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Designing for boomers
December 16 2013

Given the size of the market and its explosive growth, baby boomers are an increasingly attractive demographic for hoteliers.

Highlights
  • Design aimed at boomers requires more suites with better connectivity.
  • Boomers enjoy subtle lighting and more comfortable public spaces.
  • Boomers will seek out the hotel brands that best address their tastes and preferences.
 
Sofitel NYC
Jonathan Douglas, VOA Associates
By John Buchanan
HNN contributor

GLOBAL REPORT—Today, about 10,000 baby boomers will reach the retirement age of 65. And about the same number will cross that threshold every day for the next 16 years, according to the Pew Research Center. 
 
That is creating a highly prized new category of leisure travelers who are increasingly the focus of hotel design and amenities.
 
And based on the size of the market—and its daily expansion for years to come—hoteliers continue to look for ways to set themselves apart and attract that business.
 
Multi-generational travel
An ever-increasing number of baby boomers are traveling with their children and grandchildren. As a result, an emerging trend—especially in family-oriented destinations such as Orlando, Florida—is a focus on getting more people into a room or suite, said Jonathan Douglas, managing principal at Orlando-based VOA Associates. That means allocation-of-space innovations are needed, such as adding bunk beds to the mix in order to accommodate boomer-led, multi-generational groups who do not want to be separated into different rooms.
 
VOA is now working on a half dozen projects, mostly in the mid-tier, full-service segment, that require a bigger guest capacity in sleeping rooms.
 
Kavitha Iyer, senior architect and designer at Atlanta-based Tvsdesign, which specializes in the luxury segment, is seeing the same trend. Much of the company’s most recent work has been in large-scale renovations of existing properties. 
 
"And there is a change in the way room ratios are composed," Iyer said. One result has been an expansion of the number of suites and more attention to guestroom connectivity to suites. And that topic is now coming up with new properties on the drawing board. 
 
Alfredo Munoz, president of New York-based Abiboo Architecture, agreed that "more suites with more connectivity" is becoming a mantra for many properties targeting boomers. His recent design of a new resort property in Panama allocated 15% more suites than a traditional hotel.
 
Let there be light
Another common consideration is the availability and quality of ambient and artificial light in public spaces and guestrooms.
 
"Better lighting is definitely something baby boomers are asking for," said Scott Maloney, president of K2M Design in Cleveland. As a result, lighting as an amenity has been increasing in frequency as a topic of conversation with his existing and prospective clients. And it speaks to practical considerations such as reading, but also to aesthetic elements of the overall experience.
 
"It's about the mood you're able to set," Maloney said. "And that mood can change over the course of the day and into the evening." An increasingly important element of that capability for change is dimming ability, he said.
 
Iyer agreed that lighting, especially in the context of boomer preferences, has become a growing topic of conversation. And the focus is on more lighting options, such as floor lamps and headboard lamps, which provide more of a "wash" of light throughout the space as an aesthetic as well as practical amenity.
 
Jacqueline McGee, principal at Boston-based architectural firm CBT, is leading the team designing the new Sofitel Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. She and her colleagues specified electric mirrors in bathrooms as a way to make boomers look younger and better. In addition, CBT suggested softer, more subtle lighting throughout the property. 
 
"It's just as way of making older people feel good about themselves," McGee said. In addition, the Sofitel Lafayette Square will offer a mix of lighting devices, such as floor lamps more akin to what boomers have at home, which is another comfort factor.
 
Other design flourishes
For his Panama property, Munoz created more common areas because he said boomers like to socialize. He also proposed a very contemporary design that appeals to boomers because they want to feel young.
 
Heather McKeon, interiors director at Kraemer Design Group in Detroit, whose most important client brand is Holiday Inn, also is witnessing more sociable public spaces as a strong trend that reaches across demographic sectors. One consideration aimed at baby boomers, she said, is more comfortable seating, such as arm chairs that are not as low to the ground as some ultra-fashionable modern examples.
 
For its design of the new San Antonio Riverwalk Holiday Inn, which opened last spring, Kraemer went above and beyond the requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act to create a handicapped-accessible bar top that allows wheelchair-bound guests to enjoy the same interaction with bartenders and other patrons at the bar, as opposed to simply having the access required by law.
 
In its renovation design of the landmark PGA National Resort & Spa in Pam Beach Gardens, Florida, CBT created specialty suites targeted at affluent weekend golfers who travel in small groups of four to six. Amenities include bigger and better TVs, shuffleboard and board games. 
 
"It's like they're back in college again," McGee said.
 
Yet another attempt to reconnect boomers with their youth is a subtle flourish McGee and her team suggested for the Sofitel Lafayette Square in the nation's capital. Almost subliminal influences include French-inspired fabrics and furnishings that remind boomers of their trips to Paris as students.
 
Such attempts to cause a boomer to select one hotel over another in the future will continue to gain traction, Munoz said. The market segment is growing daily and will continue to add enthusiastic, often affluent travelers to the leisure market.
 
"The market is so big that it will become more important, especially in places like Panama or other parts of the Caribbean or Latin America, where baby boomers are thinking about retiring," Munoz said.
 
Further, Douglas said a related key to success in the future will be marketing initiatives related to brand perception and loyalty. Boomers, like other travelers, will increasingly stick with the brands that meet their needs for an experience.  
 
"And ultimately," Douglas said, "I think there will be this loyal network of hotels that are targeting the boomer demographic. And they can just go from adventure to adventure." 
 
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