Hotel Design: Home Away From Home


Applied Research in Hotel Design

By Lawrence Adams Principal, ForrestPerkins | November 22, 2020

Research in the hospitality industry takes many forms. The recent emphasis on sustainability practices in lodging has yielded a wealth of research on areas such as energy conservation, water management, healthy building systems and materials and other studies to facilitate applications of green building practices.  Enhanced security systems are the subject of research projects to develop systems in hotels to combat global terrorism and other threats to the safety of hotel guests. Life safety systems research has been a subject of great importance to keeping guests safe and secure. 

Smith Travel Research (STR) has been at the forefront of marketing research for many years and has provided hotel companies and developers with essential tools for evaluating the potential performance of hotel projects with its monthly reports containing copious amounts of clear concise data and benchmarks.

Most of the major hotel companies have departments dedicated to researching market forces, branding competition, sustainability systems, security threat detection and life safety methods. The promotion of evidenced based design is a goal that insures successful outcomes in hotel design and development. This article provides three research examples relating to the design of hotels, each using sophisticated research methodology to facilitate positive and actionable results.

Courtyard by Marriott: Designing a Hotel Facility with Consumer-Based Marketing Models

In the early 1980s, in order to address an apparent void in customer satisfaction with its signature parent product, Marriott International set out to invent a new brand to cater to business travelers and to go head to head with Holiday Inn, LaQuinta and other select service brands. The new mid-priced brand was to be designed for business travelers but would also have appeal for the leisure market.  But before launching the new brand Marriott undertook an elaborate research project to determine what attributes customers found missing in the hospitality market and to fine tune a product that would fill the void.

Marriott management led by Marsha Scarborough with marketing research experts, Jerry Wind and Paul Green of The Wharton School, employed a technique called conjoint analysis to determine what attributes its proposed new brand needed to have to capture the business and leisure markets that were missing from its lodging portfolio.  Through an elaborate process of evaluating attribute options, the study produced strategies for selecting target markets, positioning platforms with competition, operational guidelines, facility development and layout and design parameters for a new lodging product.

Cojoint analysis, also referred to as multi-attribute compositional modeling, is a survey-based statistical process aimed at determining a select population's criteria for decision making within a limited array of product attributes. Survey respondents are shown a controlled set of potential product attributes and asked to make choices.  How choices are made are then analyzed to determine what values influenced their decision making. The results can then be used to create market models, estimate market share and determine profitability of a new product design.

To begin its study, the Marriott team asked the question:  What type of hotel facilities and services should Marriott design to attract business travelers (who stay in mid-level hotels or motels six or more times a year) and pleasure travelers (who stay in mid-level hotels or motels two or more times a year). The design of the hotel should also assure good value to customers, minimize cannibalization of other Marriott products and provide a substantial competitive advantage.

In order to establish the "optimal" hotel design to attract business and non-business travelers, Marriott conducted a consumer study that analyzed preferences for seven sets of hotel attributes called "facets" as described in the study:

  1. External factors – building shape, landscape design, pool type and location, hotel size;
  2. Rooms – room size and decor, facility (in terms of physical layout and type of heating and cooling system and type of bathroom), amenities;
  3. Food-related services – type and location of restaurant, room service, vending services and stores, in-room kitchen facilities;
  4. Lounge facilities – location, atmosphere, and type of people (clientele);
  5. Services – including reservations, registration and check-out, limo to airport, bellman, message center, secretarial services, car rental, and maintenance;
  6. Facilities for leisure-time activities – sauna. exercise room, racquetball courts, tennis court. game room, children's playroom and yard; and
  7. Security factors – security guards, smoke detectors, 24-hour video camera, and so forth.

There were 263 mid-level business travelers, 83 high-end business travelers, and 255 non-business travelers that were surveyed in the analysis. Each respondent was paid an average of $35, depending on location, as a monetary incentive.

To begin with, the respondents were given a questionnaire to solicit preferences for a variety of hotel characteristics or attributes. Each respondent was given seven cards coinciding with the seven sets of attributes listed above. Each attribute was given an associated price. For example the "Rooms" card included the attribute of a color TV with in-room movies for $2.50 each. Respondents then rated each amenity-price combination as unacceptable, acceptable or preferred. They were also asked to rank the attributes in each facet for relative importance. After they evaluated all seven facets the total incremental costs were added to a base room price. If the total was higher than the respondent was willing to pay, they then went back and removed attributes to get to an acceptable total room rate.

Next respondents were presented with 5 cards each with combinations of facets and attributes to choose from and each representing a "complete" hotel offering. Each combination was given an associated price. Through this process Marriott was able to determine what attributes respondents preferred given trade-offs between comfort and price.

In analyzing preference for location, respondents were told to allocate 100 points among various location descriptions based on preference. Location descriptions included closeness to business, shopping, sightseeing, night life, restaurants, theaters, airport and major highways.

To develop the room design profile, respondents evaluated the importance of several design factors including room size, quality of decor, type of heating and cooling unit, bath size, bathroom features and type of entertainment in the room. They were also asked to rank the importance of several features including alarm clock, carpeted bathroom, hot tub, king-size bed, plants in the room, remote control TV, operable windows and even X-rated movies on demand.

In selecting a hotel brand name, Marriott asked respondents to rank in order of preference from a list of 11 names, one of which was Courtyard by Marriott. In developing the hotel's brand image, respondents chose from a list that included "a place kids really like," "gives a complete break from usual routine," "gives safe and secure feeling," "has stimulating/exciting atmosphere," "is good for people who do not want to be hassled," "is a good place for people on a budget," "provides a comfortable room for when you are alone," and "has charm and warmth."   A separate task was for respondents to rank descriptions of a number of hotel types, including "a busy, efficient, modern hotel," "a good, no-frills, basic hotel," "an informal, quiet, relaxing hotel with charm and personality," "a casual feeling in a hotel with understated elegance," and "an exciting, action-oriented hotel with spectacular, modern architecture."

The collected data from the results above were then processed using a sophisticated computer analysis to arrive at an optimal amenity-price configuration. Through computer simulation various packages of features and services were evaluated for market attractiveness.

Marriott's developmental and corporate team members who conducted the study with seasoned research consultants provided expert translation of the research results into a final product design that closely coincided with the recommendations of the study.  All of the attributes and services offered by the new Courtyard by Marriott were those that were most highly rated by the respondents. The outcome of this applied research has been one of the most profitable products in the Marriott brand family.

Brand Experience Anatomy in Hotels: An Interpretive Structural Modeling Approach

A study conducted by Imran Khan and Zillur Rahman,  published in 2016 by the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, sought to identify factors of hotel brand experience (HBE) utilizing an Interpretive Structural Modeling (ISM) approach.   The study also looks to define those factors and the interrelationships among them that result in a pleasurable and superior hotel brand experience leading to repeat bookings and brand loyalty.

Hotel companies know that providing a superior, unique and memorable brand experience to its guests is essential to differentiate its hotel brand from competitor brands. Theoretically factors that could contribute to a superior brand experience might include a visually appealing well-designed environment with warm and welcoming color schemes, a fresh aromatic smell, friendly well-dressed professional staff and a socially engaging environment.

An ISM approach is used to simplify complex systems and create a graphical representation of interactions between system elements. A multilevel structural model is produced to visually represent complex issues and to transform ambiguous or inadequate mental models into a precise hierarchical graphical illustration.

Based on interviews and brainstorming sessions with industry experts and real hotel customers and based on current industry literature, a list of HBE variables was compiled that included the following:

  • Attractive architectural design
  • Cleanliness and decor
  • Dining experience
  • Efficiency and timeliness of services
  • Exotic food
  • Guest-to-guest experience
  • High-quality chef
  • Hotel location
  • Hotel staff professionalism
  • Hotel website and online disclosure
  • Human interaction experience
  • Individual attention
  • Physical environment experience
  • Pleasant noise level and indoor temperature
  • Privacy
  • Public relations and media reports
  • Social media

There were several methods of analysis of data derived from the participants in the study, including the Matrix Impact Cross-Reference Multiplication Applied to a Classification (MICMAC) analysis. In the final analysis it was determined that Physical Environment Experience, Dining Experience and Human Interaction Experience were most highly valued in the HBE. Attractive Architectural Design, Guest to Guest Experience and Privacy also rated highly for HBE. Hotel Location, Hotel Website and Social Media were less important. The following diagram illustrates the interrelationships of the 17 variables.

Application of Perception Theory in Hotel Interior Design

A study conducted in 2018 by Hui Yu, Ge Bai and Liang Wu at the School of Architecture, Dalian University, China sought to explore the application of Perception Theory in hotel interior design.  According to the study, perception theory defines the process that forms the relationship of people and environment through sensory, experiential and emotional stimuli. In addition to sounds, color, odors, temperature and tactile sensations, the theory suggests that perception includes subjective factors such as time dimension, cognition, emotion and memory.

In hotel interior design, spatial layout, materials, lighting, color, furniture, ornaments and circulation can all be used to stimulate the active interaction of guests with their immediate environment.  A positive guest experience is of paramount importance in successful hotel design.

The study examines three kinds of perceptual levels: Visual Perception, Space-Time Perception and Logical Perception.  In Visual Perception, the guest experience is most direct as sensory input from elements of shape, color, materials and light in space are translated into a psychological response. Space-Time Perception is defined as the dynamic experience of moving through space and time, so that the choreography of spatial circulation provides kinesthetic and visual information in sequence.  Logical Perception draws from the guest's spiritual and cultural consciousness where the association of environmental features triggers an emotional response and shapes the way guests perceive the hotel design.

After in-depth analysis, the research study concludes that the intersection and interaction of the three levels of perception must be understood to adequately design the interiors of a hotel to optimize the hotel guest experience through visual, space-time and logical associations.


EDRA (Environmental Design Research Association) came into being in the 1960s and has since promoted the idea that impactful practice-based environmental design research provides immense value in the creation of the built environment.  EDRA's mantra is "improving environments through research excellence." EDRA CORE (Certificate of Research Excellence) is a professional certification that "celebrates exceptional design research studies."  Applying the rigorous principles of EDRA CORE to hotel research-based design and development adds tremendous value to our industry and its customers.

The CoVid-19 Pandemic is causing a sea-change in the hospitality industry and will result in a new focus for hotel design research in the years to come (see Post-CoVid-19: The New "Normal" in Hotel Design, Hotel Business Review, by Lawrence Adams). We are likely to see research resulting in advancements in HVAC systems to provide cleaner safer air, touchless technology including facial recognition technology, cleaning protocols and devices to keep guests free of pathogens, brand marketing aimed at post-CoVid attitudes, anti-microbial materials, elevator technology that avoids overcrowding, enhanced security systems, and public space furniture layouts, to name a few.

The WELL Building Institute will continue at the forefront in research to develop rigorous standards in the design of our new normal healthy hotel environments. In the final analysis, research guided responses to the current health crisis will result in lasting improvements to the health and safety of hotels and resort design in keeping guests comfortable, safe and secure while delivering an invigorating and meaningful hospitality experience.

Mr. Adams Lawrence Adams, AIA, Principal of Perkins Eastman and its luxury hospitality design affiliate ForrestPerkins, is a global authority on hotel and resort design. Mr. Adams has managed and directed the design of large-scale development projects at major architectural and planning firms for the past 40 years. With a specialty in hotel design, Mr. Adams served as adjunct faculty at New York University for nine years teaching Master's Degree courses on Hotel Design and Development and coauthored two editions of Hotel Design, Planning and Development. His most significant projects include collaborating with I.M. Pei on the New York Four Seasons Hotel, partnering with the Rockwell Group to design the Chambers Hotel, and and The London NYC. Mr. Adams can be contacted at 214-953-2210 Ext 1115 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography

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Notwithstanding the foregoing, any and all disputes, which the parties cannot informally resolve, regarding the scope of issues or matter with the jurisdiction of the arbitrator, shall be resolved by a separate dispute resolution process whereby HotelExecutive, in its sole discretion shall elect the dispute to be resolved by either (1) a court of competent jurisdiction in the State of California or (2) a panel of three new arbitrators.

This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California notwithstanding any conflict of laws provisions. You and HotelExecutive agree that the venue for all legal disputes, controversies, actions of any kind arising under or related to this Agreement shall be San Francisco, California. You and HotelExecutive further agree that in case of any litigation regarding this Agreement, you irrevocably and unconditionally (i) consent to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state and federal courts in the County of San Francisco, California for any litigation or dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, (ii) agree not to commence any litigation arising out of or relating to this Agreement except in the California Courts, (iii) agree not to plead or claim that such litigation brought therein has been brought in an inconvenient forum, and (iv) agree the California Courts represent the exclusive jurisdiction for all litigation relating to this Agreement.


Hotel Business Review Subscriptions

If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.


Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.


The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

William J. Sander
Yatish Nathraj
Robert Hood
Amy Sedeno
Jeremy McCarthy
Tim Peter
Ajay Aluri
Matt Bitzer
Adrienne Scribner
Coming up in January 2021...