Creating Indigenous Experiential Design

By Ronald M. Lustig Design Architect/Principal, Earl Swensson Associates, Inc. (ESa) | June 08, 2014

For those who travel as much as I do, you have probably lived "Groundhog Day" more than once when you wake up in a hotel room and experience a moment of panic. The bed, desk and TV screen are placed in the same spots of the room as that of the last hotel you were in. Familiar bed covering patterning. Same upholstered chair. Same lamps. The art on the wall is generic for Anywhere USA as are the rest of the finishes throughout the room. "Where am I and which city am I in?"

If you are really desperate, you can always pick up your iphone and ask Siri, "Where am I?" or flip on the TV to catch the local news. There may be a local sightseeing guide on the desk. Without the electronic help and subtle clues, your guess is as good as mine. You could be on the West Coast or East Coast. Nothing in the room immediately provides a visual reading of the city or region.

Renowned writer, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein once said when referring to Oakland, where she grew up, "…there is no there there." This succinct summation can also apply to hotels, chain and otherwise. When there is no distinguishing sense of place to set a lodging venue apart from those in other parts of the country, the guest experiences are not particularly memorable or positive. Quite simply, there is no there there. Sure, the groundhog-day similarities of a popular chain may reinforce the consistencies that one can depend upon of a brand, no matter the locale. But wouldn't the lodging experience be enhanced and more memorable as a place to which you would like to return if it became a seamless extension of its location instead of a time/place-warp product with more commonalities than unique attributes?

Include the Senses

When creating a destination venue, catering to the senses is essential. Many chain, boutique and other types of hotels are already utilizing this approach.

  • Visual – The interior environment should be pleasantly, not overly, stimulating, and, at the same time, relaxing. The design of spaces for intuitive wayfinding, the use of colors, textures with mixtures of materials and views to the out-of-doors help transition the traveler to check-in, locating needed services and in finding the assigned guestroom. Such amenities as a fireplace and comfortable seating arrangements project welcoming warmth in a lobby.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.