Editor’s note: Architect Harry Stenger also contributed to this column.
The rule of thumb in hotel management is to refresh the property every five to seven years. But what happens when you need to do more than repaint, re-carpet and maybe swap out some furniture?
What if you hope to raise the property from, say, 3 to 4 stars, change the hotel’s branding or even just aim to change the hotel’s positioning in the local landscape?
That’s when you need to consider rebranding through design, which offers the ability to start fresh with a new look and revamped identity.
Usually, the aim of rebranding is to attract a broader demographic, which will lead to an increase in customers. That, in turn, can lead to increased room rates.
Let’s take a walk through a typical hotel and detail how it might be changed.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Your entrance and lobby set the tone for the entire guest experience. Replacing an old, outdated canopy can set the mood. Using contemporary materials such as metal and glass is one way to provide a fresh look.
In many older properties, the lobby entrance is narrow, making it difficult for guests to navigate through with their luggage, which should be reconsidered. In addition to being visible and welcoming, the entry must be spacious enough to accommodate the needs of the modern traveler. To ease the confusion often experienced by the first-time guest, the front desk should be visible, convenient and centrally located once inside.
The lobby also serves as a means of orienting your guests to the hotel, as well as to the city and its surroundings. Way-finding graphics and interactive displays play an invaluable role in welcoming the guest and providing a more complete travel experience.
Lobby amenities are a prime opportunity for reinforcing the brand. Whether it is a coffee shop that caters to passersby in addition to hotel guests, a brand restaurant operated by the hotel or a specialty restaurant run by a celebrity chef, lobby amenities help define the identity of the property.
Partnering with a local art collaborative to display work by area artists or providing the products of local specialty retailers also can reinforce the unique character of your location.
While the emphasis should be on the property’s main spaces, the secondary areas can’t be neglected. The experience needs to be seamless. A beautiful lobby can be overshadowed if the restrooms look like something out of the 1970s.
Rebranding through design will be more expensive than a simple facelift, but some areas might only need a light touch.
Meeting rooms and ballrooms are prime candidates for a refresh. New chandeliers or lighting can make a big difference in brightening a dreary space. New carpeting, ceiling tiles and wall coverings provide a seamless identity throughout the hotel.
In addition, other guest amenities such as fitness centers and pool areas should be included with upgraded finishes and equipment to provide a consistent guest experience.
One important way of creating a new brand identity is to expand the variety of rooms offered at the property. This typically can be accomplished by creating various sizes of suites by combining existing guestrooms. Determine the ideal number and size of suites in relation to the number of keys that will be lost due to their creation.
When the rooms are improved, there’s also the opportunity to improve the technology. This can be as simple as providing iPad docking stations or USB ports in lamp bases for charging portable devices, to a more elaborate system that can wirelessly control the thermostats and entry door locks from the front desk.
The interior design of the guestrooms is another opportunity to continue the theme established in the lobby, such as using art and graphics on the wall that showcase the city’s most prominent features.
A frequent challenge to renovating older hotel rooms is finding ways to make smaller rooms feel more spacious. Flat-screen TVs are valuable to designers because they’re less bulky. Depending on the target market of the hotel, other amenities can be considered. For instance, hoteliers who cater to the business traveler often find large closets and dressers are no longer necessary. By reducing their size, more space can be devoted to the sleeping area.
Then there are the bathrooms, which are of paramount importance and generally larger in newly built properties than in older hotels.
It’s no longer acceptable to have sinks located outside the bathrooms in a higher-end property. By simply removing the wall that separates the sink from the bathroom, you can increase the size of the bathroom. Sliding doors also can save space.
And it’s a small touch, but some hoteliers are eliminating the tiny, hard-to-open bottles of shampoo and conditioner in favor of wall-mounted dispensers.
While “green” remains an important strategy, its importance varies depending upon the philosophy of the hotel and location. In other words, it’s an issue of return on design. Therefore, it might be worth replacing all the toilets with low flush models, but only if the property can achieve significant water savings.
Hoteliers must also consider the Americans with Disabilities Act when making significant renovations. It’s important to understand the scope of compliance that is required and to factor that into the budget and schedule. Renovations to accessible guestrooms often are more complex and more extensive than those at standard guestrooms.
Properly phasing the renovation process is also important. Properties rarely close the doors during renovation. More often, hoteliers, designers and contractors must work together to properly phase the renovations to minimize disruptions to service.
Rebranding through design is neither quick nor easy, but there are times when a facelift simply won’t do. Careful planning can minimize disruptions and the inevitable roadblocks to position a property for years of quality service that reaches your target market.
Eric M. Rahe is a principal and member of the BLT Architects executive leadership team. His 30 years of practice include hospitality, residential, retail, commercial office and educational projects with an emphasis on large-scale hospitality and resort projects.
Harry Stenger is a registered architect with a wide variety of experience in hospitality, historic
preservation, and residential design and construction, with an emphasis on large-scale and
multi-use building type commissions.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.