Expert’s Voice: Hotel design in a new landscape

by | 04 Mar 2021 | Expert's Voice, Experts

Housekeeping cleaning a room at Shama Lakeview Asoke Bangkok

In light of the pandemic, Tom Bishop, director and head of project management for Concert, explores whether the hotel design and construction sectors will have to permanently change tack.

Covid19 has had an unprecedented impact, the challenges ahead are many and will require innovative solutions, some of which may change and benefit the sector for the longer term.

Hotels have evolved in recent years, extending their range of functions. Budget hotels have made more destinations accessible to more people, offering minimal services and amenities. Meanwhile, city hotels have created social spaces with lobbies and café bars that are magnets for casual working, meetings, or as a destination for a night out. They have become places cojoined to work and lifestyle.

But the Covid crisis means a reset. Hotels are reopening as if new, building a customer base from people whose habits and priorities have changed. Hotel design and build have a big role to play in this new landscape.

Wings may have been clipped by the travel ban during the pandemic but the desire to travel and see new horizons hasn’t gone away. When the government announced it was planning to set up air bridges, online enquiries for holidays surged.

Building confidence around health and safety will be paramount to getting customers back. In the short term, there is likely to be renewed interest in staycations, getting away from it all but without getting on a plane – with the added attraction of supporting UK-based businesses.

Custom from business travel will be a challenge. We have rapidly adapted to video calls and online meetings and seen the benefit of time savings and travel costs. But lockdown has also highlighted the need and benefits of face-to-face interaction.

Social space may have taken on a new meaning emphasising distance and safety but humans are still social creatures who thrive in company. Could hotels offer businesses additional safe space outside of their office?

Marrying safety and socialising successfully is going to take invention and those hotels that will come out of this crisis stronger will be the ones that rise to the challenge. Terraces, balconies and outdoor space are already prime assets and will continue to be so.

Sustainability has risen up the agenda. While greener buildings became a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must-have’ after the 2008 financial crash, the world has moved on since then. During the lockdown, health and wellbeing have become intrinsically linked with the environment – the dramatic improvement in air quality from travel being limited has been plain to see.

So what does all this mean for the design and development of hotels?

There will inevitably be a drive towards value and efficiency to reduce costs whether that is in the operation of the hotel or in how it is built.

Space and design will need to reflect new concerns about safety and sustainability and will be paramount in attracting and building a customer base. Health and wellbeing will become the new currency, not just for hotels but the entire hospitality and entertainment sector.

Cleanliness will need to be more visible as customer and client expectations will be different – could we see the return of staff in white gloves calling a lift, even temporarily? Simpler design with easy-to-clean surfaces will help reduce the time and cost of extra cleaning and services. And there will be a move to minimise visits to and from rooms such as more in-room dining, which may require a reconfiguration of space to accommodate a suitable table.

Self-contained space such as that offered by aparthotels will inevitably become more desirable while hotel restaurants will need to accommodate at-seat service rather than a buffet-style food offer.

The use of technology for guest and staff functions will accelerate. Already some hotels allow you to check in online and download an electronic room key to your phone so that you can go straight to your room. Such applications can help to reduce crowding and queues in reception areas.

Similarly, heating and lighting in rooms can be controlled by a phone app to reduce the need to touch switches.

Less will be more. For a time at least…

Communal areas will need to allow space for social distancing and places that can introduce discreet, well-designed safety measures such as shielding screens and hand sanitisers will no doubt be winners, particularly for higher end hotels.

The drive to increase energy efficiency and reduce waste will make environmental concerns and the need to reduce costs in the longer term good bedfellows.

Modern methods of construction (MMC) will no doubt prove pivotal for newbuilds. The construction industry has long been a creature of habit, slow to evolve, but this is the most convincing catalyst for change in more than a century and hotels will benefit.

Swift construction of a hotel is necessary so that operators can start getting a return on their investment and also respond to demand. Imagine cities with a ‘creaking’ hotel infrastructure, which have won a bid to host a major event – for example, the Summer or Winter Olympics – that will attract people from all over the world, with only a few years to prepare. Over that time period, only a few conventionally constructed hotels would be completed, but with an offsite construction plan, many more will be built, leading to a far more successful build schedule and event for all involved.

The goal is to save time and money and, of course, time translates into money. This saving also allows operators to offer customers a product of excellence at a lower price.

Thanks to the factory production of rooms, operators are able to offer up to a four-star hotel at a much more reasonable price. This method saves a lot of time when building a hotel. Development time can be reduced by 35% – this will offset the increased time in traditional construction methods, which contractors are reporting are +35% due to social-distancing measures.

You could argue that much that is changing during this period will be temporary – how long will reception staff need to be behind Perspex? Social distancing will relax in time, but lessons will be learned and businesses will be better prepared should there be another pandemic in the future.

What this period will do is accelerate changes that were already starting to happen and this is a prime opportunity for both hotel design and construction to adapt, and become more efficient and resilient.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared on the Concert website.

Tom Bishop
Tom Bishop

Director and head of project management for Concert

Tom currently works as the director and head of project management for Concert, a group of skilled project managers, cost consultants and quantity surveyors.

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