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We must rethink hotel design for a brave new world

Opinion

Published by:

18 May 2020

Author: David T'Kint

Image: HBA EMEA, London

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To future-proof the guest experience, luxury hotels are being challenged to swap opulent interiors and convivial lobbies for private spaces and hygienic materials

The most iconic hotels of the world are institutions. They are what some describe as ‘living museums’ that have hosted the most notorious names and events in history. Withstanding ever-changing trends, they are living time capsules of design that can transport us back, holding legacies that transcend a generation.

Yet the world is always evolving and even the grandest of dames need to remain relevant to both our kids – who can’t get enough of Tiktok and Instagram – as well as their grandparents who have certain expectations when they travel. In turn, Covid-19 is challenging the sector’s understanding of evolving hotel trends. How will guests react? Will people be afraid to take a multi-generation trip to the other side of the planet, or will they feel the urge to indulge after weeks of lockdown?

As I write this, planes have been grounded, airports closed and as a consequence many hotels shuttered when not requisitioned to help fight the virus. As interiors designers for the industry, we will have to adapt, be flexible and reinvent ourselves while working closely with operators and developers in search of answers no one currently has.

An immediate change is hygiene. Two weeks ago, one of the world’s major hotel operators announced the creation of a health and safety label. Interior designers will have to specify materials that are easy to clean and maintain, avoid fit-out details where germs can get stuck, rethink door handles and guest room management systems to avoid touching switches. There could be a move away from plush materials including throw pillows and rugs, which poses a challenge for the iconic luxury hotels who are renowned for their opulence.

‘Interior designers will have to specify materials that are easy to clean and maintain, avoid fit-out details where germs can get stuck and rethink door handles and switches’

HBA EMEA, London
‘Covid-19 is challenging us to reinvent the guest experience so that iconic hotels remain sanctuaries of escapism for future generations’

Social distancing is set to stay for the foreseeable future and as designers we will have to adapt to this, particularly within hotel restaurant and bars. We won’t see crammed spaces anytime soon – therefore the dynamic of design will be integral in allowing such spaces to function again. Buffets are tipped to disappear as well. We will need to creatively optimise these areas to avoid being restricted to only 30% capacity, which makes no sense for any business model.

The typical clientele of high-end hotels are also likely to emphasise privacy. It would not be surprising to see role of the hotel lobby – traditionally the place to be seen in iconic hotels and more recently in which to work and relax – becoming more of a passageway as new technologies promote digital check-in and concierge. More exclusive and individualised experience will see guests check-in directly in the guest room.

Sustainability, which has been pervasive for some time now, will no longer be a trend – rather a demand of being built for quality and longevity. I am currently designing the public areas of a hotel which first opened over 100 years ago. Our aim is to have every single element of the design manufactured or supplied locally. This is because, in addition to celebrating local craft and knowledge, it avoids an unnecessary impact on the environment due to importing from overseas.

Historically, some of the best examples of design have come out of a challenging set of requirements, and our present-day challenges offer exciting opportunities for designers to tackle. We are creators and therefore need to innovate. As a hospitality interior designer, I have always put an emphasis on the guest experience. Driven by the pandemic, hygiene, social distancing, privacy and sustainability will challenge me to reinvent this experience yet again, so that these iconic hotels remain these sanctuaries of escapism for the generations to come.

David T'Kint is principle of HBA EMEA, a global design practice behind the interior identities of luxury brands, boutique hotels, spas, residences, restaurants and casinos.

Learn more about the impacts of Covid-19 on the Travel & Hospitality sectors.

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