Hotel Design Curating Experiences to Keep Guests Coming Back

February 7, 2020
Lori Bongiorno Managing Principal, Director - Mixed-Use Studio

As in retail, consistent customer experience is key when it comes to creating and maintaining a hotel’s customer base and brand loyalty. In the past, expectations were that if guests had a “good night’s sleep,” that was enough to satisfy them and keep them returning. Today, they aren’t guests – they are residents. Today’s hospitality residents seek a curated experience that can offer them a new perspective or an intimate look into the city around them.

Changing Expectations

In the past, most people viewed their hotel as a place to rest after being out exploring the city they were visiting. Today’s tourism climate is making hotels take notice of a shift from the need of a resting place after an itinerary of experiences, to an influencing part of the experience. To change this stereotype they are finding ways to connect with their residents. Hotels are elevating their offerings by including new touchpoints such as:

  • Offering sustainable luxury
  • Catering to momento hunters
  • Allowing and encouraging idleness
  • Creating true residential touchpoints (moments of interacting with objects or spaces that feel like home)

Encouraging exploration of the history of, and amenities in, the neighborhood and town around them.

The Experience of Sustainable Luxury: Millennials and Gen Zers are all about the experience, the Instagrammable moment or destination, and aligning with a cause. While they may indulge in a new cocktail at the latest bar, they are quickly becoming more intrigued by what sustainable practices the hotel is offering/including in its design and operations. The first noticeable step by hotels to combat this stigma of wasteful practices, was to stop unnecessary cleaning with the use of door hand tags to signal the towels and sheets will be reused and/or the room does not need to be cleaned. Now, hotels and resorts are capitalizing on the younger demographic’s desire to create a better world by emphasizing climate-positive philosophies that can also feel luxurious. Current trends we are seeing and advising our clients to follow are:

  • Full circularity of products, product that come from, and return to nature or are re-purposed from other use, can be seen in the reclamation of concrete from buildings that are currently being torn down, carpet and other textiles that are created from recycled plastic bottles, and even roof-top greenhouses that supply ingredients for the dishes being prepared that day. The story behind these products and how they are highlighted is what gives a sense of luxury to the hotels using this methodology.
  • Natural/ecologically-friendly built spaces no longer have to be sterile. They can be playful by incorporating visually textural materials with recycled pieces of glass or even porcelain. Locally made materials that can be integrated into the space are receiving much greater attention and celebration in the built environment, especially when they are used to create tonal palettes that are calming. To elevate these spaces even further, they are being blended into the natural landscape rather than force nature to adapt to the building’s architecture, such as the Six Senses resorts.
  • Adaptive reuse is a familiar term when thought about many other sectors, but we are seeing it creep further into hospitality design and registering with the younger demographics. The Jaffa Hotel in Tel Aviv is an example of an adaptive reuse of a mission from the 13th century that was restored with a swanky new hospitality feel.

Using sustainable materials and practices, but in a way that feels elevated rather than spartan, is a chart-topper trend for hospitality design that we see continuing to grow as climate discussions grow in prominence. The rise of luggage-free travel (renting clothing at the destination) is another sustainable movement, which stems from the current shared-living culture, we are keen to discuss with our clients as well.

Destination Hotels to Gather Momentos

Another touchpoint for residents is the leave-behind, the “get,” or the momento. This trend plays into the nostalgic desire of a keepsake or memorabilia that gives a remembrance of a positive experience. To play up this desire, we are seeing hotels create an emphasis on their locale within their walls with mementos to gather. This makes the hotel as much of a destination as the city. To do this successfully, and not have a different experience in each city, requires brand consistency in approach and quality of care. Hotel Indigo launched a shoppable room where residents can purchase the Indigo-produced designs they see in the rooms. The hotel also works with nearby artists to build a unique style that celebrates local. Similarly, creating a touchpoint with the local cuisine can help import the iconic destinations around the city into the food served at the hotel. Imagine partnering with the local ice cream vendor to host an ice cream social between lunch and dinner. This not only creates engagement with the city, it starts to speak to creating community through social interaction—a message that can be carried to all other properties in location-specific ways.

Wellness and Well-being

Like all areas of design, hospitality design is increasingly focused on helping residents to promote their own self-care. One Dutch example, Niksen, is a growing lifestyle that is gaining traction because it celebrates idleness. Daydreaming was once thought of as a waste of time; now, we recognize the value in having time to stop and reflect. This time for self-care can be implemented in hospitality designs by creating moments to pause or places for reflection. This might be done with curated artwork selections or a respite room that is designed to build mindfulness and step away from the hustle of our daily lives. Part of wellness is also designing technology to be helpful rather than overstimulating. While technology is being incorporated at check-in and in small doses in the room, too much tech can cause the brain to be too “turned on,” inhibiting relaxation.

Blending Our Worlds

Resi-merical, or the blending of the residential and commercial world, has bled into hospitality design, emerging as resi-tality. One way to ensure guests have a positive experience is by creating consistent residential touchpoints. As we see the home, home-sharing, life-sharing, place-sharing, co-living, and co-working increase, the idea that we have a blended experience with elements of our home in our hotel makes sense. Items such as doorbells at the room’s entry makes it feel a little more like walking into the guest house versus just a room. However, it shouldn’t feel overly contrived, meaning you do not want to create a literal living room in the room, but rather hearken back to it with familiar settings or accents. With some younger generations wanting to go more analog, we are encouraging creating game rooms that have board games for residents to have IRL (In Real Life) experiences with each other. Other ideas behind this could be to incorporate a space for yoga within the room, armories for storing clothes instead of a closet, or a seating area made entirely of ottomans around a low dining table meant to be a conversational sitting room.

Implementing Ideas

All of these trends point toward utilizing hospitality design to create an experience that leaves a more lasting impression than “just a place to sleep.” To fully embrace these ideas, focus first on utilizing the brand and its values. From there, it should be a simple matter of carrying forth either actual experiences or designed moments that are compelling for guests across all properties and platforms.