A focus on experiences over elegance will revive guest excitement about luxury hotels.
Luxury hotels have come a long way since the start of the last century.
The Oberoi New Delhi which opened in 1965, had a 30-square-meter room, four-fixture bathroom and a well-appointed wardrobe, all of which were considered luxury in those days. Guestroom sizes have since grown substantially, bathrooms are being designed like mini spas and service standards are better than ever (something which The Oberoi New Delhi now boasts about, after a recent renovation).
In the past 50 years, the definition of luxury has changed. However, guests today are no longer content with just luxury. Luxury is considered passé, and “experience” is the new buzzword in town. Responsibility lies on architects and interior designers to create new experiences in more ways than one. Here are five factors to consider:
1. The Airbnb effect
Today, guests would rather show off their unique travel experiences than boast about staying in the most expensive hotel in town. Experiencing luxury, especially “pretentious” luxury, is no longer a fad. What matters most to the travelers today are quirky experiences and Instagram moments. And this is straight out of the book of one of the biggest disruptors of the hospitality industry, Airbnb, which now has 4 million listings in 191 countries, more than the top 5 hotel brands combined.
According to a recent study, 31% of Airbnb guests chose to the alternative-accommodations provider because it offers an “authentic experience,” and 24% stated their primary reason was “uniqueness of the unit.” Unarguably, one of the key reasons of Airbnb’s success is the exclusivity of accommodation. On the other hand, most of us can guess a hotel room layout even before making a booking. The “cookie-cutter” approach for designing guestrooms has started to hurt hotels, giving rise to the need to look beyond standard rooms and demand unique and residential designs from designers.
2. Dynamic architecture and interiors
We are witnessing an era in which architecture and interiors are making a transition from being static to dynamic.
Ian Schrager ran a night club in New York called Studio 54, which changed theme multiple times in a single evening. Now, there is a rotating hotel coming up in Dubai, and a window that converts itself into a balcony with the press of a button.
Hotel interiors could also be dynamic, rather than just brick and mortar assets. For instance, a hotel guestroom can be turned around in no time by changing a few things, such as bed covers, cushions and other accessories, and with additions like a virtual reality wall and color changing glasses. These and many other elements are made simple thanks to the advancements in materials and interior design.
Themed guestrooms can particularly interest the repeat guests. Instead of walking into the same old guestroom that they stayed in last year, they will have something new to look forward to.
3. Guestrooms more than just places to sleep
Within the guestroom, hotels are also integrating additional personalized spaces. For instance, Hilton recently launched a guestroom with an integrated gym and which it calls “Five feet to fitness.” The future may bring more such innovations to make guestrooms more than just places to sleep. A guestroom could be a place to play, exercise, work, and something which reflects a guest’s personality and needs. It could be your own private world to indulge in your favorite activity on a vacation!
The term contextualism could take a whole new literal meaning in which luxury hotels are the flag-bearers of local culture, history, flora and fauna. Hotels shall be gateways of the local world for the guests much more than they have ever been. Many leisure travelers choose Airbnb because it provides them with an opportunity to connect with the locals and learn about their culture and practices. Learning from this, luxury hotels should assimilate more authentic local flavor into their properties, with pretentious and symbolic design elements used sparingly.
Designers need to be more sensitive to deliver a product which is evolved out of its surroundings, rather than generic. Local designers should be given more opportunities to avoid falling into the trap of globalization of design.
5. Treading carefully with technology
We often envision the future hotel like a sci-fi movie where the guests are surrounded by machines and robots. Things happen on their own by waving a hand or gesturing, and we won’t need humans to serve fellow humans anymore as there will be robots to play that role. However, the reality is that luxury hospitality is and shall remain a people’s industry. Avoiding a technology overdose is in the best interest of luxury hotels. Having said that, there will, of course, be ways to integrate technologies to enhance the guest experience. But these should be technologies that make life easier inside a hotel, rather than complicate it!
Architects and designers need to lead the way into the future by designing and shaping experiences instead of just putting together pieces of real estate. We should abandon the one-size-fits-all philosophy and create unique and personalized experiences for the new-age traveler. One of the secret desires humans have is the desire to feel important, and thoughtfully designed, personalized spaces and service can fulfill this desire and add value. It is time to reinstate the golden rule of luxury hospitality: personalization over standardization.
Himank Goswami is an Architect & a luxury hospitality design professional based in Dubai, UAE. He is presently associated with Emaar Hospitality Group and leads the group’s part portfolio of luxury & boutique hotels worldwide. Emaar Hospitality Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Emaar Properties, a global property developer with a market cap of US$ 14.6 billion and revenue of US$ 4.32 billion. Previously, he spent 10 years with Oberoi Hotels & Resorts which was rated twice as the best hotel chain in the world and led the award-winning chain’s global part portfolio of luxury hotels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/himankgoswami/
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