By Andrew Simmons, hospitality studio director at Nadel Architects
At a staggering 56 million, millennials are the largest portion of the U.S. workforce and Gen Z is now the largest percentage of the general population. With the increasing desire for experiences and socialization trumping all else, whether it’s the desire to engage in a local scene or create an Instagram moment, the world is scrambling to adapt in order to capture their spending power. These desires are changing how hotels are being designed due to the shifting societal priorities, which are trending toward three things: the destination and overall experience, economy of independent travel and amenities centered around technology and wellness.
1.Destination and Experience
Guests no longer want an all-inclusive resort where you never have to leave, they want to get out of their rooms and connect with the local culture and community. A sense of destination and being able to connect guests to the geographic location is vital. Travelers want an authentic, curated experience. An easy way to satisfy this penchant for social interaction in hotel design and programming is to create more flexible public spaces. Often, the long reception desk can be replaced with a piece of furniture and/or kiosk reception stations; several brands are integrating “floating” attendants who can check in a guest with a hand-held device. The food and beverage outlets have adapted more of a self-service model and can transition from morning service to evening social lounge areas to enable guest interaction, in addition to providing an event space for local foodies and brewers to sponsor gatherings.
These aspects of the hotel becoming a part of the community not only serve potential guests' needs, but also benefit hotel owners and operators by promoting a kinder, gentler and more supportive role within a city. This can be even more impactful with adaptive reuse projects in urban areas. For many of these projects, the existing structures have some civic significance or may be culturally relevant – designers should celebrate these aspects of the property and incorporate them into the revamped development. Not all of these buildings are originally designed as hotels. Interestingly enough, we're seeing a trend in the industry of repurposing former office buildings, apartment complexes and even parking garages into urban hotels. Doing so has several advantages, as oftentimes the available land is limited and municipal jurisdictions may be complicated. Choosing to use the adaptive reuse model may therefore result in a reduction of speed to the market.
2. Economy of Travel
With the proliferation of select-service hotels and the advent of homestay bookings, room rates have been declining in many destination markets. One of the positive outcomes of this change in the market is the development of dual- and even triple-branded properties. These layered hotels allow for more options in room types (and stays) while taking advantage of efficiencies in operations and collaboration of services, saving money for hoteliers and their customers.
A loyal brand customer can transition from a select-service or business accommodation to an extended stay or family vacation or even “bleisure” (business leisure) experience, often within the same property. As these hotels get regular bookings on the business side, they can now capture a wider range of demographics, including extended stay and vacation travelers and even those who would otherwise choose homestay options. With the inclusion of breakfast service, these properties have become even more competitive in gaining market share, allowing them to compete with the Airbnb's of the world.
3. The New Standard in Amenities
The new generation of travelers has become accustomed to rely on technology and self-reliant action, either by engaging Online Travel Agents (OTAs) to make travel decisions or by using travel apps and hotel frequent guest apps via their personal devises, allowing for multiple searches and flexibility of booking. In efforts to cater to this new demographics' appetite for technology, hotel design and amenities are changing to incorporate the next generation of room technologies – smart rooms tuned to the guest’s pre-set criteria. This shift in expectations can be attributed to a preference for wellness rather than indulgence.
Wellness is being integrated into the guest experience not only in food offerings, fitness and amenities, but also in the room itself. Rooms are trending towards a cleaner and smarter design, filled with opulent materials, surfaces and décor and often including anything from water and air purification systems to therapy-designed lighting systems to aid in relaxation and stress reduction – all parameters set by the guest via an app.
As the chess game of adapting design and amenities to the ever-changing generational needs continues, it has become clear that the hotel industry is embracing these new ideologies while hopefully meeting the market's expectations. The result of this new direction is more efficient, socially conscious, smarter and adaptable hotels for the foreseeable future.