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5 Hospitality Trends Influencing Hotel Design in the 2020s

Designers in HOK’s Hospitality practice examine five factors that will alter hotel design and operations in the coming decade.

For much of the past century, the concept of a “hotel” has remained relatively static. It’s a building made up of dozens—or hundreds—of guestrooms tied together with a few shared amenity spaces. Today that concept is entering a metamorphosis as new technology, shifting attitudes and outside influences challenge conventional notions.

To get a sense of where the industry is headed, members of HOK’s Hospitality team recently explored five trends they believe will alter hotel design and the hospitality industry over the next decade and beyond.

HOK hospitality Louis Hedgecock Dina Lamanna Ian Rolston

HOK Hospitality designers Louis Hedgecock, Dina Lamanna and Ian Rolston share their insights on the future of hotel design.

1. Hotels will use technology to improve efficiencies, reduce staffing.

Technology is already helping hotels lower costs with features such as online and mobile check-in, which eliminate the need for a reception desk and clerk. Guests can expect to see automation ramp up exponentially in the 2020s as hoteliers look to cut staffing expenses.

“It will soon be possible to stay at a hotel and never interact with a human employee,” said Louis Hedgecock, HOK’s director of Hospitality. “Check-in and other interactions are already being handled via apps and text, and room service will be delivered by robot or drone.”

“This shift is freeing up traditional lobby space for additional food and beverage seats or a grab-and-go market that increase financial return while enhancing the guest experience,” said Dina Lamanna, a principal within HOK’s Hospitality practice.

Technology will allow hoteliers to better customize and enhance the guest experience based on unique user profiles. Smartphones already enable hotels to instantly recognize guests the moment they walk through the door. Within the decade, hotels won’t even need phones to make those connections.

“Biometrics is going to play an increasingly important role in hospitality,” said Ian Rolston, interiors director of design for HOK’s Toronto studio. “Your hotel is going to recognize you based on your distinct body characteristics. Your body will be your guestroom key and access to other amenities.”

With so much data at play, Rolston expects technology companies may even compete directly with the likes of Marriott and Hilton.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Google or Amazon hotel because of the ability they offer to capture a traveler’s data and sell products.”

2. Technology pushback will lead to market separation, new offerings.

Located at the convergence of the Sava and Danube Rivers, where East meets West, the St. Regis Belgrade celebrates the rich history and culture of Serbia.

Ironically, some hotel brands that can most afford new technologies may be the least likely to adopt them as more well-heeled travelers increasingly seek places where they can unplug.

“I see technology contributing to further bifurcation of the market,” said Hedgecock. “You’ll have 80-85 percent of the industry that employs as much technology as possible to reduce costs. Then there’s the 15-20 percent of the market that will shun that trend by focusing on human experiences and connections.”

Lamanna believes luxury hotels will continue to find success in the 2020s offering what they always have.

“The top tier luxury brands are here to stay, as aspirational environments and world-class service perpetually appeal to veteran travelers,” she said.

At the same time, luxury brands can’t rest on their laurels. In the coming decade, upscale operators will need to offer guests more than just rich amenities and pampered service.

“Choice and elevated experiences will play a larger role,” said Lamanna, who points to Treehotel in Sweden as a property that could serve as an example for other brands. “The ideas around that hotel are about making time and being present while enjoying a luxurious experience. You leave your technology at check-in and take a hike to your treehouse cabin, where you’re submerged into nature. There’s something very primal about the experience. Yet it’s also aspirational and speaks to this craving to go back to basics.”

HOK’s Rolston calls what Treehotel offers a “transformational” experience. Just as the 2010s saw the rise of immersive hotels—properties that played up their connections to local cuisine, culture, history and architecture—the 2020s will see more hotels offering these powerful experiences.

“The transformational experience will benefit guests emotionally, spiritually and physically,” said Rolston. “There is an element of social capital with these experiences. Guests will leave with a renewed sense of themselves and how they can take what they’ve experienced back to their communities.”

3. Next-gen travelers and rising global hotspots offer opportunities for reinvention.

driftscape hok hotel design concept

Driftscape is an HOK drone-powered concept hotel inspired by human urge to wander.

The transformational model appeals particularly to those within the Millennial and Generation Z age groups, which will comprise more than half the world’s population by 2030. These younger travelers are far more concerned about the environmental impact of their actions. Think conscientious consumption vs. conspicuous consumption.

“They’re hyperfocused on sustainability and the impact their spaces have on the planet. Tomorrow’s hotels are going to have to address those values better than they do now,” said Rolston.

The makeup and tastes of business travelers will continue to evolve and diversify over the decade. Whereas business travelers a generation ago were almost exclusively male, today’s business traveler is nearly as likely to be female.

“Hotels catering to business travelers need to consider this shift,” said Lamanna. “How can the guest experience better accommodate these female business travelers? For example, many of these women are working in their rooms while traveling. There needs to be more consideration for increasing their safety and privacy during the room-service transaction.”

Inclusive design, which thoughtfully addresses the spectrum of human diversity, offers a solution. Although Rolston notes that more vendors and manufacturers need to develop products that enable hotel owners and operators to implement inclusive design in a cost-effective, simple manner.

A changing global economy will have hoteliers looking to new locations to expand and diversify. While China will continue to see new luxury-level development, other emerging markets in Asia and Africa are expected to have economic growth and hospitality demand over the next few years that exceed rates in the U.S., Canada and much of Europe.

“You have these destinations, once undervalued, that are going to become bigger players in the market and require better accommodations,” said Rolston.

4. Prefab construction will become mainstream, challenging building flexibility.

After decades of speculation, the era of prefabrication finally arrived in the latter half of the 2010s and will ramp up significantly in the 2020s.

“Within this decade I expect that nearly all new construction in the industry will have prefab components, particularly when it comes to guestrooms,” said Hedgecock. “The identical guestroom lodging units are less expensive to assemble in a factory and provide a uniform guest experience across properties. The downside is that they limit a building’s flexibility because they have uniform and inflexible fixed components.”

A more adaptable kit-of-parts approach would allow hotels to take advantage of prefab construction while creating spaces that can respond to guest needs and changing markets. Hedgecock envisions more shell-only prefab construction with individualized fittings within uniform structural components.

“You could have prefab rooms of different sizes with mechanical, electrical and plumbing arranged in a way that allows bedroom and bathroom components to be quickly switched out,” said Hedgecock. “We will see guestrooms that are more plug-and-play and flexible.”

5. Hotels must do a better job of addressing climate change.

HOK’s architectural design of the St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort takes advantage of the ocean breezes and mild climate in Hainan, China.

The hospitality industry has taken steps over the past decade to reduce energy consumption. Signs in guestrooms the world over now remind travelers of the environmental costs of daily laundry service. Yet in many ways the hospitality market lags behind other industries when it comes to climate response. That must change in the 2020s—not just for the health of the planet but for the health the industry.

“Many hotels are massive buildings that require huge amounts of energy to operate,” said Hedgecock, who believes the first place hoteliers and hotel designers must address is the guestroom. “We will find ways for guests to control their rooms and the indoor climate without the assistance of air conditioning.”

Operable windows, which also provide guest safety and security, are a start. So too are sustainable design strategies including passive air, natural daylighting, solar power and sun shading. And how about those mini-bars in guestrooms?

“Do hotels really need dozens of little refrigerators on each floor that consume energy 24/7 whether or not they’re being used?” asked Rolston.

Those mini-bar fridges may sound like a small issue, but collectively they account for untold sums of wasted energy.

“It gets back to the value of social capital,” said Rolston. “Younger travelers are going to seek places that reflect their values. Going forward, hoteliers will have to focus on how their properties’ experiences support a compelling and authentic sustainability story for a new generation of travelers.”

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