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Social Distancing

Part 50: How to design for social distancing

730 565 Hamish Kilburn

GTHD

A GUIDE TO HOTEL DESIGN PT 50:
HOW TO DESIGN FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING

The hospitality sector has been deeply impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. As lockdown eases, hotels are navigating the effects of social distancing and new safety guidelines for their design and guest experience. Giles Fuchs, owner of Burgh Island Hotel, safely guides us through what to consider when designing for social distancing…

Although such social distancing measures clearly pose challenges for hotels, there are steps they can and should be taking to create a positive, unrestrictive and reassuring stay for guests. From enhancing the intimacy of the guest experience, showcasing a hotel’s assets, investing in the outdoors and leveraging the latest technology, hotels post-pandemic can keep staff and guests safe – all without compromising on experience.

Image credit: Burgh Island Hotel

Enhance intimacy

Covid-19 health and safety precautions have necessitated the introduction of more restrictive measures across the hospitality industry, which undoubtedly risk compromising the sense of luxury and relaxation that hotels seek to deliver. As guests grasp for escapism in the ‘new normal’ of the pandemic, social distancing can feel like a rude reminder of the world waiting beyond the walls of the hotel.

But, if executed properly, there are ways to enforce and promote safety measures that actually enhance the intimacy of a guest’s stay, rather than imposing a sense of restriction. In fact, social distancing can empower hotels to provide a quieter, more private and intimate experience, for example by extending restaurant sittings so that guests can dine later and in smaller groups. Hotels can also look to open up alternative areas, such as lounges or libraries for private use and dining. In many ways this can be a liberating opportunity to celebrate the spaces, design and identity of a hotel without compromising on safety to meet expectations.

Image credit: Burgh Island Hotel

Showcase design assets

If not managed effectively, footfall routing to manage movement flow through the hotel can naturally detract from the ambience and sense of freedom synonymous with a peaceful getaway. However, repositioning these measures can again serve to enhance, rather than undermine, the luxury and quality of an experience.

For boutique and luxury hotels, this is an ideal opportunity to showcase special features, including interiors, décor and public spaces that make the stay unique. For example, by reframing diversions as a tour rather than an imposition, footfall routing can be used to emphasise a hotel’s best features and services, such as art displays, bars or lounge areas.

At Burgh Island, for example, our authentic art-deco design features, which have been carefully preserved for 90 years and complimented by elegant editions throughout the hotel, are a central pillar of its attraction for guests. By ensuring staff are briefed on the design, in addition to the history of the hotel, and showcasing these features to guests as part of safety measures, we can continue to convey all of Burgh Island’s charm and appeal without affecting safety.

Invest in outside spaces

Making outdoor space part of the hotel’s experience and identity is increasingly important in a time of social distancing, as well as offering crucial space for mental health relief and healthy, peaceful relaxation following the UK lockdown.

So, with constraints on capacity and space use remaining in place in some form for the immediate future, outdoor spaces are an ever more important asset. Especially for smaller boutique hotels, where pressures on interior space use may be even greater, investing in increased alfresco seating and dining areas can ensure both that guests feel safe and that their experience of social distancing is not overtly intrusive. Offering teas or lunches outside not only helps to showcase spaces that guests might not otherwise have benefitted from to the same extent, but also helps people to relax more confidently.

Furthermore, introducing a greater variety of outdoor activities can ensure guests can experience the charm of a hotel and its assets safely. For instance, at Burgh Island, tours of the grounds and the naturalistic gardening style with a strong focus on wild plant varieties across our 23-acre island helps to create a sense of freedom and vitality — the perfect setting for relaxation or exploration.

Leverage technology

When hospitality and guest experience are at the centre of a hotels identity, especially for a boutique, independent or luxury outfit, contact with guests plays a pivotal part. Every detail from pre-arrival communication to in-person greetings, check in and concierge services are designed to create a highly personalised experience.

Although digitalisation has already become increasingly important for guests when planning and booking their stay, it is easy to think that the in-person experience must, to its detriment, be all change in a time of Covid-19. In fact, by leveraging technology hotels can continue to provide an attentive, smooth and reassuring operation for guests. From check-in to room access, contactless alternatives to high touch interfaces, such as elevator buttons and door handles, powered by movement sensors, tracking apps and even voice control can help guests to feel confident in their own safety, as well as providing an even more seamless experience.

“Hotels have a unique opportunity in how they adapt and evolve their design for social distancing, leveraging outdoor spaces to enhance guest experience and creating even more intimate experiences.” – Giles Fuchs, owner of Burgh Island Hotel

Think to the future

Many are understandably anxious about what social distancing and new Covid-appropriate health and safety measures mean for the guest experience, especially for boutique hotels for which luxury, peacefulness and freedom form part of their identity.

However, hotels have a unique opportunity in how they adapt and evolve their design for social distancing, leveraging outdoor spaces to enhance guest experience and creating even more intimate experiences. By ensuring that safety measures such as social distancing, footfall routing and contactless tech are in place, guests will feel more confident in their stay. And by rediscovering new ways of best showcasing a hotel’s features and design, this could well enhance guest experience for the long term.

Main image credit: Burgh Island Hotel