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 first of a series of papers on Post-COVID hospitality, Chapman Taylor Director of Interiors Jon Grant, who has extensive experience of designing for the hospitality sector internationally, 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, Jon 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.” Jon 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.

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 first of a series of papers on Post-COVID hospitality, Chapman Taylor Director of Interiors Jon Grant, who has extensive experience of designing for the hospitality sector internationally, 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, Jon 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.” Jon 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. 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. Such waste, whether of food, money, time or space, is completely unnecessary.

Similarly, gyms are often a waste of space, particularly in certain classes of hotel (such as business-orientated hotels). Some guests may avail of the opportunity to work out, but my experience has often been that such spaces are mostly, or entirely, empty for large parts of the day, wasting expensive floorspace which could be put to much better use. I feel much more self-conscious about grunting and sweating in a gym if there are only one or two other users in there!

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. For far too long, hotels have tended to be conceptually inward-looking, almost entirely divorced from their surrounding environments. They have provided places for visitors to the area to stay and, at most, their links to the local community have tended to begin and end with a bar or restaurant function and some conference facilities.

Are we missing out on an 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, those hotels with gyms which are not used very often, if not repurposing the space, could open their fitness facilities to non-guests, particularly local people, providing attractive membership schemes and a convenient location. They could alternatively provide a pay-as-you-go option which would allow people to avoid costly long-term memberships, which I often feel like a psychological albatross around my neck, making me feel guilty for not using it more (and therefore making me enjoy going to the gym less).

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. 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?

Meeting the demands of the post-COVID era

The general principles outlined in this paper are nothing new; as architects and designers, we have been looking at potential solutions for a number of years. The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked some of these trends but has also presented us with an opportunity for lower-risk trial periods while occupation numbers have been reduced. The pandemic has tested us all, so why not at least try to fully exploit the positives that have arisen? Let us embrace this chance to reimagine the hospitality experience.

In our next paper, we will look at the design and management of hotels in relation to health security and wellbeing, which will be a very prominent aspect of the hotel experience in the coming years.

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. 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. Such waste, whether of food, money, time or space, is completely unnecessary.

Similarly, gyms are often a waste of space, particularly in certain classes of hotel (such as business-orientated hotels). Some guests may avail of the opportunity to work out, but my experience has often been that such spaces are mostly, or entirely, empty for large parts of the day, wasting expensive floorspace which could be put to much better use. I feel much more self-conscious about grunting and sweating in a gym if there are only one or two other users in there!

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. For far too long, hotels have tended to be conceptually inward-looking, almost entirely divorced from their surrounding environments. They have provided places for visitors to the area to stay and, at most, their links to the local community have tended to begin and end with a bar or restaurant function and some conference facilities.

Are we missing out on an 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, those hotels with gyms which are not used very often, if not repurposing the space, could open their fitness facilities to non-guests, particularly local people, providing attractive membership schemes and a convenient location. They could alternatively provide a pay-as-you-go option which would allow people to avoid costly long-term memberships, which I often feel like a psychological albatross around my neck, making me feel guilty for not using it more (and therefore making me enjoy going to the gym less).

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. 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?

Meeting the demands of the post-COVID era

The general principles outlined in this paper are nothing new; as architects and designers, we have been looking at potential solutions for a number of years. The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked some of these trends but has also presented us with an opportunity for lower-risk trial periods while occupation numbers have been reduced. The pandemic has tested us all, so why not at least try to fully exploit the positives that have arisen? Let us embrace this chance to reimagine the hospitality experience.

In our next paper, we will look at the design and management of hotels in relation to health security and wellbeing, which will be a very prominent aspect of the hotel experience in the coming years.

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. For far too long, hotels have tended to be conceptually inward-looking, almost entirely divorced from their surrounding environments. They have provided places for visitors to the area to stay and, at most, their links to the local community have tended to begin and end with a bar or restaurant function and some conference facilities.

Are we missing out on an 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, those hotels with gyms which are not used very often, if not repurposing the space, could open their fitness facilities to non-guests, particularly local people, providing attractive membership schemes and a convenient location. They could alternatively provide a pay-as-you-go option which would allow people to avoid costly long-term memberships, which I often feel like a psychological albatross around my neck, making me feel guilty for not using it more (and therefore making me enjoy going to the gym less).

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. 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?

Meeting the demands of the post-COVID era

The general principles outlined in this paper are nothing new; as architects and designers, we have been looking at potential solutions for a number of years. The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked some of these trends but has also presented us with an opportunity for lower-risk trial periods while occupation numbers have been reduced. The pandemic has tested us all, so why not at least try to fully exploit the positives that have arisen? Let us embrace this chance to reimagine the hospitality experience.

Next in the series...
In our next Insight paper in this series, we will be taking a deeper look at the rooms themselves, with a particular emphasis on the design and management of hotels in relation to health security and wellbeing, which will be a very prominent aspect of the hotel experience in the coming years.

About the Author

Jon Grant (BA(Hons) Interior Architecture)

董事, 伦敦

Joining our London studio in July 2017, Jon has returned to the UK from running our Bangkok studio. When he was in Asia, Jon worked on both Architectural and Interior design commissions across the region in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia.  

Jon has over 15 years’ experience working in Asia with design expertise in high-end interior design projects across the hospitality, F&B, residential and retail sectors.

Areas of expertise:

Interior Design / Architecture / Retail / F&B / Hospitality / Residential

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