Designing Interesting Hotel Experiences

By Patrick Burke Principal, Michael Graves Architecture & Design | November 12, 2017

Interesting guest experiences continue to drive hotel trends. We've seen this for years in the food industry as our everyday encounters with food become wider and more global. For example, food and beverages that were once sought-out specialties are now widespread. The experience became more than the coffee, or the croissant or the sushi, hence the coffee shop, the patisserie, the sushi bar. They are remembered as places, specially designed places that stimulate the senses.

I am currently working on a large scale master plan for a resort in China where the food offerings represent culinary experiences from around the globe. And I'm also designing a hotel in the Egypt where the influence is hyper local. What differentiates these projects from others is the power of architecture and design.

Our firm, like some other designers in the hospitality field, has been working for years on reimagining and customizing guest experiences. Despite all that's changed, we have consistently found that savvy travelers value memorable experiences unique to the places they visit. They value destinations that embody a sense of place and resonate with history, the environment, and local culture and cuisine. This expectation of having an "experience" wasn't always the case.

The Rise of the Boutique Hotel and the Signature Restaurant

Sameness used to dominate the hospitality industry, in both interiors and services. When our firm started designing hotels and resorts in the 1980s, hotel chains - like fast food chains -- thought consistency of product was paramount. Clearly, there are tremendous business efficiencies to be gained, straight to the bottom line. The industry's business experts famously characterized hotels as money-making machines, operating with precision, cookie cutter style. Public relations promoted the value of consistency: the guest experience would be the same no matter where in the United States or abroad, a predictable comfort to weary travelers. Brand loyalty surged. Frequent traveler points became popular. Design was secondary to brand standards. The guest experience was rarely unique since it wasn't supposed to be.

At that time, hotel operators sought to deliver a sense of being at home while away. That has evolved dramatically. Many of today's travelers are looking to get away from home. They seek new living, working and dining experiences they don't have at home, whether traveling for business or pleasure. People want to be surprised. Today, people seek out opportunities for new experiences.

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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.