When Designing for Hotel Operators

By Brian West President, LifeStyling | September 02, 2010

On a recent getaway I took up residence at a well-known southern California luxury hotel for a long weekend of relaxation, great meals and good friends. Upon check-in I noticed that the hotel lobby had recently gone under somewhat of a minor renovation, new light fixtures, expansive window walls bedecked in new decorative window coverings, new millwork throughout the lobby including new individual check-in desks, from which the uniformed and ever smiling guest service agent quickly checked me in and sent me on my way to a relaxing weekend. During our interaction the gracious front desk agent informed me that I had been upgraded to a suite for the weekend. Thankful and appreciative I excitedly hurried off to check out my capacious weekend digs. Making my way through the hotel I noticed the numerous renovations underway, and at the same time I noted much work yet to be tackled. Boarding the elevator to my sixth floor Shangri-la a little voice in my head concluded that the elevator must surely be slated for the next phase of the renovation, as I stood spying the cynical reflection of my face in the smoke colored mirror of the elevator door I began to wonder if this was to be the end of the disappointing old d'ecor - then it happened... the elevator doors parted and behold... what I saw laying beyond was what I would now call a forewarning of what was to come. The worn carpet in the elevator lobby was a compass medallion composed of gold, blue and red easily befitting in any nautical themed hotel d'ecor of the late eighties and early nineties. My thoughts battled between cynical and positive - maybe the rooms were just recently redone and they are saving the elevator lobbies till the end.

Despite enjoying the time I had with my friends and this beautiful seaside town, I will for many years to come remember my poorly neglected guestroom. What was obvious from the moment I walked in the door was the peeling wall covering throughout the suite - not just the bathroom, the random and otherwise senseless placement of the mismatched furniture - furniture that in my opinion had never been constructed for comfort in the first place. The Armoire was missing the mini-bar. Where did it go I thought? Why would they remove this lovely roommate as this was the one of the greatest revenue generators in the room. I wasn't' there to watch television, but I always like to catch up on the news in the morning, but not from the small and archaic television which suffered from poor placement against a wall that received a terrible glare from it's sunny southern exposure. I didn't go away for the weekend to work, but I did bring a computer and often keep tabs on my email throughout the day so when I discovered the little desk and quickly realized that there would be no room for my laptop as I was amazed to find that it was cluttered with a lamp, phone, ice bucket, two glasses, three tent-card advertisements for the in-house food and beverage outlets, an informational folio for all the local attractions and a note from attendant that just cleaned my room. The carpet throughout was worn and just downright unattractive and was most likely responsible for retaining what I'll call the fragrant essence of the sea. What struck me as odd was that the previous designer incorporated a drapery cornice above the sliding glass door that lead to the lovely balcony. This cornice actually hung down to my eyebrows - I'm only 6 feet tall - I know I can sometimes be a bit critical as a designer, but please... The balcony had a fantastic view, but so uncomfortable were a pair of stretched out lounge chairs that I never actually utilized my balcony. Now I usually need to apologize for my cynical ways, but I feel no need to recall my criticism.

What I found shameful about the property where I spent my weekend getaway was that although the hotel retained a high weekly occupancy at rack rate they had neglected to care for it's facility where it counted most. The guest accommodations were not only designed poorly, but maintained poorly as well. There were many significant design flaws for which the designer should take full responsibility, when it comes to purchasing the FF&E the hotel seems to have skimped on quality - as the furniture was terribly uncomfortable, the lack of technological advancement was evident and the overall care and upkeep of the room had been significantly neglected.

When speaking of hotel operators one does not speak of a single person, far from a single person - most operators are large corporations that employ thousands. Hotel operations vary from city to city where in some cities unions may have a part in hindering the management of the hotel from an operations point of view. Regardless of the operations stance on hotel maintenance it is the designer's responsibility to make design considerations based upon the worse case scenario. These considerations might prove insightful for an operator the next time a renovation is presented.

Having working in the Meeting and Incentive industry my comprehension of hotel design has been enriched. From the meeting planners perspective my consideration of the hotel facility was based on a properties flexibility, and overall appearance. Pairing my meeting planner experience with my knowledge as a designer I am equally aware that the durability of the FF&E within a hotel property is paramount to the success of the hotel and I strive to place as much intelligently designed product within a property.

In this article I bring to the forefront a few concepts designers should keep in mind when working with the operators of hotel properties. These considerations should assist in assuring that both the designer and the operator are working toward the same goal - to create spaces that achieve the greatest ROI.

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