Customizable design options and improved technology are elevating the hotel elevator experience, but installation and operational challenges still can slow down progress without proper planning.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Modern travelers expect the unexpected in all parts of a hotel, including inside elevator cabs.
Sources said they are recognizing the importance of giving elevators a lift in appearance and efficiency through design and technology solutions. But while everything from elevator design to mechanics and security are evolving, developers, architects, management companies and others say installation issues can still cause headaches.
Instagrammable designs, experiences
Carl Hren, VP of architecture and construction at Concord Hospitality Enterprises, said via an email interview that “the trip up the elevators is a huge part of the sense-of-arrival experience.”
While elevators are specialty items that come heavily engineered from manufacturers, and there’s not a lot that can be added to an elevator without changing the weight and balance of it, Aliya Khan, VP of global design strategies for Marriott International, said it’s all about finding simple ways to customize an elevator’s look and feel.
“For us it’s really about finding these quick humorous things, whether it’s the color of the light (inside the elevator) or application of an image to create a little bit of a mood that makes it more unique,” she said.
Khan said Marriott’s Moxy brand has been playing around with a couple of different elevator design elements for each Moxy location. For example, elevators at the Moxy Denver Cherry Creek are wrapped with themed photos, like ice cubes in a cocktail glass.
And elevators at the Moxy Minneapolis Uptown feature colored lighting in the elevator cabs. Each of these applications, Khan said, were meant to create playful, Instagrammable experiences for guests.
She added that Moxy has left it up to each hotel’s design firm to create “their own moment in these elevator cabs, because it … ties to the individuality of each hotel.”
Khan said lighting solutions are the more successful applications because of the ease of execution as well as from an investment and maintenance standpoint.
“I think the moment you need to involve maintenance too heavily, it becomes a different model,” she said. “So our goal is how do we do something that’s low-cost, high-impact, ideally something that’s volumetric so it quickly grabs you in the experience.”
Elevators can sometimes be an area of disconnect from public spaces to guestrooms, she added, and it’s important to think about how the experience can be continued throughout. She said Marriott also is looking into infusing scents into the elevators.
Khan said she’s noticing that even elevator manufacturers understand that there is demand to play up the look of elevators.
“I also think, too, to the credit of elevator companies, they’re starting to understand that these are opportunities … even the range of finishes (they’re) willing to offer, there’s greater range in standard availability now than there was say, 10 (years ago) let alone 20 years ago,” she said.
Hydraulic to machine room-less designs
Hren said Concord is moving away from hydraulic elevators and focusing on machine room-less designs.
Stephen Siegel, principal at H-CPM, said he’s also seen that developers and owners are opting for MRL designs, because they take up less space.
However, “the only caveat is that you’re pretty much married to that manufacturer for the moment because most of the parts are proprietary,” he said. “But it is a great unit.”
Jennifer Elmore, senior project architect at Detroit-based Kraemer Design Group, said she does a lot of modernizations of elevator cabs, which present more technical challenges than aesthetic challenges.
“Most of what that involves is the conversion of a hydraulic elevator to a machine room-less elevator,” she said. “The MRL elevator contains the equipment in the hoist way, which is right above the top of the elevator. Whereas in the old kind of elevator, there’s a separate dedicated machine room in the building.”
She added that when selecting the new MRL elevator, it’s important to ensure the new equipment fits within the existing space of the building.
Elmore said with high-rise structures like hotels, there’s generally only a few manufacturers that can build elevator models that fit within the building type.
“It really limits the selection and impacts the lead times and ultimately there’s a trickle-down effect,” she said. “That ultimately impacts the hotel’s grand opening date.”
Since construction has been booming after the end of the recession, she said, challenges like this have been occurring more and more over the past couple years.
Patrick Trainor, VP of projects and facilities for Hotel Equities, said via email that delays have been seen across the board for new-build hotels as “all skilled trades are in great demand, including elevator installations.”
He said it’s crucial to have a project manager oversee the project from inception to completion. Otherwise a lack of oversight, experience and preparation could result in longer delays and missed completion dates.
“If you have a window of time to complete a job that requires a skilled trade, you must be fully prepared with materials and support equipment in advance because a skilled worker can easily move on to another project while you finish preparations,” Trainor said.
Siegel* said H-CPM has never done an elevator project where an elevator company “actually has finished on time. … Very rarely do they actually make their commitment; it could be due to their manpower and their workloads.”
He said he’s working on a project right now in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and not only was the elevator cab already a few weeks late getting back in service, but the day it got back from service “there was a hiccup and we’ve had people get stuck in the elevator.”
“My recommendation would be as you create your RFP, once the elevator cabs are going back into service, part of that scope includes having someone from the elevator company hang around or be on call for the first 72 hours,” he said.
There’s three or four big elevator companies, he added, and those are who you have to go to when buying an elevator. When working on a modernization of an elevator, Siegel said H-CPM will typically pull in an elevator consultant to assist before sending out the request for proposal to elevator companies.
Elmore said Kraemer Design Group will work with the hotel owner to pull the elevators out of the main project bid and establish a separate bidding package just for the elevators.
This helps to get plans out “way ahead of the project,” she said, and it “ensures fairness of pricing for the owner as well as establishes that appropriate schedule well in advance of the project open date for delivery, and makes sure that everything happens on time.”
Eric Jacobs, chief development officer of select-service and extended-stay brands in North America for Marriott, said via email that labor shortages are hitting a wide swath of the industry, and Marriott is working to educate developers about the benefits of modular construction, which extends to elevators.
In April, Marriott began developing the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, as the brand’s first new-build, modular-construction hotel that included modular elevators, he said.
“We think this has some good potential to save our development partners time and money,” he added.
Aside from appearance, owners are looking for safety and efficiency when constructing elevators, Elmore said. Destination systems are increasingly requested by owners, she added.
“For instance, when you’re at the main floor of the lobby, you’re going to have a tablet or iPad-looking device where you touch the floor you want to go to and the appropriate elevator comes and takes you immediately to that floor,” she said. “That’s kind of the newest thing we’re seeing.”
Hren said the Canopy by Hilton Washington D.C. The Wharf—which Concord manages—uses a high-tech destination-management system, which “helps decrease wait times for the elevators and get people where they want to go faster.”
Elmore said Kraemer Design Group recognizes that security cameras are still widely used in elevator construction. However, as technology evolves, the cameras are becoming sleeker and more inconspicuous.
Khan agreed that security remains a top priority among elevator development, especially for hotels in the lifestyle space that have incredibly active social spaces.
She said the biggest questions are “How do you let people come and go in and out of these public areas?” and “How do you make sure guests feel safe?” Technology has been a huge part of that, she added, such as with elevator keycards.
*Correction, 20 July 2018: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Stephen Siegel's name.