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 January 2019...

Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.