I only see upside for design that helps operators engage guests more from the start.

Image: LYCS Architecture on Unsplash

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Designing with Anxiety in Mind

Designing with Anxiety in Mind

by David Klemt

Blurry image of people in a nightclub or bar

Interior design has the power to remove a person’s anxiety, improving the guest experience by making them feel more comfortable.

Lionel Ohayon, founder and CEO of ICRAVE, addressed design and anxiety at HD Expo 2022 in Las Vegas. While anxiety wasn’t the entire focus of this intimate discussion, what Ohayon had to say was powerful.

When some operators consider their space, they probably aren’t thinking about guest anxiety. Ohayon, who designs with compassion and empathy in mind, believes designers can address anxiety through the design process.

Why the respected designer think designers can accomplish this feat? He does it himself.

Innovative Design

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Ohayon and ICRAVE, some background.

Specializing in interiors and lighting, ICRAVE is an award-winning design firm. Founded by Ohayon, the firm’s approach to design includes a focus on the experiential and the client’s brand strategy.

One may assume that ICRAVE works solely in the hospitality space. To that point, the firm’s portfolio includes some of the world’s most impressive restaurants, bars, lounges, nightclubs, hotels, and spas.

However, the company is well known for work in the healthcare, wellness, entertainment, residential, workplace, mixed-use, and airport spaces.

After two decades, ICRAVE has honed their vision, approach, and strategy. A key pillar is “experience design.” In fact, the firm believes that “the experience is the brand.”

It would be impossible to live and deliver on that core tenet without understanding a client’s business. For ICRAVE, the final product must engage all those who use the space they’ve designed and their client is operating.

Reducing Anxiety

Consider this scenario. It’s not one that we’ve all found ourselves in. However, it is a situation that those who experience anxiety live with every day.

Let’s say someone has agreed to meet friends at a nightclub. They’re not meeting somewhere outside of the club so they can enter as a group.

This person arrives, enters, and is seeking out their friends. Unfortunately for them and their anxiety, they’re the first to get there. Anxiety (and even panic) sets in. Now, the last place this guest wants to be is in this nightclub.

Obviously, this is a terrible guest experience. And now this guest may associate the venue, fairly or not, with feelings of anxiety. They may never want to return.

Throughout Ohayon’s career, he has designed for this exact situation. During his HD Expo session—which was much more an intimate conversation inside the DesignWell Pavilion—Ohayon explained that he has incorporated “perches” in a number of his designs.

A perch, in this context, is a space a person can access that makes them feel comfortable while they wait for others in their party to arrive. The way I understand it, a perch is like a “hideaway,” a space someone feeling anxiety in public can use so they don’t feel like everyone’s eyes—and judgment—are upon them.

Designing and planning for longevity requires designers and their clients to think differently. Health and wellness must be more than buzzwords—they must be authentic to a brand.

Anything less is disingenuous. Today’s consumer is perceptive when it comes to sensing the inauthentic, and they don’t like it.

Takeaway

Now, some operators may feel as though addressing a guest’s anxiety isn’t their problem. And we’re not always sensitive to the fact that someone is feeling anxious.

Some people may even feel defensive about their venue right now. Their space, they may be thinking, isn’t causing anyone anxiety.

At risk of putting too fine a point on it or stating the obvious, a key element of hospitality is guest comfort. If a guest’s comfort and sense of safety isn’t important to someone, they really shouldn’t be in hospitality.

To clarify, Ohayon’s comments on anxiety are first and foremost for designers. He wants designers to consider how they can incorporate elements that may help reduce a person’s anxiety.

On the client side, though, an operator can and should ask about such elements during the design process of their space. There’s no reason to be defensive—this is about mindfulness, wellness, and compassion.

Removing anxiety through design pays off during day-to-day operations. If a space can reduce a guest’s anxiety, that guest can be present and engaged. That engagement leads to a positive, memorable experience. And that type of experience evolves into repeat visits from loyal guests.

Image: Maurício Mascaro

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The 2022 Hospitality Design Forecast

The 2022 Hospitality Design Forecast

by David Klemt

Perspective shot of neon hotel sign

Four 2022 HD Expo panelists are focusing on very specific design elements and considerations informing the future of hospitality design.

It should come as no surprise that their industry forecasts embody the themes of this year’s hospitality design show.

In fact, each panelist appears to be embracing the overall theme: Community. For these experts, designers must be mindful of their impact on communities.

Sustainable Practices

Enrique Vela, director of interiors at Olson Kundig, prefers the term “performance building” to sustainability. At Olson Kundig, performance building informs every stage of each project.

Further, the firm doesn’t focus solely on their approach to sustainable design, construction, and operation. According to Vela, Olson Kundig wants to know how their vendors approach sustainability as well.

And going even further, Vela and the firm want to see a commitment in sustainability (or performance building) from their clients. On that front, Olson Kundig’s are showing more interest in sustainability.

The firm’s desire to see commitment from their clients makes sense. After all, getting close to net zero during a build is difficult in the best of conditions. If a client has a laissez-faire attitude toward a core design tenet, the project isn’t off to a great start.

Andrew Lieberman, design director at AvroKO, seems to take a similar view as Vela and Olson Kundig.

As Lieberman sees it, “the entire ecosystem is impacted by a project.” Therefore, social consciousness needs to be a core element of a project.

Per Lieberman, he and AvroKO are seeing an increase in interest in sustainability from clients.

Focus on Wellness

Meghann Day, partner at Hirsch Bedner Associates, is seeing the interest in wellness proliferating beyond the hospitality space. HBA’s multi-family projects are incorporating wellness amenities into design in increasingly prominent ways.

For instance, clients are showing interest in infrared saunas and other cutting-edge wellness features in their homes. Per Day, wellness is quickly steering away from taking up a corner in a space and driving toward inhabiting entire floors.

Why should hospitality designers care about what’s going on in residential design? Simple: Hotels and resorts are homes away from home. In fact, they’re also becoming offices away from home offices.

What people want in their homes (and workspaces) they also want—and expect—from the hotels and resorts they visit.

For now, HBA is seeing the growth in wellness through traditional amenities. However, new elements will become more common in the near future.

Lieberman and AvroKO are also experiencing increasing interest in wellness design features. This interest is coming from the firm’s clients, meaning guests and residents are seeking out wellness amenities.

Community Engagement

Interestingly, the panelists have a clear interest in off-premises service. And no, I’m not referring to F&B delivery or offering guests local experiences.

Rather, today’s designers are enthusiastically designing for the communities in which they and their clients are building.

As Vela sees it, designers must consider the community. For him, engaging the community is crucial to a project’s success. The reasoning is simple: A project is inarguably tapping into the build site’s culture, heritage, history, and people.

For Lieberman, wellness and sustainability in the hospitality space combine feeling good, doing good, and impacting the community. A community is its own ecosystem, and that ecosystem is impacted by a designer and their client’s project.

Another way of viewing a hotel or resort is that it’s a portal into the community, per Lieberman.

He and Vela believe a project will be far more engaging if the community and its culture are honored through its design. As Vela says, we create the best memories when all of our sense are engaged.

F&B Memberships

While not a large focus of this HD Expo 2022 panel, food and beverage did come up. However, it didn’t focus just on people’s desire to return to restaurants.

For example, Lieberman is seeing interest in F&B memberships. In his version, a membership space lives within the main restaurant. For these spaces, designers and operators can go overt or covert.

In one example, the members-only space is accessed via the main dining room. That means guests without memberships can see the members going to their exclusive space. In turn, that should generate interest in memberships.

On the opposite end, a membership space could be kept secret. Loyal guests may not know about these memberships and spaces for months or years.

Either way, the key to executing these spaces is creative, multi-faceted design, according to Lieberman.

Another way to use F&B spaces comes from Day. This downtime solution is simple and can generate much-needed revenue.

As Day explains, the approach is similar to that of a WeWork space. The operator creates a WeWork-like membership. During slow hours, these members have access to the restaurant.

Their membership entitles them to WiFI and menu access. Members would still pay for F&B items, but at a discount.

Technology

When it comes to technology, Ken Patel and EV Hotel are taking things as far as possible without turning off guests.

Patel is the founder and CEO of EV Hotel, and he has nearly three decades in the industry. Three years ago he had the vision for what is now EV Hotel.

Putting his view of hotel design and tech bluntly, he says that the only innovation in this space has been replacing small TVs with bigger versions. That may seem harsh, but consider what Patel is really saying: Hospitality, in his opinion, isn’t innovating fast enough.

Well, that’s certainly not the case with EV Hotel.

EV has launched the world’s first crypto rewards program. They’re the first hotel group to enter the metaverse fully built, and they operate the first-ever crypto trade floor. What’s more, Patel predicts that the metaverse will be an $8 trillion industry in a mere six years.

According to Patel, each EV Hotel room contains between 15 and 18 brand-specific tech developments. And while they may not have a dedicated fitness center, EV features an interactive exercise bike studio.

Now, it may seem at first glance that EV is developing and implementing tech innovations simply for the sake of doing so. However, Patel would argue against that perception of his brand.

“We have to match innovation to technology,” he says. That means reducing the amount of tasks employees take on that have nothing to do with serving guests directly.

Automating backend tasks allows EV team members—they all carry the title experience employee—to focus much more on the hospitality experience for guests. And a greater focus on hospitality means a greater focus on personalized experiences.

Takeaway

Thoughtful design that combines wellness, sustainability, and technology will not only serve communities, it will build them as well.

There’s the community in which a hotel or resort operates and which it must take care to honor and serve. There’s the community of employees serving guests and the community at large. And there’s the community of guests that frequent the property.

The future of hospitality design is looking bright, indeed.

Image: Francesco Ungaro

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Key Themes from HD Expo 2022

Key Themes from HD Expo 2022

by David Klemt

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino Las Vegas

The educational conference sessions at Hospitality Design Expo 2022 in Las Vegas were connected by a number of key, overarching themes.

Hosted by the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, HD Expo packed each day with invaluable education. Founders, designers, highly placed executives, and other influential industry professionals addressed a wide range of crucial topics.

Below are five key topics and themes from HD Expo 2022.

Sustainability

Unsurprisingly, sustainability was one of the most-discussed topics.

Of course, conversations about sustainable design, construction, and operational practices have been at the forefront of hospitality for several years now. However, the topic seemed supercharged this year at HD Expo.

Drilling down, speakers at the 2022 show are focusing on “building performance,” light-touch construction, and waste recovery, to name but a few session topics.

When some think about sustainability, they think of low- and no-waste practices, energy efficiency, and upcycling. For others, being sustainable means building in an eco-friendly or green way.

However, several HD Expo 2022 speakers, their teams and agencies, and their partners and clients are thinking more locally. The impact of building and operating on local communities is now a greater focus.

For example, Victor Body-Lawson, founder and principal of Body Lawson Associates Architects & Planners. During a panel he co-presented, Body-Lawson addressed the importance of designing, building, and operating for the local community.

In short, he explained how not using local materials and labor has a significant negative impact on the environment. Additionally, Body-Lawson feels that the objective of design is that whomever engages with end product—commercial or residential—comes out better.

Wellness

Refreshingly, it appears the stigma surrounding wellness is dissipating. More people seem to be more comfortable discussing their mental and emotional health openly.

Designers and their clients, particularly in the hotel and resort space, are taking note.

Long a staple amenity, the health center is undergoing reinvention. In fact, many resorts and hotels are focusing on wellness centers and programming.

In fact, a number of concepts are more wellness and healing getaway than hotel or resort. One such project coming to market is the Jenesis House.

The creation of Jenesis Laforcarde, this concept’s focus is explicitly mental health, physical well-being, and self-care. Additional core values are community, hiring local, and engaging with local small businesses.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Like the topic of wellness, DEI has received more earnest attention during the pandemic. And why not? Diversity, inclusion, and equity are inextricably connected to wellness.

Of course, DEI is also connected to community. Moving forward, designers, their partners, and their clients must focus on DEI within their companies and local communities.

One hotel brand that seeks to embody this mission is Caption, part of the Hyatt portfolio. Crystal Vinisse Thomas, VP and global brand leader of lifestyle and luxury brands for Hyatt, is bringing Caption to market.

At this brand’s core is community. Locals are as important as the travelers staying at a Caption property. And, again, why shouldn’t that be the case?

Locals will work at the hotel. Locals will use the hotel. And locals will feel the impact—positive or negative—of the hotel.

A visit to the website provides all the proof anyone needs that Caption is committed to locals:

  • “The people make the place here. We hire local, buy local, and vibe local.”
  • “We strive to be a good neighbor.”

Interestingly, Thomas tied DEI and the community together. While it may be a difficult conversation to start, if a designer, executive, partner, or client sees that a project isn’t representing the community, they need to address it.

Staying silent isn’t how things move forward. In fact, it’s a sure-fire way to take steps backward.

Discovery

What keeps guests coming back? Is it the amenities of a hotel? The food and beverage? Do guests return because of the service they receive?

Of course. However, a shift in guest behavior and expectations shows that F&B, amenities, and service may no longer be enough to motivate repeat visits.

When it comes to hotel and resort design, the future is discovery. Another way to think about discovery is the “hotel within the hotel,” or “resort inside the resort.” A concept that embraces this approach reveals layers that guests can discover.

Perhaps their first stay is in the main or more traditional space. Then, the guest discovers that there are different areas they can book for a stay. These could be villas, luxury tents, a pre-fab luxury Moliving unit (as an example)…

The point is that the guest knows they can engage with the property differently during each stay. While there are core elements that define a particular brand, they can deliver different experiences on the same property.

Of course, such a concept also ties into the themes of community and wellness. Many brands are eschewing the traditional operational ethos of attempting to keep a guest on property for as long as possible. Instead, the local community is a key experiential element of a hotel or resort.

The future of hospitality design—indeed, of hospitality as a whole—encompasses each of these themes. Perhaps most importantly, each theme serves a greater concept: Community.

Image: tommao wang on Unsplash

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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

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Meeting Expectations Through Hotel Design

Meeting Expectations Through Hotel Design

by David Klemt

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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