Indigenous Design for Hotels: If it's Tuesday, Are We in Belgium or DC?

By Anthony DiGuiseppe Principal, DiGuiseppe Architect | June 23, 2013

When I was asked to write this article on Design trends in Hospitality one of the ideas that came to me was of the seasoned traveler who longed to experience the world and really experience it. What does that mean? We travel for pleasure, for business, for research, for family, but most of all I travel as most of what I believe others do now and for the past 15 years, for experiences and so the 1969 movie written by Robert Shaw starring Suzanne Pleshette, and Ian Mcshane called “If This is Tuesday We Must Be in Belgium” seemed an appropriate way to begin.

It seems that in the early 60’s and 70’s what people wanted, and what the marketing directors thought we all wanted was sameness. I call it the Macdonald’s syndrome, consistency, the same thing no matter whether you were in Des Moines or LA, or New York or Houston, American demanded the sameness they were to expect or were taught to expect. This rule applied to food, and especially to hotels and the hospitality industry. The Major brands built their pyramids on this concept, the colors the style, the uniforms and the operations were all the same no matter where you stayed, and as the general middle class gained more wealth and their worlds expanded with television and then internet the places that people had access to exponentially increased with each decade.

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W Hotel Istanbul... Old jail converted

The idea of sameness in hotel design and hospitality is a credo is long gone… with the advent of the” boutique” hotel as coined by Ian Schrager, the hotel and where to stay has become an experiential lifestyle choice by the public. All the “Major Hotel Brands” want to have their niche in the boutique hotel lineup. Why? The soothsayers of the industry that we the mavericks had developed hotels that not only provided personalized service but where the antithesis of the brand or the sameness concept. Why were they getting so successful? People like Chip Conley developed small hotels that were local, that embodied the locale culture and art. Hotels were developed in buildings that were not hotels but adapted into hotels from jails, such as the Boston property or the W in Istanbul, or catering to a particular lifestyle like the award winning Iron horse in Milwaukee.

So, as hospitality designers, what is changing here in the way we look at a project, what is the storytelling that goes on as I heard Roger Thomas say at one of the HD summits…the idea of what is special about the place we are designing, what does it mean, what was there before this hotel, and what is the indigenous nature of the area, culture that embodies the place we visit for a brief moment in time... that we want to experience when we travel.

We, as designers, need to look further into the past when we think about the concepts of a project. How do we bring in the local art, the culture and the country or locale into the experience that the traveler will experience and come away with a wow, an education that this is really experiencing the local universe?

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Hotel Spa: Oasis Unplugged

The driving force in current hotel spa trends is the effort to manage unprecedented levels of stress experienced by their clients. Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by demanding careers and technology overload, people are craving places where they can go to momentarily escape the rigors of their daily lives. As a result, spas are positioning themselves as oases of unplugged human connection, where mindfulness and contemplation activities are becoming increasingly important. One leading hotel spa offers their clients the option to experience their treatments in total silence - no music, no talking, and no advice from the therapist - just pure unadulterated silence. Another leading hotel spa is working with a reputable medical clinic to develop a “digital detox” initiative, in which clients will be encouraged to unplug from their devices and engage in mindfulness activities to alleviate the stresses of excessive technology use. Similarly, other spas are counseling clients to resist allowing technology to monopolize their lives, and to engage in meditation and gratitude exercises in its place. The goal is to provide clients with a warm, inviting and tranquil sanctuary from the outside world, in addition to also providing genuine solutions for better sleep, proper nutrition, stress management and natural self-care. To accomplish this, some spas are incorporating a variety of new approaches - cryotherapy, Himalayan salt therapy and ayurveda treatments are becoming increasingly popular. Other spas are growing their own herbs and performing their treatments in lush outdoor gardens. Some spa therapists are being trained to assess a client's individual movement patterns to determine the most beneficial treatment specifically for them. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will report on these trends and developments and examine how some hotel spas are integrating them into their operations.