Hospitality Design Trends in a Post COVID-19 World

Near the holidays of 2019, when we were happily making our travel plans for the new decade, we had no idea what the world would get into in just a few months. 

All those plans halted, changed or were cancelled. 

The world came to a full stop. 

COVID-19 dealt a devastating and astronomical change to the entire human population. Fear, worry and speculations rose from the uncertainties and changes due to the pandemic. 

One of the industries that was worst hit was the travel industry and the many branches that are directly linked with it – like aviation, tourism, and of course, hospitality. 

With the drastic changes forced on consumer habits, behavior, ideals, preferences and consumption methods, the hospitality industry is bound to undergo monumental changes in their design and operations. 

COVID-19 reshaped travel and hotel design. 

“We’ll never return to what the industry looked like pre-pandemic, nor should we,” James Ferrara, co-founder and president of Florida-based InteleTravel, said to CNBC. “We have grown through the last year, we’ve learned some stuff — and so have consumers. This looks like a long-term change to me [enhanced sanitation protocols, safe and frictionless check-ins], and I think that’s excellent business for everyone.”

In order to stay in the game, no matter how many stars your brand possesses, these design trends will need to be implemented to attract customers back into your rooms. 

Kisawa Sanctuary, off the coast of Mozambique. Photo source: Architectural Digest

Outdoor dining

While many hotels invest tremendously on its interior dining spaces, bars, formal and casual dining restaurants, today, that would no longer be enough. Hotel guests want outdoor dining options, and may even largely prefer it compared to indoor dining areas. In 2021 and beyond, hoteliers and resort owners would need to invest in outdoor designs that enhance dining experiences while ensuring safety standards in place. 

For the most obvious reason, virus particles will not stay stagnant (and alive) in the air and have less likelihood to stay ‘active’ in outdoor spaces or spaces with continuous airflow. As such, indoor dining may also be a good option if there are wide doors and windows that lead to the outside – blurring the lines between indoor-outdoor flow. 

The Cape, a boutique luxury hotel in Los Cabos. Photo source: Travel + Leisure

Next, with the extended lockdowns and quarantines, our innate human craving to be connected to nature has gotten stronger. Breathing in fresher air, feeling the slight breeze, being surrounded by greenery, have a way to lift up the mood and enhance experiences. On top of that, if you incorporate more green spaces, you’ll also be contributing to the environment.

There are various areas where outdoor spaces can be transformed into your hotel’s restaurants or utilized for guest dining. Building terraces for intimate dining groups, rooftop restaurants and bars, poolside dining, garden variety tea time or breakfast, or right on the beach – if you operate a resort. 

NoMad Hotel in New York. Photo source: NoMad Hotels

Technology to limit contact

As we get more conscious of social distancing and exercising six-feet-apart conversations, we’re getting slow training on limiting contact. In a post COVID-19 world, hotels will have to invest a lot in technology that promotes contactless services but still gets things done quickly. 

Technology is more important than ever. Our reliance on technology is greater than ever.

Half a year into the pandemic, there’s been a meteoric rise in the usage of online platforms for just about anything. Quickly adapting to changing consumer needs and behavior, these digital lanes and online platforms were making the most money during the pandemic. 

“One of the biggest changes we made was creating a contactless, express check-in, which has made the process quicker, easier and safer for our guests. It will also allow us to adapt to any new procedures and requirements Covid-19 compliance may bring in the future,” shared Gavin Bailey, CitySuites ApartHotels Director, with Hospitality Tech.

Photo source: NFC Forum

Today, everyone has become adept in using things like digital menus, QR codes, mobile payments, and door-to-door deliveries. Since restaurants were forced to go online and introduce deliveries, these methods are now everyday activities. Consequently, we will expect hotels, especially luxury hotels and resorts, to have these ‘basic’ technologies. 

Other no-touch technologies expected of hoteliers are self-service payment options, digital signages, online check-ins, keyless door entry and robot servers. On top of keeping guests safe and creating an atmosphere of cleanliness, it will also give first-timers a new experience to enjoy. 

Quarantine Hotels in Tokyo, Japan. Photo source: PBS News Hour

Technology for better cleaning

In a similar vein, housekeeping personnel entering hotel rooms at random times of day may not be a very appealing approach anymore. 

Therefore, after all the check-in self-service steps and online room service processes, there should also be technology that can help with the cleaning. Incorporating software that allows coordinating housekeeping systems and live-chats with hotel staff will afford guests their needed services without coming face-to-face with hotel employees. 

Photo source: Financial Times

On top of that, additional equipment can be placed in each hotel room to bolster consumer confidence. As a guest at a hotel or resort, you’d be happier to see appliances that effectively eradicate airborne pathogens or viruses. As hoteliers, you can begin with air purifiers, robot cleaners, disinfectant sprayers, indoor air quality monitors, robot UVs and the like. 

To up the experience further, these appliances can be integrated into the hotel system and operable via a smartphone. Not only does it increase guest confidence and give a level of safety assurance but also makes the entire process more convenient and palatable. 

Remember, no matter how excited people are to be able to travel again, there are some people who get overwhelmed with the pandemic and things they need to do to ensure their surroundings are clean. 

Photo source: Forbes

Perception of cleanliness 

In the post COVID-19 hospitality world, ‘clean’ is the most important word. It’s all about creating an atmosphere of cleanliness and the perception of real safety. This should be seen and felt, at a similar level, for all guests and staff. 

Before reopening or entering hotels, ask yourself these five things:

  1. Are there sanitizing stations at the entrance for all guests to use?
  2. Do you see clean surfaces, shiny floors, and well-vacuumed rugs?
  3. Does it smell clean? (sometimes there’s a stuffiness or heavy feeling to the indoor atmosphere that translates to trapped, stagnant air – bad thing)
  4. Do you spot cleaning appliances or technology that maintain this cleanliness?
  5. Are you welcomed happily by staff at the entrance who seem to know what to do with all the new tech?

If you answer ‘yes’ to all the above questions, then you’re good to go. 

“Cleanliness will be key as we plan to reopen, guests need to know that the hotels are clean but we want to make it visible for them too. Most of our guests are leisure guests so we want them to be comfortable and enjoy themselves.” Alan Rowland, Area General Manager at Charlestowne Hotels, shared with ReviewPro.

Photo source: Hilton Newsroom

Photo source: AARP

To ensure that all these first impressions are true, you can start with having easy to clean or sanitize surfaces. Having carpeted floors and lobbies filled with plush couches that can hold a lot of bacteria germs may no longer be the most attractive option. 

Along with that, promote the use of antimicrobial materials and surfaces in the communal areas and guest rooms. Show that your hotel values the safety of its guests and staff by redecorating to embrace materials where viruses don’t survive for a long time. 

Lastly, make sure there are sanitizing solutions in the rooms for guests’ easy use too. 

Photo source: The New York Times

In-room fitness

Since an amazing hotel gym or pool doesn’t excite us as much as it did before, hotels can only incorporate a decent level of in-room fitness to give guests that exercise boost. This is something new – a concept that didn’t exist before COVID-19. Therefore, there’s room for hoteliers to get creative on this point. 

It will be most exciting and interesting to see fitness equipment that goes beyond a regular yoga mat. Maybe a manduka yoga mat would be cool, but we want to see something more. Perhaps hotels can also include workout classes that guests can watch on TV, or live, virtual workout sessions by a gym trainer. 

Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto, California. Photo source: Hotel Management. 

Other in-room fitness tools to complement the mat could be two pairs of weights, a resistance band, pilates ball, maybe a jump rope for the bigger rooms, and clean, gym towels, as a start. 

Photo source: Matador Network

Air quality and space

We touched briefly on this with that point above about air purifiers and indoor air quality monitors. Hotels and resorts should have this in every room and all around the public areas. Additionally, a well-maintained air filtration and HVAC system will ensure that indoor air quality is constantly at a clean, healthy level. 

Photo source: NateoSante

Apart from installing this technology and software, there are other ways to have proper air circulation in hotels. Having large windows and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that lead to expansive outdoor areas can enhance that indoor-outdoor flow and ensure that air doesn’t stay stagnant. These are also great techniques that bring the outdoors inside. 

Want to offer guests the ultimate experience while being safe? Creating an inviting outdoor space or lounge area will do the trick. Although we will welcome the big doors that bring the outdoors in, it will always be better to just dine and rest outdoors nowadays. Outdoor spaces are imperative for hotels and resorts in a post COVID-19 world.

Designer Danu Kennedy, from Parts and Labor Design, told Architectural Digest that “hospitality brands will need to focus less on their interior offering and more on exterior spaces; customers desire sunlight, fresh air, and nature, especially those who have been isolated in big cities.”

Photo source: Eater San Diego

Photo source: Conde Nast Traveler

Intimate, separated lodgings 

This point might be easier for resorts by the beach or hillside compared to city hotels. It connects to point #2 about limiting contact through technology. Another way to practice social distancing in hotels is to have more intimate but separate lodgings. 

Resorts can offer the ultimate experience and be safe when they have villas or have a selection of guest ‘rooms’ that are standalones. 

Simply put, this gives us the perception of safety because of the perception of space. We don’t want to suddenly bump into others or be stuck in a crowded elevator on the way to our rooms. Although, there are processes hotels can put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen. But wouldn’t it just be more relaxing to have your own private villa?

Nau Villa Ubud in Sebatu, Bali, Indonesia. Photo source: Agoda

Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa. Photo source: Shangri-La Hotel

Similarly, as borders slowly open, the tourism industry is seeing an increasing preference in intimate travel groups – exploring only with small groups of family and friends. With this, creating creative indoor and outdoor attractions fitting for a small group of people would be ideal – away from crowded areas and long queues. 

“First, people are very cautious about the health guidelines, so we work closely with our partners to ensure hotels and airlines are safe partners,” Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com shares with BBC Travel. “Second, people prefer to travel within smaller groups, for example, with family or good friends. Third, we’ve seen a certain demand that used to be for outbound travel now turning to domestic travel.”

Quick alternative tip: If your hotel allows, put in added effort with decorative screens or architectural panels that affords certain privacy in large, open areas. Alternately, these can serve a double purpose and help manage guest flow and movement. Thereby, minimizing the chances of large groups of people crowding an area, unsure where to go.   

The Grand Park City Hall in Singapore dressing up its outdoor space for an intimate staycation accommodation. Photo source: CoStar

Sustainability practices

As COVID-19 ravaged the world, along the way, we realized the importance of sustainability efforts in almost everything we do. Today, we appreciate these more than ever. It might be challenging to exercise the biophilic design concept because that will require a huge revamp; there are other more manageable sustainability practices that hotels can do. 

Mini toiletries in hotel rooms used to be very extravagant, especially in luxury accommodations and resorts. Did you know half-used toiletries – soaps, shampoos, conditioners – generate millions of pounds in waste yearly? Yes. So, now might be prudent to reduce it down a notch. 

In an effort to implement sustainability practices some renowned hotels around the world – like the Hilton, Marriott and Disney – are tackling this low hanging fruit first. All remaining toiletries are recycled and shipped to people in need in other countries. 

Photo source: WBUR

Other eco-friendly practices are creating your hotel’s own garden (with veggies and herbs) and getting locally sourced products. Not only do you have more control on what food you produce and can offer your guests but you also reduce purchase costs and reliance on others. Plus, you’re supporting your local community along the way. 

One more thing, having your in-house garden gives you room to practice some creativity and turn into an attractive outdoor (maybe with indoor) sanctuaries for your guests. 

Sheraton Diana Majestic, Milan, Italy. Photo source: HRS

Photo source: House & Garden

Embracing local beauty and heritage

Along the similar vein of sustainability and supporting your local community, hoteliers and resorts can take this a step further by embracing local beauty and heritage. While redesigning your hotel to suit all the consumer preferences of a post COVID-19 world, insert elements that mirror the local area’s culture and image.

Including touches of unique materials and designs that are rooted in local culture brings an authenticity to the place. Simultaneously, this has the power to excite guests because apart from relaxation and fun, why do we travel? To see and learn about new cultures! Gain now memories and experiences that will last. 

Also, with the spike in domestic travels, it would be very attractive to see how hotels can boost local industries as they plan to reopen and redesign. 

Four Seasons Kyoto. Photo source: Archello

In addition to materials and symbols, authentic local cuisine (sometimes with a twist) can also be offered. Creating these connections between the hotel’s design and the local area doesn’t only have the ability to attract attention with their veritable beauty but also offer unique, new sights to visitors. 

Intercontinental Dongguan in Guangdong Province, China. Photo source: Architizer

Special, unique experiences

Lastly, building onto that previous point, the post COVID-19 hospitality industry is expected to offer special, unique experiences. With all the pent up travel desires, no matter which place is number #1 on our post-pandemic-travel-list, it has to be a wower. 

This not only covers our itineraries and the places we’re going to explore; but also includes where we stay. Hotels and resorts offering unique services and experiences for their guests will be high up on the top choices of where-to-stay. 

Igloo Hotel in Finland. Photo source: POPSUGAR

“When we dream about what the next couple of years are going to be, to us it means people all around you, people who are going to want to share experiences together,” shared Lyon Porter, co-founder of Urban Cowboy, a hotel group with properties in Nashville, Brooklyn, and The Catskills, with Conde Nast Traveler. “We’re using a lot of that sentiment as inspiration for new design projects.”

Unique experiences make it special. Either through packaged deals, tours beyond the beaten path, customized services, you have the power to create a retreat within a retreat that people will be willing to pay for. 

Seemingly secondary when you consider the other points mentioned above, but this point will be the main differentiating factor that sets your hotel apart from the others. 

Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo source: Archute

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