Post COVID-19: Reimagining the hotel experience

The COVID-19 pandemic will pass eventually, but the hospitality industry will need to review the design and role of hotel buildings to meet the demands of a changed hospitality environment. In this paper on Post-COVID hospitality, Chapman Taylor Director Michael Swiszczowski, who has extensive experience of designing for the hospitality sector, looks at the ways in which considered design solutions can assist hospitality brands in ensuring that their buildings offer future flexibility – something which will continue to be paramount as we potentially see a long-term change in customer behaviours and requirements as a result of the pandemic.

In this paper, Michael draws on his team’s ongoing research to argue that hotels will need to become much more efficient in their use of space and time, putting an end to the days where he says he: “often wandered around hotels during the day, questioning the use of large, empty spaces such as gyms and all-day dining, not to mention all that wasted food.” Michael believes that integrating hotels more fully within their local context, particularly by providing new amenities and services to the community, could be a crucial tool in avoiding that waste and ensuring the future social and commercial sustainability of the hotel sector.

Designing for flexibility

As we adjust to post-pandemic life, we will likely see a complicated legacy. Many people will return to going about their days much as they did before the pandemic began. Others, however, will find it hard or impossible to do that, whether because of COVID-related experience or trauma or simply because they have acquired a heightened sensitivity to the nature of the environment around them (whether that be proximity to other people, an aversion to touching shared surfaces or a dislike for enclosed spaces).

The challenge for hotel operators and designers is to accommodate both types of guest, as well as those on the spectrum between them. If we imagine a hotel space as a large empty box, how do we divide it and allocate functions in a way which will satisfy the needs of such apparently diverse viewpoints?

Ideally, we would begin by creating larger common public spaces to allow for different paths. For example, some people will want to limit or avoid interaction with others as much as possible, and so there should be an option to have frictionless check-in. Such guests will instead walk directly to the lifts and to their rooms; the digital age has made it unnecessary to talk to a receptionist, fill out forms or pick up keys at the front desk.

However, many people enjoy that kind of interaction and others will still need to ask questions or find information from reception, and so the “empty box” needs to provide a path and space for them too. For many hotel brands, the reception experience is at the heart of the overall customer experience and the first point at which a customer's physical relationship with a brand may begin, so the design approach will always have to reflect those brands' values.

It may be that we see queues at reception take up more space as guests continue to socially distance, perhaps subconsciously, even after the pandemic has passed. Therefore, to accommodate the increased space requirement as well as alternative paths for those who wish to avoid interaction, overall space needs to be planned and managed more efficiently, perhaps requiring space sacrifice elsewhere on the hotel ground floor.

The ground floor space will continue to offer food and drink to guests and visitors, but this may involve the provision of a range of options, including self-service and a la carte. We will see the rise of “pocket dining spaces”, with a range of smaller options provided throughout the hotel, including in-room offers and external pop-up food stalls, rather than just one central “one-size-fits-all” offer.

All-day dining should only be an option where there is continuing demand throughout the day. I cannot count the number of times I have stayed in hotels around the world while on working trips and noticed cooked or quickly perishable food on offer to empty spaces – most guests being out sightseeing or conducting business.

Similarly, gyms are often underused, particularly in certain classes of hotel (such as business-orientated hotels). Gyms can be important for some hotel brands with business clients who prefer to book their staff into hotels with such spaces; in those cases, an innovative and flexible approach to gym provision and membership will be very useful. In other cases, however, it may be better to think about putting the gym space to a different use entirely.

Rethinking the role of hotel in the local community

Using space in a more considered way ties in with another strategy that hotels will increasingly need to consider – the provision of valuable community functions.

When examining how hotel space is allocated, designers and operators need to adopt a much broader perspective and think deeply about the role of hotels within their local communities. There is scope to reconceive hotels as more outward looking and integrated within their communities.

We have a good opportunity to integrate more completely with the communities within which hotels sit as well as the many commercial opportunities that approach would open up.

For example, gym spaces which are not used very often could open their fitness facilities to local people on a regular basis, providing attractive membership schemes and a convenient location.

One great idea is to provide co-working spaces where local people, particularly those now working remotely more often, can book space and work in a conducive environment without having to commute (particularly valuable to those whose homes are not large enough or well-equipped enough to provide a long-term working environment). The people working there would not only provide a buzz to the ground floor space but would also regularly spend money on the hotel’s food and drink offers.

People from outside could also use some of the hotel’s other guest services, such as laundry and ironing. For example, a laundry service was added at the F&B spaces in the Chapman Taylor-renovated Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, which was a unique selling point. Hotels could also provide delivery services from their kitchens to the local community, broadening their potential customer base beyond the limits imposed by their seating capacity. Plus, hotels are ideal events spaces, so why not broaden their availability beyond the usual corporate functions to community events or entertainment?

Chapman Taylor recently designed and delivered a 150-key, 4-Star Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Keele, UK. The hotel was designed to host two good-sized meeting rooms available for hire and a compact gym. There is also a separate commercial unit on the ground floor, fitted out as a coffee shop, but possessing the capability of easy adaptation as another use, such as a convenience store or a pharmacy.

Meeting the demands of the post-COVID era

The general principles outlined in this paper are important factors we have always adhered to in our hospitality designs. As architects and designers, we have been looking at potential solutions for a number of years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked some of these trends and has also presented us with an opportunity for lower-risk trial periods while occupation numbers have been reduced. Why not at least try to fully exploit the positives that have arisen? Let us embrace this chance to reimagine the hospitality experience.

About the Author

Michael Swiszczowski (BA(Hons), MArch, ADPPA, ARB, RIBA)

Director, UK

Michael joined Chapman Taylor in 2016 to strengthen the practice’s residential expertise. He joined the UK Board in 2022 and continues to take an active role in developing the practice’s residential and hospitality sectors across the UK business.

He has experience working on award-winning residential projects, with a particular focus on Build-to-Rent, student accommodation, hotels, serviced apartments and modular construction.

Michael is a regular speaker at residential and property conferences where he articulates Chapman Taylor’s design approach and skill-sets. He is also an RIBA-elected member of the Regional Council for RIBA North West.

Areas of expertise:

Residential / Build-to-Rent / Student Accommodation / Hotels

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