Authentic Experiences, Locally Produced Using Original Elements

By Jennifer Skaife Design Director, DiLeonardo | November 27, 2016

Exploring authentic ways of infusing the hotel location based upon the Operator/Brand & Owner vision. Applying elements of brand-specific identity and responding with successful design solutions within the constraints of existing properties- i.e. interior architecture, existing zoning etc.

“It’s Tuesday so I must be in Sheffield...” When I started working in hospitality design, this was one of many sayings we frequently heard and always joked about. These were the days when the road warriors back in the UK drove their Ford Taurus’ from town to town, city to city, staying overnight in the local hotel flag of their or their company’s choice. The picture I’m trying to paint here is how one branded hotel looked very much the same as the others in the Operator’s portfolio regardless of its location. This was the familiar model we worked with until quite recently. There was little to no apparent difference from property to property regardless of where you were in the country. Prototypical standards were set from select service right up to the top star level – from the approach, the landscaping, the port cochère, the exterior architecture, the reception and so on. Prototypical to the “nth degree.” The “Sense of Place” such as it was, may have been reflected as little as in the art of a lobby for the purpose of depicting some sort of local feature. Up until relatively recently, Brand Identity was the primary identity in a property and the location was of little to no importance with respect to Interior Design.

You could always pinpoint whose flag you were under, what brand was operating the property… Going back to my opening line, your destination was not at all part of the experience. This of course had its advantages, as well as being a successful model for loyal customers who had expectations of consistency throughout the interior environment. Public areas to guestrooms presented no surprises and staff and amenities were an important constant and driving factor for customer retention. A certain high bar was set to expect the level of service the Brand was accustomed to providing that precisely met the expectations of the guest. Service was key to any good hospitality experience. This still remains true to this day and should remain so in driving Brand loyalty where the Brand pillars are uncompromised, thus supporting a loyal guest base.

Now, this Brand-dominant identity interestingly enough, works exceptionally well in retail. From Tiffany’s to Top Shop – wherever you visit these locations in the world, the Brand Identity remains constant. There’s no indication whatsoever as to where you are, from Dubai to Dublin, Tiffany’s is Tiffany’s with only the merchandise indicating location.

In the past few years, as we are all emerging from the deep recession and with so many properties long overdue for renovation, we are seeing operators coming up with fresh new approaches to their Brand development and consequently the Interior Design direction and solutions. Established Brands are being totally overhauled and re-launched, where prototypical select service portfolios are giving owners and developers a much wider range from which to develop their own unique identity within the Brand standard. Inside of this, we really are seeing the location of a property expressed throughout the design – be it a new build or existing – the location and it’s environ are now becoming the driving factor within the design brief. We as interior designers are being given the opportunity to design more specifically, reflecting the actual location – at both macro and micro levels within the interior.

Of course, there’s always a responsibility as the designer to avoid cliché and pastiche in our inspiration and reflections of locale. To be playful with references and to infuse humor and wit throughout the design is a part of our task. Those of us who, over the years, have had the opportunity to design overseas, in China for example, know very well that we can’t just count on predetermined perceptions of what we think is “Chinese” to create a design solution for a property there. Deep research is integral to exploring the location, history, art and culture, and the future vision of the city, remain critical to a sensitive, studied, witty and educated design solution reflecting that very place where we find ourselves on any given Tuesday! We no longer have to look at our itinerary to know where we are. We look around us, at our immediate surroundings from the lobby to the guestroom and feel secure in knowing where we are, based upon the unique visual cues around us.

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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.