Hotel Design: Can it still capture the essence of a place?

By Pope Bullock Principal, Cooper Carry | June 23, 2013

Today's hotel customer has more brand choices than Crest has in toothpaste options. The U.S. hospitality marketplace, in terms of branded market segmentation, is nearly fully developed. From luxury to select service and long-term stay, industry leaders have covered the spectrum with brand and sub-brand alternatives.

One thing that each brand has in common is that every different kind of hotel product is defined by brand standards, which are used by all the major hotel companies to ensure a standard experience. The details, which define a hotel company’s particular product, have become specific criteria describing in detail the requirements for the design of the brand. Brand standards often include exterior color pallets and almost always control the size, shape and location of graphics. They will include details for the design of the lobby including the front desk. Hoteliers employ design directors who routinely rethink, reinvent and redesign their brand standards. Owners, developers and design professionals are then required to work with these standards.

The intention of all these efforts is to differentiate the design of one brand from another; however, the brand standards are all derived from the same process. All the efforts to define a brand by design standards can result in commercial hotel environments without true distinction. How can the hospitality industry use design to create more distinctive properties that are truly differentiated in their markets?

Before the 1950s, post-war American architecture bore a relationship to place. A postcard of a grand hotel in South Florida, say the Breakers, could be easily distinguished from a postcard of The Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue in New York City. The Biltmore in Phoenix could only be found in Phoenix. During that era, hotel design captured the spirit of a place.

Today's industry-wide insistence on brand standards and brand consistency is antithetical to what evolved naturally for centuries before. Disney World and Las Vegas gave us permission for design to be transportable and to have no relation to a place. The development of hotel brand standards that control design options can make it more difficult to design hotels that seem to fit and connect to a city or region. Hotel Brand A’s design is the same in Pittsburg as in New Orleans. And yet, those cities have remarkable different characteristics and qualities. Can we create brand distinction by designing buildings that respond to the environments and the social context in which we build them?

Historically the term “genius loci” meant the spirit of a place. Today the term refers to a location’s distinctive qualities. Those qualities include: the physical context and the social and historical context that contribute to an overall spirit of a place.

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Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.