Design Drivers: How Universal Culture Impacts Hotel Design

By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design | April 08, 2018

Not long ago, I went on a business trip to Tokyo with Toto, the Japanese company that manufactures the Washlet, a clever device fitted to nearly every toilet in Japan-even one at a 7 Eleven, at least according to one of my tour-mates who needed to use the convenience store's bathroom.

The Washlet, a registered trademark of Toto that refers to electric toilet seats with water spray features for intimate body cleaning, was first released in June 1980, with more than 30 million sold by early 2011. Washlets, and other versions of the device that transform a typical toilet into a bidet, are becoming the norm in Japan and other parts of the world, including hotel bathrooms in the countries. It's akin to using toilet tissue in America.

This leads to an important point. What might be an expected amenity in one culture might not be a detail to consider in another. For instance-and again, in reference to toilets-I was told that at a luxury hotel where I often have stayed when visiting Istanbul, the architect or interior designer in charge was not fluent in the cultural norms of Turkey, including that, like in Japan, water is used to clean oneself after using the toilet by using a manual bidet integrated into the toilet.

This luxe property was a standout when it was built and situated in a sought-after neighborhood, with no detail left unturned-or at least the designers thought so. But because the property neglected to include a bidet in the guestroom bathrooms, the hotel did not go over well with Turkish travelers looking for overnight accommodations in Istanbul. As a result, the owners discovered that all its stylish, brand new toilets had to be replaced, stat.

Global trends in toilet-ware aside, it's important for designers, owners and operators to see what is happening around the globe and to take note. I often work with owners and operators who look to me to understand what is trending. An integral part of my job is to look beyond the borders of North America and glean insights into what might be on the wider horizon by understanding what's happening in the major global cities and other destinations around the world.

During part of the year, I live in Chile, which gives me the good fortune to live in two different hemispheres. Chile leads the world in ecotourism. With so much natural beauty and a coastline that extends from the desert in the north to the icebergs of Patagonia, the country has one of the most breathtaking landscapes imaginable. There, designers of hotels have embraced nature and ecology to create destination properties that lightly touch the earth and connect the guest with the environment and then, in turn, themselves.

Yong Yi Ting at the Mandarin Oriental in Shanghai / Entry / Wine Bar
Yong Yi Ting at the Mandarin Oriental in Shanghai / Private Dining Room #8 with private exhibition kitchen
Yong Yi Ting at the Mandarin Oriental / Private Dining Corridor inspired by a traditional Chinese garden path
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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.