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The factors guiding recovery and how we best course correct

Hotels are experiencing pressures like never before – the hospitality landscape is undergoing exponential change, the flow-on effects of which are likely to be felt for some time. Factoring in new guidelines and regulations such as social distancing, we, as agents of change, are now tasked with looking at how the fundamentals of hotel design and operation will need to evolve to meet these practical measures while still being able to provide travellers with the experiences they seek. 

There is still no one-size-fits-all solution, and due to the nature of the pandemic, the situation is still evolving day-by-day. Some are still optimistic that we will see a return to ‘normal’ operations by Q3 2021 – as indicated by a recent McKinsey & Company survey – and are planning for a future with a vaccine. In the short-term, the focus is on cleanliness and other temporary measures that instil confidence and security in guests that they can travel and stay in comfort and safety. What comes next though? What might a longer-term view look like, particularly for hotels that are yet to be built?

Rethinking spaces 

Hotel rooms have in recent years been designed to be more compact as the hotel’s social and common areas were considered to be where a guest would most likely spend more time, and more of their money. A room was a place to take a shower, watch TV and sleep. In the future, we may see shrinking of communal areas that allow for larger rooms that can be multi-functional; a room that has space for a desk for working or proper in-room dining, or space for in-room online-led workouts as guests might be reluctant to share a sweaty communal gym, and a different approach to driving revenue for the various spaces in the hotel.   

At a material level, carpets are likely to be replaced by hard surface products like floor tiles and connecting guest room doors may be reconfigured into corridors that can be regularly sanitised. Touch-free room keys, lighting and in-room technologies will soon be expected from every guest and we should also expect to see handwashing stations on every hotel floor. These can be incorporated to fit around the design of the brand and can infuse a sense of fun around the safety process in much the same way Aesop turned handwashing into an experience to try new products within their retail stores. 

We are also already seeing the rise of sleek, built-in temperature scanners that don’t require the staff to hold up a gun up to your head at check in. Little happenings like that can quickly combine to wipe the fun out of a hospitality experience, which at the luxury end is particularly critical. 

Partnerships and local experiences 

Even prior to Covid-19, we were already experiencing a sea shift in the evolution of luxury, with designers and operators thinking about psychographics instead of demographics and focusing on creating authentic experiences. Hotels that truly connect with the unique local culture of where they are – serving as a base camp for that connection and exploration rather than as an enclave separate from that – will be the destinations that increasingly resonate.

Relationships with local businesses could take off as part of a bid to repurpose valuable hotel square footage that would have once been given over to a gym, with guests instead directed to a local affiliate. Hotels can also relieve themselves from the financial burden, and potential liability of an in-house restaurant in the post-pandemic environment, by allowing food delivery services to deliver within the establishment. Partnerships can also be identified with local restaurants so that guests can stroll up the street, enjoy a meal for a discounted price, and charge it to the hotel room. Meanwhile, creating spaces within the hotel that can be activated through collaborations, events, and strong partnerships is a great way to bring energy to the space and keep people engaged.

Hotels as part of mixed-use development 

Hotel developers could also use this quieter period to plan and tender for their next projects; taking advantage of declining construction costs as firms seek to secure new business. Local authorities may also view planning applications more favourably in future, conscious that new projects can bring energy and economic prosperity to our towns and cities. Hotel operators could focus on how their various brand offers might need to be re-aligned with the potential new realities of travel; less reliant on business travel, more focus on leisure and wellness, smaller group business, more flexibility and resilience in operations and revenue streams and how these might drive adaptations to their pre-pandemic brand standards.

We have long been promoting mixed-use development at CallisonRTKL and we expect this combined offering to grow in favour with investors and developers alike as they seek to de-risk assets, repurpose underperforming stock in their portfolios and create localised multi-functional hubs with community and consumer in mind.  When a large development is solely reliant on a single tenant type, the entire building is at risk should that sector start to slow down – just look at the swathes of empty retail and offices at present. The rise of mixed-use development can help lower risk and create a localised, ecosystem that feeds off itself and operates more like a circular economy; homes bring residents and hotels bring guests, with each of these in turn delivering a ready-made audience to surrounding amenities. We’ve seen the performance of the high street benefit from the addition of hotel and residential overlays that bring renewed interest to existing shops, restaurants and even co-working or commercial spaces – with new brands like Zoku, Yays, and The Student Hotel all being relevant examples of this.

Change can bring opportunity 

Ultimately, it is a matter of striking the right balance between new, temporary measures required in a pre-vaccine world and the long-term vision and aspiration for our industry and the guest experience. Whilst there is much we don’t know, what we can say for sure is that space utilisation, technological integration and mixed-use intervention will be critical when it comes to achieving operational efficiency, guest satisfaction and ultimately profitability. 

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