Hotel Design is an Arms Race

What some may call industry disruption, I call war. More accurately, it’s a war that hotels across the world are losing, primarily because they failed to properly adapt in the face of rapidly changing consumer demands.

Since the start of the century, travelers have collectively become more aware of the many perceived disadvantages of traditional hotels. They started by voicing their opinions on review websites by citing such issues as poor service, housekeeping errors, cookie-cutter rooms or usurious fees for bottled water, WiFi and crappy room service food. Soon afterwards, home sharing went mainstream and now guests are voicing their opinions with their wallets by choosing alternate forms of lodging where they don’t have to put up with these ‘twentieth century’ headaches.

While the ADR and occupancy figures from 2017 don’t reveal anything too dire, here’s an idea for you to ruminate on which will help elucidate this issue. Most millennials, specifically those individuals in their mid-twenties who are on the verge of having the most spending power of any generation currently living, do not know a world before Airbnb. To them, key features of home sharing accommodations like access to a kitchen, free WiFi and flexible spaces are the norm. If hotels can’t provide these ‘standard expectations’, they will be left behind.

The reason why I liken this transitionary era to a war rather than just disruption is because that’s where the term ‘arms race’ came from. Look back from the annals of history and it’s always the most technologically advanced and adaptable army that wins. With the enemy – the sharing economy – already at the gates, my fear is that if you don’t treat this with the gravitas of a war, you won’t devote enough energy necessary to properly steer the ship in the right direction.

Hotel design comes into play because, sadly, offering complimentary internet access and fair prices for in-room bottle water aren’t enough to win back customers who are now loyal to the sharing economy. To win this war will require a thorough remodeling of every guest-facing space in your property. Thankfully, hotels have a lot more resources to play with than a single homeowner, so we can catch up if we deploy new features that give customers what they want.

Let’s start with the guestroom because that is a theatre of combat where alternate lodging providers clearly have us beat. While it would be ludicrous to install a kitchen in every room, even in many new builds we aren’t modernizing the experience to meet consumer demands. Instead of a kitchen, how about a more robust mini-fridge and bar area with creative grab-and-go options that highlight local producers. Go beyond the two packets of mediocre coffee and standardized beverage selection by putting, say, craft beers in the mini-fridge along with some funky coffee mugs.

On the food front but also covering quite a bit more ground once you think of all the options, consider the living room concept whereby guests of your hotel have access to a common area with a fully stocked fridge, salad bar, fruit station and freshly made baked goods. This living room idea is also quite sociable because it acts as a confluence point for everyone, especially if you also provide complimentary alcohol (to a degree), 24/7 coffee and some reading material.

With the modern desire to stay physically active while traveling, how have you reoriented the guestroom to provide for this? Have you installed an ergonomic desk so that there’s more open space for guests to adequately stretch, do some pushups or follow a yoga program? Have you put any equipment or other exercise adjuncts into the guestroom so as to better promote fitness? And if these in-room upgrades aren’t feasible, how have you renovated your onsite gym to make it more appealing to visitors?

There are numerous other ways that hotels can leverage contemporary design to spark newfound interest. Smart TVs, smart thermostat and ‘internet of things’ connected guestrooms are a start. Looking beyond, though, are a host of other opportunities such as refurbishing the lobby or all your corridors with dazzling art. And of course, your restaurants should be the most exciting places to eat in the entire town or region.

I could go on about all the possibilities, but so much of it depends on your budget as well as your specific situation and customer demographics. The key point is that this is a war, and hotel design is a crucial element for success. Just remember, though, that in any arms race it is an ongoing process. What works today will inevitably have to be reworked tomorrow, but once you fall behind it is significantly harder to retake the lead!


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