Business or pleasure? The new hotel experience

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Contact Jon Grant, Director, Interiors

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Contact Anton Comrie, Senior Associate Director

Around the world, hotel construction is booming. Projects stalled by the pandemic are restarting and key markets, such the Middle East, are showing renewed appetite for hotel development. But how can hotels diversify their offer to meet the shifting needs of guests and travellers? And what are the trends, pressures and influences shaping new hotel design?

We asked members of our EMEA Interiors and Masterplanning teams to share their thoughts and insights.

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1/ Celebrate the blurring of boundaries

The old polarities of business or pleasure’ are fading fast. That a hotel should either cater for work or recreation is anathema in a design world that has seen recent developments, such as Jewel Changi Airport, break all typological moulds. Like Jewel, which provides a state-of-the art retail experience – complete with live waterfall and rainforest – in the heart of an airport environment, hotels are beginning to celebrate the blurring of boundaries and blending of uses. 

As travellers’ needs change, the distinction between business and leisure has never been hazier – to the point where a new hybrid phenomenon, bleisure’, is gaining traction within hotel design. As a new generation of mobile workers seeks more dynamic and experiential accommodation, hotels around the world are responding – for example, with co-working spaces, warehouse-style interiors, workshop areas, open kitchens and coffee shops, and in-room gym equipment.

Hotels looking to appeal to the new bleisure’ traveller or digital nomad need to think about creating de-corporatized spaces that offer a mix of uses and experiences. And above all, a blurring of boundaries that points to a rich and exciting future for hotel interiors. 

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2/ Design for context and community

Traditionally, pleasure resorts and business hotels have created hermetically sealed environments, whereby guests have little interaction with the outside world and could, in effect, be anywhere’. Not only do these inwardly focused models fail to integrate with local culture and landscape, they also offer little in the way of social impact. What benefit, for example, is the luxury resort in Bali – where fitness tourists sip green kale smoothies – to local people with no running water? 

Increasingly, travellers are looking for more progressive and inclusive hotel models; for more authentic and immersive local experiences, whereby hotels provide insight and connection to local culture, cuisine, people and places. By grounding a hotel in its context, designers can meet the demands of more enlightened clientele, while also responding to the needs of local communities. 

Around the world, the opportunities for more socially impactful hotel developments are significant. Already, certain Accor hotels extend services to people living within a three-kilometre radius. Common areas within hotel grounds could open up key spaces and amenities to the public. Hospitality training could be provided to the unemployed. In this way, hotels can begin to balance social and commercial value, while connecting their guests with the world around them. 

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3/ Plan and design on a human scale

From a masterplanning perspective, hotels are often the anchor point within new urban districts. Developers tend to put hotel assets in the best locations, picking the low-hanging fruit and hoping to generate interest and drive value around those assets. But this approach converts prime public realm into private space. If a masterplan is conceived properly and implemented rigorously, designers should be able to place a hotel anywhere in that plan, on the basis that it’s a visitor’ rather than a permanent fixture within the urban environment. In this way, a hotel needs to understand its place within the urban fabric, and be able to grow into the city that surrounds it.

The key point about masterplanning is that it looks 20 or 30 years into the future. It therefore needs to account for the fact that things will change, and to ensure the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. Furthermore, both masterplanners and interior designers need to think on a human scale, considering how people will access and move around these buildings and districts. A key part of this process involves adapting to shifts in preference, both in terms of how people use hotels, and how operators want hotels to be used. 

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4/ Embrace care and flexibility as underlying principles

The word hotel’ derives from the French hôtel’, which shares its etymology with the word for hospital’. In this historical usage, the word refers to a building that provides care rather than accommodation. 

This notion of a hotel as a place of care, dedicated to health and wellbeing, resonates with recent trends seen in hotels around the world. In Jordan, for example, when Covid first hit, hotels were repurposed to create isolation centres. In the UK, during the pandemic, hotels have been used to house rough sleepers. They’ve also helped to relieve pressure on the NHS by taking in discharged hospital patients. And in Hong Kong, hotels have become places of long-term residency for local people struggling with rental costs and lockdown restrictions. 

In the age of Covid and climate change, hotel form and function need to be flexible to enable communities to respond to the challenges they face. Adaptable, reusable spaces and structures, which can quickly be repurposed to provide places of safety, refuge, quarantine and care, need to be an integral part of future hotel design. 

'Increasingly, travellers are looking for more progressive and inclusive hotel models; for more authentic and immersive local experiences, whereby hotels provide insight and connection to local culture, cuisine, people and places. By grounding a hotel in its context, designers can meet the demands of more enlightened clientele, while also responding to the needs of local communities.'

5/ Enable a more customised experience

Currently, operators have a significant amount of control in hotel development which can lead to a singular view on décor, layout, room features and colour schemes based on projections around footfall, cost and commercial viability. 

This approach jars with the central premise that hotels should, ultimately, be about choice. Travellers choose to visit certain places and generally make hotel selections based on personal preference, determined by a wide variety of factors. So shouldn’t hotel design incorporate a greater degree of choice and customised experience? Rather than the rigid and prescriptive design schemes often seen within hotel chains, shouldn’t designs enable guests greater agency and ownership over their room features, materials and ambience? 

Of course, economics will always play a part in design scheme scope and flexibility. But perhaps an increased focus on the broader customer experience, rather than on the minutia of operational metrics, will pave the way for more diverse and imaginative hotel designs. 

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