Speakers at the recent International Society of Hospitality Consultants’ conference agreed that good design means utilizing a hotel’s most fundamental asset—space. But design also can be provocative and fun, they said.
BANGKOK—Bells and whistles are fine, but it’s the core of a hotel that remains its most valuable design asset, according to speakers at last month’s International Society of Hospitality Consultants annual conference.
The greatest part of that core is space—a concept that can be turned into revenue, speakers said.
“How do you take those very large spaces and make them work harder in today’s world?” asked Michael Issenberg, CEO, HotelServices Asia-Pacific, for AccorHotels, during the “Bird’s eye view” session.
That question was a driving force behind AccorHotels' July announcement that it was forming a 50/50 joint venture with Bouygues Immobilier to accelerate that company’s expansion of its Nextdoor coworking concept throughout Europe, Issenberg said. AccorHotels will utilize its physical assets and its distribution channels to help develop a new customer base for Nextdoor and drive growth.
“Hotels, as we know, are built to last for 50, 60, 70, 100 years, but what was built 20 years ago isn’t necessarily relevant today,” Issenberg said. “That’s why we think this co-working is a great opportunity.
“We have these hotels that have lots of space—if one of the rooms in this hotel is better off being used for co-working than it is for conferencing … whatever is going to work the asset harder,” he added. “We believe there’s a great opportunity to do that.”
Speakers participating in the “Obstructed view: Disruption driving great designs” panel discussion agreed that the time to better utilize existing space is now. The trend of turning lobbies into living-room atmospheres has been fueled by that concept.
“I like what Michael said about making assets work harder,” said architect Stephen O’Dell, director of SODA (Thailand) Limited. “Trying to create those experiences in those urban hotels is quite challenging. … The lobby is no longer the lobby; it’s really the social hub. It’s making that asset work harder.”
Knowing the guest
The speakers agreed that knowing the customer boils down to understanding their motivations and why they’re at a hotel. That, in turn, should inspire the design and architecture of a property.
“The story is created because of the search for experience,” said Clint Nagata, founder and co-CEO of Blink Design Group.
Brian Sherman, director of Bensley Design Studios, said “the biggest thing that’s happened over the years is people’s travel expectations.”
“They want an experience that has a social aspect to it,” he said.
Designing with “experience” in mind requires a shared vision from everyone involved, Nagata said, though that vision isn’t always in focus, and it might take time to get it right.
“Some owners have a clear vision of what they want, but they don’t always know how to describe it,” he said. “It’s a lot of trial and error. You have to keep redoing things, adjust them to get where they need to be.”
Designing around disruptors
While often overused in the hotel industry, the concept of disruption can arguably be traced to the desire for experiences. O’Dell said one of the biggest disruptions for the global hotel industry has been the advent of mass tourism.
“We encounter technological change every day in our work,” O’Neill said. “It is clearly something that’s affecting our design process.”
Moderator Charles Blocker, CEO of IC Partners Limited, said disruption has been around a long time—it was simply called something different before—and can be effective when it’s dished out in different portion sizes.
“‘Disruption’ doesn’t have to be the whole property,” he said.
Sherman said it’s important to embrace disruption in a way that leads to out-of-the-box thinking on design. That requires a workplace culture that encourages differentiation of ideas, he said.
He added that targeted disruption is an easy concept to grasp, whether it in the overall design or specific areas of a hotel. Food-and-beverage is a common example.
“The big brands, they’re bringing in top-of-the-line chefs that give the hotel a specialty restaurant … . There are lots of opportunities in that respect to … do something different,” he said.
Disruption in design most often results in something unique for guests to experience, the speakers said.
“It is an Instagram moment,” O’Dell said, adding that the new lobby experience is becoming a calling card for disruptive design. “It’s an open social lobby … (guests) need to get out of the room. It’s a trend across all brands. They have to be ‘loungey’ places where (guests) can sit and look at their phones.”
Nagata agreed. “The hotel experience begins and ends at the front door,” he said. “Anything we do to disrupt, it’s always an entry experience.”
For creative types at design firms, disruption often can be freeing, giving them a sense of independence that might push some clients to their limits, the speakers said.
“The larger the operator, the more fun it is to provoke,” Nagata said. “The smaller operator is looking for those provocations and disruptions.”
“Smaller companies are definitely easier to push forward on different ideas,” Sherman said. “With bigger brands, it’s more about personalities.”