Fewer gimmicks and more authenticity appeal to a broader range of consumers, which potentially means more revenue opportunities, according to designers speaking at HotelsWorld in Sydney.
SYDNEY—Contrived and artificial hotel design is out as designers look for ways to maximize revenue-producing space, be responsible to the environment and most of all enhance the experiences guests are seeking to discover.
That means adjusting to the ever-changing demographics of hotel customers while ensuring more than just basic needs are being addressed, according to panelists speaking on last month’s “Designing for differentiation” session at HotelsWorld.
The key to attracting a diverse clientele—including the sought-after millennial crowd—is to provide a “less gimmicky” design scheme while focusing on filling in the essentials that make experiences unique, said Jeffery Copolov, director of interior design for Bates Smart.
He said his company regularly has to question clients on what they’re doing to reach millennials and if their efforts are truly effective.
“That’s really the point,” Copolov said. “There are ways of creating really interesting experiences without your bedroom necessarily becoming a night club, for instance.”
Craig Baudin, director for Fender Katsalidis, said the elusive millennial customer is just one part of the bigger picture when it comes to hotel design.
“You cannot ignore 30% of the world’s population, but I think the word ‘millennial’ maybe has become this kind of shimmering mirage in a way,” Baudin said. “It’s this thing that if we could only understand it, we could tap in exclusively as this giant population in our world that’s going to become basically the biggest segment of the market.
“The challenge then is if you’re trying to create a boutique brand, if you’re trying to brand around appealing to this independently minded traveler, other than a millennial, is how do you do that and make it authentic?” he added. “Sometimes the tendency is we’ll take this thing that we know very well that’s been done for 50 years and we’ll put this kind of hipster wallpaper on it … and people can see through that quite, quite quickly. It’s how, in that situation, can you challenge the status quo and think crazy and genuinely different?”
The trend toward “affordable luxury in many aspects of life, including hotels,” is keeping designers on their toes, Copolov said.
“(It’s) really very much about thinking about the experience as opposed to sort of opulent materials,” he said. “On the whole, the use of sort of garish and opulent materials is (no longer desired). We see a much more sophisticated clientele, and a much more worldly clientele ... there’s as much beauty in a simply painted interior, for instance, than a heavily marble-lined interior.”
Executed properly, simple detailing can be a beautiful addition to design, Copolov added.
Urban land prices force creativity
Because real estate in many gateway markets is so expensive, owners and developers are turning to rehabbing existing hotels and other buildings to gain a foothold with consumers seeking unique experiences. Modernizing obsolete designs at large hotels built in the 1970s and 1980s can be done, as long as there’s some out-of-the-box thinking, according to the panelists.
The biggest obstacle to overcome is that there was a tendency to have 25% to 30% of the floor plan devoted to back-of-the-house operations when these properties were built, said Mathew Dalby, principal-interiors at Rothelowman.
He said designers need to find ways to maximize revenue generated per square meter.
“It’s lifting some of those areas that traditionally are being (used as back-of-house)—can you maximize that revenue out of corridors?” he said. “Can you somehow replace the physicality of the actual model of a hotel and split it through into different areas so you can generate space?”
One example is taking minibars out of rooms and putting kiosks in the public space to serve the same need, Dalby said. It’s a more efficient use of space and high-traffic areas can generate more revenue.
That also applies to ground-floor retail space, but there is a danger of going overboard, panelists said.
Copolov said the trend toward mixed-use projects involving hotel, retail and residential—particularly in urban areas—has skyrocketed during the past decade.
“You’re seeing office development, shopping-center retail, all the things that are very diverse and large things that grow office, such as sport and recreation, and then a hotel is aligned with that, and crafting a hotel that taps into and responds to the users of that environment,” Copolov said.
Encouraging neighbors to utilize the revenue-generating space is an essential part of the equation as well, Dalby said.
Differentiation includes sustainable options
Design discussions about such projects focus on differentiation, Copolov said.
“Before we’ve even begun schematics, we really look at that differentiation,” Copolov said. “What is it about a shopping center? What is it about those who are staying in that type of hotel? What are they looking for? And how do we make that hotel respond to the unique aspects of that? … How do they both leverage off of each other and make that hotel different?”
Differentiating a hotel project can also mean ensuring that its sustainable footprint is as large as possible, according to the panelists.
Baudin said the Hotel Hotel project in Canberra was intended to help develop out-of-the-box ideas in design and beyond. Originally developed by Mongolo Group, it is now operated by Ovolo Hotels. The project now acts as inspiration for his company’s other jobs as they seek the best solutions.
“Certainly lessons for us from the Hotel Hotel project which we’ve started to bring into other projects since then is this idea around … how you get the best out of mixed use,” he said. “How do we get the retail and the day and nighttime activities of the hotel and other aspects like cinemas and retail to all play off of each other so they’ll all leverage off of each other?”
Sustainability is on the minds of most designers and developers, panelists said. It takes a deep understanding and agreement to get the right mix.
“The one thing you have to be very careful about if you’re serious about sustainability in your interior (is it has) to have a longevity in timelessness,” Copolov said, noting that things such as stone on the vanity must be thought about in the long-term sense to maximize its sustainability. “I do fundamentally believe that it’s imperative for architects and designers to think and challenge our clients on those issues.”
It all means that there will be more waves of sustainable thinking as hoteliers become more tuned into what consumers want, panelists said.
“We are going to start to see the first of the businesses that are coming up with energy- and food-sustainable markets and also the speed at which approval has to go through,” Baudin said. “Once you start to provide a set level throughout, there’s ways that we can all come to the table. Fundamentally, that’s the integral way to go.”