Ms. Moser

Architecture & Design

Integrating Operations and Design in Hotel Renovations

By Monika Moser, Managing Director, Wilson Associates

In recent years, trends have shown that the specific location of a city hotel no longer seems to be the most important selection criteria for a guest. Rather, it is the experience he has in the hotel, the emotions he lives during the stay, the story he can tell afterwards that is more important. Now, he would rather tell the story about the design and the ambiance of the hotel; the unique style of the hotel becomes the main attraction. An adapted and creative design can help create this experience and has become a way to distinguish hotels.

There have been major changes in the hospitality landscape, specifically in Paris. New boutique hotels and small hotels that are not part of a larger, specific brand have opened and there are still more to come. Of course, they attract a new generation but also raise curiosity and interest of the clientele that would usually go to established luxury hotels. A reason for this might be that these hotels are flexible, creative and have created new experiences for guests. Indeed, it is interesting to see that hanging out in hotels is back in fashion and that some of the new boutique hotels are very busy at night.

They have become popular places to gather and meet with friends, even though some are not in typical tourist hotel areas. Parisians themselves seem to be attracted to these new hotels because of their decoration, as well as the general design and new on-site experiences. More than ever, a new identity, a sense of place and new experiences are created by good design. Interestingly enough, these hotels are not part of the traditional large hotel groups. Indeed, it seems to be more attractive to stay in up-and-coming boutique hotels than traditional standardized brands.

Following this trend, it becomes increasingly important for hotels to attract not only international tourists, but also bring the local neighborhood back into the hotel. Most Parisians rarely enter the premises of a Palace Hotel, except to have a drink on a very special occasion. Many fear that they do not belong in the exclusive and elegant surroundings.

Sťbastien Bazin, CEO of AccorHotels, mentioned during the launch of his "ShadowComex" in 2016, that new services and experiences would be the main objective for the hotel group in the years to come. Maybe as a way to confront or embrace the still growing success of AirBnB, it is the aim of AccorHotels to transform the hotels to be more of a social centre and offer new services and experiences to the neighborhood. In an effort to attract locals to their hotels, they are currently experimenting with special concierge services one can use even without being a resident of the establishment.

Luxury hotels in Paris should not think and act differently. While the traditional Palaces in France still focus on their history, heritage and traditions, they must not forget that in the long term, they cannot rely on that aspect alone. Travelers now have more experience and knowledge, and have the means and the curiosity to discover new and different accommodations. Luxury hotels will make the difference with premium quality products and services, as well as luxury design with detailed and exclusive finishes.

An animated hotel lobby will naturally attract more customers. The growing trend to offer a new social space in the area embraces this idea; the new lobby space combines several traditionally separated areas into one large hub with multiple options. Clients now have the possibility to work, eat and gather in this new space, participate in creative events and meet and socialize with others. The lobby is no longer just an entry, meeting point and waiting area for travelers. Through innovative ideas such as co-working spaces, retail and concept stores, libraries and cozy living rooms, music lounges and bars, the lobby creates an energy that attracts new customers, enhances guest experiences and becomes a revenue-generating space.

Like the Amastan Hotel in Paris, some hotels create events and happenings with brands or rising artists to attract locals. "Our programming reinforces our brand identity, young, collaborative and creative..." says Zied Sanhaji, owner of this new hotel in the center of Paris, in a recent interview in Le Monde. Now these new independent urban resorts need to create novel experiences or services not found anywhere else in the city to establish their brand.

From a design standpoint, different functions in one space bring different technical constraints. If not planned properly by an experienced team, the ambiance of a hotel could be destroyed with these new multi-function open spaces. Things such as height variation should be considered. When creating these spaces, one must also consider that some guests might not like mingling with complete strangers and that this new trend may very well change in a few years. The design should ideally be evolving, adapting and flexible.

While the lobby is becoming the social gathering place for guests, some hotels focus on creating possibilities of shared living. For instance, traditionally separated rooms will be positioned around a shared living room to accommodate large families and groups of friends. Groups such as AccorHotels create concepts like Jo&Joe, which are selling hotel beds, much like a hostel, and no longer entire private rooms. Obviously, not everyone wants to share a room with complete strangers and this is certainly a generational question. However, one should focus on the rising idea behind it -- of flexibility, of leaving a traditional way of seeing hotels and moving toward new concepts, which adapt to new ways of living.

Within the hotel rooms themselves, designers are more and more convincing hoteliers to change the traditional room layouts and furniture to accommodate some new living habits. Interior designers in hospitality are experimenting with removing working desks, and exchanging them with flexible, movable tables, as well as opening the closet space and exhibiting the clothes like in retail stores, and replacing or just ignoring the regular minibar.

To adapt to these new design trends, hoteliers might need to review the traditional way of doing business -- be creative in the modification and adoption of usual standards and procedures. The industry must learn to break the traditional structure of room divisions, food and beverage departments and other services to be more flexible in operations and fit with the client's changing needs and habits. Titles, management structures and job descriptions change and so must the organisation of the hotel industry. I remember a well-known designer creating a special space for gentlemen's grooming in an elegant luxury hotel.

The idea behind designing this space was to rediscover habits from the last century, where gentlemen had their personal team to brush their coat before leaving, quickly comb their beard and shine their shoes before meeting friends. It was intended to be quick and helpful, an additional service to the busy gentlemen of today's world. However, it appeared that clients had to make a reservation through the spa/fitness department to access this special service. Lacking flexibility, this amazing idea loses all its purpose.

In some countries, change can be more difficult than in others. This might be because local industry and tourism regulations take time to adapt to clients' requests and still focus on requirements that were mandatory years ago. But besides that, change is specifically difficult for human beings and sometimes impossible for major hotel groups.

From an interior designer's point-of-view, experienced hotel employees can deliver perfect service and adapt to new trends, if the design strives to resolve their challenges and improves their working routine. Designers can help the hotel and the brand to redefine themselves based on the desired message, the location and the operational objectives. I firmly believe that it is the responsibility of each designer to deliver an ideal working environment for the hotelier. Through their design, they must adapt the aesthetics to the technical challenges of the employee.

Since most designers have no operational hotel experience and have never worked in the hospitality environment, they do not always understand the daily challenges hoteliers face. Therefore, it is crucial to talk to all stakeholders involved at a very early stage of a project and getting direct operational feedback, which in addition will save valuable time during the design process. Talking with the architect about local rules and regulations seems to be obvious to everybody before a renovation, but discussing the challenges with the housekeeping cleaning team or the daily technical difficulties of the engineering staff is less obvious.

I recently had conversations with a bathroom supplier, who created a new toilet concept for hospitality that significantly reduces the time and effort a room attendant spends to clean it. This is a direct result from exchanges with hotel staff. During discussions, operations must inform the design team how they want the work to be done. Ultimately, the staff has a large role in delivering the brand image, perfect organization and productivity. They must be able to communicate with the designer how they want the hotel to function and how they can be more productive and successful in their jobs.

Sometimes owners, investors or project team members do not want to confront the interior designers at an early stage with technical or operational constraints for fear that this will restrict their creativity. However, I have never heard this complaint from a design team. We might want to remember that designing is a form of creative problem solving and that designers might have solutions that will please all the senses, as well as the employees. Indeed, having budget constraints, operational restrictions and problems to solve will merely enhance the creativity of the designer. Designers must be aware and ahead of trends and thus can help the hoteliers to keep the business alive and thriving. Does a designer worry about the ROI of a hotel? Not really. But ultimately creating a perfect design, opening a successful hotel and having satisfied clients and employees will make the designer proud of being part of the project. Additionally, with a great design, hoteliers can experience the value (and often, increased returns) design brings to their establishment.

Monika Moser is Managing Director with Wilson Associates, a global interior design firm specializing in the hospitality industry. Partnered with signature designer Tristan Auer, this haute couture design studio in Paris is currently working on major luxury hotel renovations in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and China. As Managing Director of Wilsonís Atelier in Paris, Ms. Moser is a brand ambassador who supports the firmís strategic initiatives. Ms. Moser was raised in the hospitality industry, as her father has been a hotelier for over 50 years. With more than 20 years of her own experience in hotel operations in Europe, sheís an authority in luxury hospitality. Ms. Moser can be contacted at 33-1-44-949-230 or mmoser@wilsonassoc.com Please visit http://www.wilsonassoc.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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