Location remains the key of a hotel’s success, but the COVID-19 pandemic and guests’ reactions to it have meant that carefully considered design, social spaces and moment-by-moment touchpoints are just as necessary.
GLOBAL REPORT—The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the sensibilities and demands of guests. Is it still possible for the innovative brands of the last 10 years to retain their purpose and messaging?
Panelists sought to answer that question during the 14 August online Designscape conference during a session titled “The great reset in hospitality.”
Michael Levie, COO and founding partner of CitizenM, said the pandemic has created a new engagement with guests, and the focus now is on determining the longer-term effects of the crisis.
“We need to ask what worked well, and what by force needs to be changed, and what demands are being (sped) up,” he said.
Levie added that might require new capital expenditure to make hotels stand out.
Matthew Seal, senior director of luxury brands at Marriott International, said that the return of demand in Asia has given hoteliers in the West something to study to help in the transition.
“There will be a push to open this month and into September, to see what operations and demand are looking like in secondary markets, but hotels geared to (meetings, incentives, conventions and expositions) and groups in a very difficult position,” he said.
Ed Bakos, CEO of design firm Champalimaud Design, said the art of hosting will not change, but if any hotel’s return will prove more successful, there is the “right level of integration with new ideas on how we deliver them to guests.”
Bakos said he had just returned from a trip to Switzerland where he was working at a luxury property in St. Moritz.
“There, the virus is under control, and the question we asked of a luxury hotel is how do you design a room that allows room service in a more cultured and hygienic way. From now on we will be designing around issues,” Bakos said.
Technology, sustainability, environmental awareness, social distancing and digitalization are all areas of hotels that will require changes in design, operations and, critically, investment, panelists said.
Levie said some hotel companies and properties unfortunately won’t be able to adapt.
“There are must-dos in digital and touchless technology, and a change in the business process of how things get delivered,” he said. “The industry needs to take a quantum leap in this.”
He added that in terms of environmental considerations, the pandemic was an excellent teacher.
“When travel stopped, the environmental aspects that had not been proven instantly were,” Levie said. “We all will have to look at environmental, social and governance, and at well-placed locations that avoid public transportation.”
Bakos said inevitably the virus will pass, at which point people will revert to being social animals.
“We will need to engineer new experiences after that, and hotels are unique in this regard, as they create memories, which reinforces the importance of social spaces,” he said.
Offerings will diminish or grow in stature—breakfast buffets, restaurant configurations, outdoor spaces—but there will also be an onus on deliverables such as indoor air quality.
“Technology has to become more personalized, as it is in retail, with less human interaction. It is already being seen in meetings rooms, but it must come to guestrooms, (and the pandemic) will hasten it,” Seal said. “Hoteliers need to look at all the applications that drive guest confidence, which will drive an additional level of loyalty, too.”
Champalimaud Design’s Bakos said hotels will gravitate toward layouts that provide “visual adjacencies,” spaces that give the illusion of busyness but with social distancing at their heart.
“The way we configure spaces will evolve—openness versus segregated spaces, approaches to urban markets versus resorts, the sensitivity we show labor,” Bakos said. “We will be looking at new combinations that juxtapose services in a different way.”
Hotel operations will similarly evolve, Levie said, who added it might be sensible to look at what is the desired end result and then work backward.
“Direct the needs of guests into functionality, and then design can work into that,” he said.
He added many of the current brands have followed a model of creating a brand and then targeting an audience.
“CitizenM looks at what guests want in their homes first,” Levie said.
What they want in their homes has been inexorably altered by COVID-19, and that, panelists argued, is currently quite clear-cut.
“Hoteliers are generally undereducated, under-strategized and wishy-washy in what we want, and we hope others can deliver what is in our minds,” Levie said. “The CitizenM process is one in which we can control everything. We feel we are well-positioned to keep on doing what we are doing, and we continue rolling out, that’s for sure.”
A blur between life and work is another repercussion of the strangeness of 2020, panelists said.
Seal said one alteration is employees needing flexible and enjoyable workspaces, while Bakos added that hotels also will have a focus on the celebration of what is local.
“Guests are discovering the great moments near them,” Bakos said.
Technology implementation will be even more important, Seal said.
“Technology will be at the forefront of everything,” he said. “That has not been changed by the crisis, and there will be heightened awareness of environment and social consciousness. Those brands who do not go down this avenue will lose headway very quickly.”
Bakos said in his hometown of New York City, the subway is being cleaned every night for the first time in history.
“That is quite remarkable,” he said.