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9 Aug, 2004

Hotel Room Design Changes in Line With Changing Lifestyles

Changes in lifetstyles, technology and guest expectations are having a signfiicant impact on the design of hotels and guestrooms, according to a recent roundtable organised by the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

The discussion, the first of its kind organised by the school, brought together design leaders from top hotels and resort management companies, interior design companies, and architecture firms to consider how successful chains incorporate design and service features to create brand identity, which hotels during the past fifty years have been the most influential design leaders, and what design elements most impact the customer experience and make a hotel or property stay memorable.

“The roundtable attracted some of the leading creators and innovators in hospitality design, resulting in a provocative exchange of ideas between Cornell Hotel School faculty and industry leaders,” said Cornell Hotel School Professor Richard Penner.

Among the participants in the Roundtable were A. Sidney Hartman, V.P., CNL Hospitality Corp.; Michael Bedner, CEO, Hirsch Bedner Associates; Margaret McMahon, Director, Wilson & Associates; Stephen Perkins, Principal, Forrest Perkins LLC; and Brad Elias, President, Elias Group.

Prof Penner said that design is now considered “a commodity – the shell is be coming as important as the product.”

“People want a compelling, exciting space, provided that service and comfort are up to standard. The travelling public is more sophisticated in its tastes and in its exposure to style through the media and through the higher profile of design in everything from household products to electronics.

“Guests seek value throughout the experience, and want ways for that value to last, whether by being able to purchase guestroom furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) for their own homes, or by having ‘bragging rights’ for staying at the very latest hotel.”

He said that many hotel companies are viewing design as just as important as service, and giving more attention to design and construction issues. Corporate support functions like technical services have a higher profile now and are working closely with design professionals to ensure the quality of the final product.

“Good planning up front is much more important than FF&E decisions [to the overall success of the project],” suggests Michael Bedner, Chairman and CEO of Hirsch Bedner Associates.

The development of the building programme needs to focus on what one participant called “the essence”: Interaction (bars and other social spaces); Indulgence (higher-end finishes, amenities like spas), and; Innovation (in features, amenities, design image).

According to Prof Penner, guest expectations are rising; what was limited to 4- and 5-star properties in terms of guestroom quality is starting to be expected at the 3-star level. Margaret McMahon of Wilson & Associates noted that, “The list of gotta-haves is increasing, and increasing rapidly.

Innovation can no longer focus on newness for the sake of newness, Prof Penner said. “Innovative features must be functional as well as easy to use; appropriate for the guest of a particular property; and add to the guest’s comfort and overall experience. Astute investors are supportive of innovative design as a product differentiator, particularly as electronic booking begins to erode brand loyalty.”

Design as a literal reflection of place is being replaced by design as a reflection of the target market’s tastes: in their fashions, in how they decorate their own homes, in how they see themselves, he said.

This translates into “lifestyle” kinds of designs, which are not solely limited to contemporary style. Emphasis also needs to be placed on personalization or “mass customization”, although it is a challenge for the industry to come up with exciting and effective ways to do this given our expensive, physically-based inventory.

Summarising some of the conclusions, Prof Penner said hotel properties will need to be aware of the following trends:

<> Elimination of the front desk function: Wireless handheld technology is allowing curbside or baggage claim check-in, and guests’ credit cards may soon be used as their guestroom key.

<> Extending the guest experience beyond the property: Design will need to extend to the property’s web presence to provide a seamless experience from booking to airport departure at the end of the stay. Some high-end properties are currently beginning the guest’s physical interaction with the property as soon as they arrive at the airport gate, a service that may become more common.

<> Increased self-service: In some segments of the market, more self-service features are becoming the norm. (At the luxury end, the emphasis is on the reverse.) These features and amenities may also change as guest needs change over the course of a day.

<> Reduced F&B offerings: The transformation of standard hotel restaurants into outsourced (and often branded) foodservices continues, with underutilized outlets being renovated into more profitable meeting space.

<> Family-friendly spas: Although most spas limit access by minors, family spas or kids-only facilities are gaining interest.

<> More connectivity: WiFi will be the norm soon. Properties without wireless Internet service will be at a severe disadvantage. Cellphone use will continue to erode revenues from hotel phones.

<> Increased automation: Labor costs continue to climb, and will soon increase in traditionally inexpensive markets like Asia. Anything operators and designers can do to automate or streamline service processes will be important.

<> Increased security: Strategies might include the room key being needed for elevator use; double peepholes in guestroom doors, and higher numbers of security cameras (which need monitoring).

<> Increased in-room entertainment options: Flat-screen TVs are coming down in price, as are alternative distribution channels for video and music. Guests will demand lower prices for these features.

<> Accommodations and amenities for pet travel: Hotels are starting to offer dog bowls, dog biscuits at turndown, even dog spas! This trend is likely to continue.

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