A new flexi future for hotels

A new flexi future for hotels

By Gemma Greenwood, Director, Content Inc.

The role of hotels has fundamentally changed. It was once cut and dried – they provided a bed for the night – or a place to holiday for a week or two – with various extras and luxuries thrown in, depending on star rating. Design wise, the template (sorry architects) was rooms and suites, lobby, F&B outlets, meeting rooms, perhaps a spa and a gym, and outdoor space for a pool. Every space was segregated with a defined use, in a very one-dimensional way that shunted guests around from place to place in a non-experiential kind of way. What’s more, it left dead space that could have been put to better use to maximise returns.

This might sound like a rudimentary analysis, but when we look at the hotels of today – and the future – they have transitioned beyond recognition into multi-purpose hubs.

Pre-pandemic, we saw the rise of so-called lifestyle hotels, but in 2022, we can no longer use this definition, because every property has been forced to quickly evolve to meet the new and fast-shifting lifestyle needs of guests.

Hard-working spaces

In my last ATM blog outlining why targeting the ‘bleisure’ market has never been easier – I alluded to the pandemic-driven fluidity of work-life balance. In 2020 and 2021 our homes took on the roles of offices, gyms, leisure spaces and this trend has migrated to hotel interiors. The work-from-home and work-from-hotel movement is here to stay, and properties need to factor in new hard-working spaces, from more flexible guest rooms that are as comfortable to work in as they are to rest in, designed so that during video conference calls the bed is out of shot, to innovative co-working spaces.

Multifunctional spaces are also closely linked to the importance of sustainability in hotel design, according to a hotel design trends for 2022 analysis by OCCA, a commercial interior design firm for the hospitality sector. It cites The Valo Hotel in Helsinki, Finland, as a prime example. Shortlisted in the Dezeen Sustainability Awards 2021, Valo is a truly dual-purpose building, combining a hotel and an office into one space. Not only does this allow guests a premium working environment during their stay, but it avoids the wasted energy associated with office buildings and hotels being empty or only partially occupied for large portions of the day.

It ticks all the right boxes for today’s travelers by creating functional and flexible lifestyle-driven spaces, built in ways aligned to their own beliefs around tackling climate change.

Conscious stays

The desire to travel – and stay – sustainably has never been so strong, according to Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report with 81% of those surveyed stating that they want to stay in sustainable accommodation in 2022. This marks a notable increase from 62% in 2016 and 74% in 2020.

RX Global, the organiser of Arabian Travel Market (ATM), has also identified a new breed of eco-conscious traveler based on feedback from delegates attending its 2021 in-person and virtual seminars on responsible tourism – one that actively looks for ethical travel brands to follow and wants to see tangible evidence of that brand’s sustainable strategy.

According to market data on Statista, 81% of 29,349 adults surveyed last year across 30 countries confirmed they would like to stay in a sustainable resort, at least once in the 12 months ahead, while Google found the search term “green hotel,” had increased fourfold over the past 18 months in volume. To give eco-tourists a helping hand, Google will now accredit hotels with a green eco-emblem next to their name during a routine search. It will also add details of the property’s specific sustainability policy and procedures and activities. To qualify, hotels must have their achievements audited by a credible third-party.

With pressure mounting on hotels to be part of the solution to climate change, rather than a contributor, the trend towards more environmentally conscious design elements such as upcycled and restored furnishings, recycled materials and locally sourced pieces that have a lower carbon footprint will accelerate.

One hotel brand already doing it well is Habitas AlUla in Saudi Arabia, where guests “live sustainably from check-in to check-out” with hotel construction, programming and initiatives “guided by nature”.

Designed to blend into its surroundings, the entire resort has been constructed from ethically sourced organic materials using sustainable construction methods and a modular build process. This low-impact design aesthetic creates “a space for guests to meaningfully experience this part of Saudi Arabia for themselves”.

Staying well

With the global wellness industry now estimated to be worth US$1.5 trillion, according to research by Mckinsey & Company, hotels and resorts are well positioned to take a large piece of the pie.

Consumers now view wellness across six dimensions – health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep and mindfulness, all of which the hospitality industry can tackle with creative spaces, products and services.

We have already seen hotels join forces with fitness companies and coaches, as well as mindfulness apps, to provide guests with more options to train their body and mind, with Mark Arnall, the long-time personal trainer and sports therapist of F1 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen, the latest guru to offer a hotel fitness concept. He has teamed up with Hotel Zermama in Zermatt, Switzerland to rollout the TRAVEL F1T programme, designed to help travelers stay fit and healthy while travelling by incorporating exercise, nutrition, recovery, jetlag management, injury prevention and immune system support.

In the future, wellness initiatives such as these will become a core component of hotels and will be delivered across all departments, rather than confined to guest rooms, spas and gyms, according to The future of wellness in hospitality: Beyond the Spa report, produced by a global commercial real estate services firm, Avison Young.

“Public spaces [in hotels] will continue to become multi-functional areas with blurred living/eating/relaxing/working areas,” it says. Examples include guestrooms that enable resting and exercise; bathrooms influenced by spas; meetings and events rooted in wellness, offering focus-boosting menus and social activities that promote team building and productivity; and large spaces enabling guests to choose social or quiet environments to relax or work.

The report further suggests that hotel spas must also be future-proofed, with a focus on sensory experiences, reconnecting and spa socialising, food health, prevention plans, blended stay/work/play areas, long-term care routines and zero-impact lifestyles.

Community hubs, inside and out

Multi-functional spaces are already being implemented successfully, most commonly in hotel lobbies, as properties transform into community hubs, where all are welcome. In Dubai, the recently opened 25hours Hotel Dubai One Central has nailed this concept, with an expansive lobby encompassing a co-working space, reception and concierge, retail booth, a central fountain-style bookshelf that doubles up as a giant seating area, adjacent to swinging chairs, and a café lounge that seamlessly blends with a huge outdoor courtyard for socialising, working or dining.

The pandemic has led to outdoor hospitality spaces like these becoming premium real estate as socialising al fresco is the preferred option. The challenge for hotels, particularly those in locations with extreme weather, is to create luxurious, comfortable and functional outdoor spaces that can be used all-year round.

“From designer heaters and retractable rain covers to rustic fire pits and hygge-inspired faux fur blankets, many venues have designed weatherproof outdoor spaces that are as desirable in the depths of winter as in the height of summer,” says Kate Mooney, OCCA’s founder and design director.

“Outdoor spaces are now being given the same level of design attention as interiors with lighting schemes, artwork and stunning furnishings to make them feel inviting and opulent as well as safe. Some hotels are even creating outdoor workstations at the pool or beach to ensure that everyone’s needs are catered to.”

Interestingly, while interior elements are being brought outdoors, many hotels are also bringing the outside in.

“Biophilic design elements and interiors with raw, organic roots are serving as an antidote to too much time spent indoors and tap into the mental wellbeing benefits of being in nature,” adds Mooney.

Many Singapore hotels are tapping into biophilic design with the aim of promoting creativity, wellness and sustainability. Vines and plants climb the exterior of the Oasia Hotel Downtown, while The PARKROYAL on Pickering in Chinatown boasts more than 15,000mof lush gardens and verdant terraces, and hosts more trees than the Hong Lim Park across the street.

Meanwhile, WOW architects, in partnership with Banyan Tree Holdings Limited, is designing treehouses in the shapes of seeds. Perched above the canopy, 338 rooms will offer stunning rain forest vistas.

What guests really want

Hotels of the near future will need to become flexible multi-purpose venues where guests and residents alike can work, rest, play, shop, workout, and more. Wellness and sustainability principles will guide every component of these community and lifestyle hubs, which will really become a place to call home.

This new flexible model will give guests what they really want, a topic set to be discussed at this year’s Arabian Travel Market. From experiential and eco-conscious stays with a local edge and wellness experiences that go beyond spas, to loyalty programmes and apps that meet new lifestyle demands, this session will discuss what motivates guests in 2022.

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