Great Design Begins With a Great Story
By Gary Inman Vice President Hospitality, Baskervill | November 13, 2016
Every great hotel has a great story. There is nothing more enduring, nor more sacred, than the art of storytelling. It is ancient in its origins, found in every culture. It is a seminal part of every childhood and is arguably the greatest economic driver on the planet. Consider the combined value of the film, music, publishing, and advertising industries, and the billions that go into brand building for nations, companies, products, beliefs, and any part of our culture – large and small - that requires a producer and consumer equation.
We're surrounded by stories, some trite and superficial but others transformative, enhancing life in ways never believed possible. The embrace of new technologies, for example, required visionary entrepreneurs that could convince consumers by the power of their storytelling, helping people to envision a world of instantaneous connectivity and information exchange. The unprecedented success of the internet, hand-held computers, mobile phones, Apple watches, and so many other lifestyle-changing technologies had to be sold by virtue of compelling stories that appeared at first to be tall tales. But here we are and it's hard to imagine our lives without these devices. These same storytelling principles can be applied to every industry, but none more effectively than in hospitality with its focus on serving and enhancing the lives of guests and patrons.
Boutique hotels and historic resorts have always offered a more local experience, an innate connection with the local culture celebrated both through the visual appearance of the building as well as the cuisine, the staff uniforms, and even the personalities of the staff itself. Nothing says welcome to New Orleans like a smile and an authentic southern drawl fringed with Creole and perhaps even a bit of Cajun syntax. This immediate sense of place and the anticipation of the unique experience that lies ahead has been a hallmark of travel for more than a century.
This mindset is in stark contrast to the big box hotel approach that rejected regionalism and contextual interpretations in favor of a broadly defined brand aesthetic a few decades ago. The thought was that business travelers, as well as leisure travelers, would come to rely upon the standards of the brand and the consistency of performance wherever they went. As long as a traveler remained loyal to that brand their experience would be homogenous and dependable. The problem is people, even business travelers, prefer to connect with the history, culture, and flavor of the place they're visiting. Simply adding a few local photographs to the guest room proved a weak attempt at context and in recent years we have witnessed a global paradigm shift with all major brands moving towards lifestyle hotels. Words like "curated," "collected," "bespoke," and "storytelling" have become commonplace as every brand strives to cultivate stronger connections to more savvy travelers who can easily search online for more flavorful hotel experiences at competitive price points.
Today, even the most notable major brands are taking a refreshed look at the ways in which they can imbue their spaces with local and regional influences. A gifted design team can always use symbolic connections to place to create an iconography that connects guests with their environment. The beauty of the natural setting, culinary traditions, art and craft from the region, industrial history, or key historic personages and events, can provide fascinating storylines. Many hotel designers now work with professional curatorial teams such as Kalisher Fine Art, DAC, or Faulkner and Locke on thoughtfully researched, comprehensive art programs for public and guest room spaces. The end result can breathe a sense of spirit into the hotel. This approach is not limited to art but can, and should, be woven into all the design elements. Gonzalo Bustamante, of the Rockwell Group, compares design storytelling to a theatrical script or emotive choreography that sets the stage for guests to fulfill their role as actors on life's stage.
In recent years our clients at Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, and Intercontinental Hotels have embraced this narrative design approach, creating lifestyle brands Curio, AC, and Moxy. The model speaks to particular psychographics across multiple generations, but always in the parlance of local and authentic. This sector is rapidly expanding with collections within brands such as Marriot's Autograph Collection, Starwood's Tribute Collection, Choice Hotels' Ascend, and Hilton's new Canopy Hotels. Boutique brands such as Kimpton, Indigo, and Commune augment this market with their artistic hotels. The luxury sector provides some of the most sophisticated storied interpretations celebrating artisanship with brands such as Baccarrat, Salamander Hospitality, and Auberge Resorts & Hotels.
The Hotel Business Review articles are free to read on a weekly basis, but you must purchase a subscription to access
our library archives. We have more than 5000 best practice articles on hotel management and operations, so our
knowledge bank is an excellent investment! Subscribe today and access the articles in our archives.