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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.