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Virtual Roundtable: health & wellbeing in hospitality and hotel design

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
Virtual Roundtable: health & wellbeing in hospitality and hotel design

With a question mark on what the future of health and wellbeing will look like in tomorrow’s hotel, editor Hamish Kilburn, in collaboration with HDR | Hurley Palmer Flatt, asks industry’s experts to decipher what’s fact and what’s myth when predicting tomorrow’s wellness scene…

One of the major challenges that hotel designers and architects are facing globally at the moment is how much emphasis to put on Covid-19 when making decisions that will impact the future look and feel of hospitality. The pandemic has no doubt changed the demands of modern travellers, no more so arguably than in what will be expected in the wellbeing and wellness areas of tomorrow’s hotels.

In an attempt to define realistic solutions, we speak to leading designers, architects and developers from around the world – and ask about the future of health and wellbeing in hospitality and design.

On the panel: 

Hamish Kilburn: We have never seen this before; every single hotel around the world putting together a reopening strategy. How has the pandemic, and the reopening of these hotels, changed the mindset of operators when it comes to health and wellbeing?

Chris Lee: Any operator will say that guest safety is their first priority. Obviously with Covid-19, that’s paramount. In times like these, the majority of travellers are leaning towards brands they can trust.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts set up a working party back in March. We looked across the whole spectrum of the business, including all brands and hotels, to identify what we needed to do to get ahead of this pandemic, all the time with the aim to keep our guests in a place where they trust us, whilst feeling safe and comfortable.

As a result, we launched an initiative called ‘Count on Us’, which is a long-term initiative with the emphasis being on additional cleanliness to address the characteristics of Covid-19 . We have had to adapt certain procedures, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing and it has allowed us to enter into partnerships with new suppliers. For example, Ecolab is supplying the EPR-approved cleaning chemicals and products for our hotels across the region. As part of that deal, they have offered product training to our staff. These team members are, bit by bit, becoming ‘Covid safety officers’.

HK: How will Covid-19 impact how hotels are designed?

Mark Bruce: The truthful answer to that is that our clients are all trying to figure that out themselves, which is why this discussion is very timely.

Six Senses arriving in London is a good example, with its core focus being wellness. What I will say, strictly architecturally, is that there is a wider emphasis on indoor/outdoor spaces, which I think makes sense to us. On the luxury end, customers want things to be the same but with more space. On the more lifestyle and budget end of the scale, travellers want confidence.

Image caption: Rendering of Six Senses London, slated to open in 2023

Working closely with our mechanical and engineering suppliers to understand the practical aspects, such as air conditioning systems and finding ways to bring in natural air, has been fundamental in order to understand our limits as architects.

Matthew Voaden: We are finding that working more closely with architects from early stages of design is beneficial in not only addressing the concerns of enhanced ventilation to the space, but also to the architecture/interior design as integrating the services from outset does not later compromise the initial concept.

Tom Bishop: From a project management perspective, we usually get operator and design feedback far too late (usually during stage three or four). Do you reckon that this support system will bring forward when we are able to have these discussions?

MB: Yes, I think it’s a good point. 50 per cent of our clients are owner/operators, developers, which means from day one you can have good conversations about it. This is a huge challenge for operators – and you’re right, these conversations do not currently happen early enough.

HK: Covid-19 has amplified the need for service and design to work in harmony, something that the lifestyle sector was already very good at. What are the new challenges in lifestyle hotels? 

TB: Ruby Hotels is a great example of a lifestyle hotel that shelters design working with service. Typically, guests checking in to a Ruby hotel are looking for a bed for the night. You check in to ‘lean luxury’ ­– it’s clean and well designed and you are not spending that much time in your room. The public area space is minimal, cool and trendy while the F&B offering is limited – so they are almost already designed for the post-pandemic world and naturally cater to new demands from travellers. It will be interesting to see what the hotel group does next. I know the brand is looking for sites still, and it’s an exciting time for them.

Image caption: A playful interior design scheme inside Ruby Lucy, London

There is definitely a difference in demand from guests checking in to a five-star hotel than travellers checking in to a three-star hotel. On the luxury end, the question is now how to create the same atmosphere pre-pandemic in a space that now limits how many people are in that area.

“We are trying too hard at the moment and, dare I say it, over reacting.” – Ivalyo Lefterov, Hotel Development Director, Miris.

HK: Ivaylo, talk to us about SVART. How is this project challenging conventional methods of wellbeing and wellness?

Ivaylo Lefterv: That’s a very wide question, I have to say. I’m addressing this situation having worked on both the design and operational side. From my perspective at least, we are trying too hard at the moment and, dare I say it, over reacting.

First of all, we have no idea how things will evolve six months from now, so making any assumptions or drastic changes could be quite damaging. But equally, with SVART in particular, sustainability and wellness were already key pillars of that project. So, Covid-19 has somewhat brought attention to what we were already trying to achieve, which is a positive.

Image caption: SVART, which is slated to open in 2022 as the world’s first ‘energy-positive’ hotel

The building itself, sheltering a new F&B concept, is part of the wellness journey. We have been discussing how we activate the building, and our conclusion is that we want the guest to be in control. We are talking about touchless without losing human interaction. That is an important balance. We are trying to allow the customer to be guided intuitively but also using technology as a tool to allow us to measure the condition of their stay and be able to adjust their experience accordingly. I do believe that lighting will become much more of a focus in the post-pandemic world.

 MV: I agree, having worked recently with a number of clients on integrating smart technologies into new and existing buildings, we are trying to strike a balance between introducing technology that benefits the development and not just an innovation that is an immediate reaction to the current Covid-19 situation, which ultimately might not be required.

HK: It’s a given that hygiene is creeping – no, leaping – up on the agenda for hoteliers. When it comes to Value Engineering though, what will fall off in its place?

Dan Curtis: We have seen a move towards less cluttered space. When you walk into a hotel room there is now more clean space with natural materials, focusing on the light and scenery.

“Value Engineering should not be a factor when considering safety” – Kobi Karp, Founder, Kobi Karp Architecture and Design.

Kobi Karp: I agree. Value Engineering should not be a factor when considering safety. Traditionally we have used copper pipes in buildings before we discovered the properties in PVC. I now see a movement that is drawing designers and architects back to raw materials, such as copper. In my firm we design a lot of restoration projects, and it’s very easy to convert those hotels into sustainable hubs as a result of Covid-19.

Over the last few months the focus has also switched to technology – it is evolving rapidly! To date, we have not felt the need to implement this. Now, we are taking another look at it technology’s role in a post-pandemic world.

HK: We can have all the best will in the world, but let’s realistic and talk about scalability – change is very expensive for global hotel brands that need to maintain branding across all hotels. Chris, how are you making these decisions?

CL: It’s such a difficult call! If I was in a developer’s position, and it was my money, I still wouldn’t know what to do.

We’ve had numerous discussions internally about reviewing our design standards. At the moment, we have to stay where we are because no one has the answers on timing. Like Tom said, if you double the size of your lobby then you are doubling the size of your real estate, which naturally reduces your ROI. I don’t think we are yet in a position to fix these financial and design issues.

Image caption: Wyndham Introduces new hybrid meeting concept at Dolce Hotels in Europe

TB: Let me explain this from a refurbishment approach. An owner has an asset. It was worth X in January 2020 and it’s now worth Y. If they are trying to loan against the asset, that value has reduced. This means your refurbishment budget has reduced along with occupancy levels (for example, from 85 per cent to 65 per cent) and a lower room rate. Ultimately, you are going to see, I believe, more QS-led design in the four-star and below market because ultimately there is more of a budget constraint that has to be adhered to. There is a delicate balance between health, design (to ensure that the hotel is competitive within its market), increasing room rates and overall yield.

Image caption: Minimalist design-led guestrooms inside Ruby Hotels’ properties

Veronica Givone: In the last six months, I have been talking with a lot with investors. My conclusion is that the last decade has already seen a shift in what brands wanted to provide. 10 years ago they were designing for their brands. Now they are designing for the people checking in to the hotel.

“We now need to avoid designing hotels that look like hospitals.” Veronica Givone, Managing Director, IA Interior Architects.

I believe that the pandemic will just amplify this. People are more aware when it comes to wellness and wellbeing. We now need to avoid designing hotels that look like hospitals. It’s the balance the find when applying tech and keeping service fresh. We need to understand how to make our staff feel confident and comfortable to use the space. We need to make short-term solutions, and I hope that social distancing will not be a long-term hurdle. In 15 years from now, who will be the guest? That’s what we now need to think about.

HK: Matthew, HDR | Hurley Palmer Flatt Group has its ear to the ground when it comes to identifying and utilising new innovations that will improve building quality. What have you seen emerge recently?

MV: When cultural changes happen, it always results in a lot of discussions around new innovations and products.

UVC Lighting, and air purification systems are really interesting, but would be better and easier to cost, if they were disguised in the foundations of a new build. Upgrading filters in maintenance, CO2 monitoring, modification to the Building management system to extend fan runtimes etc and other factors are constantly being analysing as part of our teams initial response to the pandemic.

I would say, it is easier to integrate new innovations into budget hotels. It’s more challenging for luxury properties and brands in order to not disrupt the familiar luxury guest experience and journey.

IL: I can see the industry moving forward towards the guest designing their experience before check in. That will allow the actual hotel stay – take the arrival experience for example – to be more like a performance, a theatre if you like. The guestroom itself would become your butler to make it more personal without removing the human factor. Your reception becomes your living room, as opposed to being purely a practical and frankly unenjoyable element.  

“Gen Z want to be in control – they like choices.” – Chris Lee, Director of Architecture, Design & Construction, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

CL:Hotels have changed in the last decade. Lifestyle didn’t really exist much 10 years ago. Gen Z want to be in control – they like choices. What better way to make a choice: on your phone, you have everything you need. But, regardless of the evolution of tech, hospitality is about people and you can get that interaction in all hotels. I just hope the pandemic doesn’t adjust the people factor in our industry, because that is so important.

VG: The key is balance all possible demands and offer flexibility, allowing the guest to decide.

HK: Can sound offer solutions in the post-pandemic world?

MB: I was really pleased that this came up as a topic. I have never really spoken about sound in a roundtable discussion, but it’s important to consider. Like many of the sub topics we have explored in this session, we were analysing sound in hospitality before Covid-19 was a thing. The pandemic has allowed us to refocus on new ways to create atmosphere, and one of the most impactful ways to subconsciously evoke a mood in pursuit of wellness is to consider sound.

A great example is Six Senses, and it is an absolute joy working with the brand. They talk about anti spaces, the moments in between moments. I believe that the spaces in between create the emotion and memories. We have been helping Six Senses to transfer their look and feel and their renowned focus on wellness into an urban environment, and sound has been a massive part of that.

The minute you walk in, sound from the outside is­ muted –  the perception of the city gets left behind and the focus turned to the naturally aerated lobby. As you move further towards the spa, the way sound is treated is going to be a very exciting part of the project. To see a leading brand like Six Senses embrace sound to elevate the experience is very exciting! I think it will add a lot of value to hospitality in the future.

Thanks to HDR | Hurley Palmer Flatt and all of our international experts, we have started the conversation around health and wellbeing in hospitality in hotel design. Now it’s over to you. Have your stay by tweeting us @HotelDesigns.

EXCLUSIVE ROUNDTABLE: Meaningfully differentiating luxury in hotel design

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
EXCLUSIVE ROUNDTABLE: Meaningfully differentiating luxury in hotel design

To continue Hotel Designs’ series of articles to put sustainability under the spotlight, editor Hamish Kilburn chairs an exclusive editorial roundtable, in collaboration with Minotti London, to understand how today’s leading designers are sensitively working to create a more meaningful luxury hotel design landscape. Joining us on the Minotti sofa to discuss this topic:

With the aim to conceive and design meaningful luxury hotels, there is undoubtedly a question mark on how designers and architects can differentiate their projects to stand out as timeless jewels. With the rise in technology and social media, competition for hotel operators and developers is no longer limited to a single neighbourhood; we have very much entered a global arena. But how are today’s leading designers confronting the evolving hospitality landscape, and just how significant is sense of place when approaching sensitive luxury projects? We invited a handful of the industry’s most distinguished innovators to Minotti London‘s alluring showroom in Fitzrovia to find out more.

Hamish Kilburn: What are the largest misconceptions when it comes to designing luxury?

Jo Littlefair, Director and Co-Founder, Goddard Littlefair: Travelling globally, and understanding global attitudes towards luxury is so important. We have clients that have huge misconceptions to whatever project they are developing. We still struggle when clients associate harsh golds and marbles with luxury, for example. I find it really disheartening, because for me, a non-material object like ‘time’ is a luxury. When approaching the design of any luxury hotel, it’s really important to keep in mind the attitude you are trying to create.

Hamish Brown, Partner, 1508 London: There are a few buzzwords that keep coming up in the studio. We don’t have a ‘house style’ as such, therefore we are really trying capture and create sense of place within each projects. It’s not about fashion but about style. If you look at the great Hollywood movie stars now and compare them to images of themselves 30 to 40 years ago, quite often they will look as relevant now as they did then. That is certainly to do with style over fashion. We look at ways in which classical details and proportions can manifest themselves within a design.

David Mason, Head of Hospitality, Scott Brownrigg: The definition of luxury is not the same for everyone. Some may see luxury in technology, while others believe it is in the foundations of a hotel. In our studio, we don’t necessarily design the ultra six-star luxury hotel, but many of our clients are interested in ‘luxury’, which can come from anything from the service down to the attention to detail. What is luxurious to one person is different to another.

Constantina Tsoutsikou, Creative Director, HBA London: I think luxury is also about being generous as a designer. You always give more than what is expected and make sure that the spaces are comfortable and also have longevity. Where I can, I try to avoid anything too shiny. It’s becoming more apparent that the days of clients wanting to the interiors to show off wealth are behind us. Instead, well-designed luxury interiors are more honest and truthful. That in itself is a luxury mindset.

“We have realised that clients want luxury but almost on a shoestring budget.” – Constantina Tsoutsikou, Creative Director, HBA London

Image caption: (centre) Hamish Brown, (right) Jo Littlefair

HK: When did your clients start accepting a shift in consumer demands when it comes to luxury?

HB: I think it massively goes back to what that hotel means within its location as well as the characteristics of the building. There is certainly more of an acceptance from both sides. Some clients believe that what they want is a grand, sweeping entrance, whereas to really differentiate themselves and to make their hotel work within its location and to be relevant to the building, we suggest to park pre-conceived ideas and think about what would work for that particular hotel.

CT: We have realised that clients want luxury but almost on a shoestring budget. If you compare it to a good few years ago, budget expectations are certainly getting lower. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. At the same time, palettes are becoming more concise, that’s a good thing because designs are cleaner. There’s still a layering there, but the money that was being spilled into a hotel project before the 2008 crisis is not there anymore. However, the expectation certainly is. So, as designers, we have to work out how to manage that.

JL: Also, you cannot ignore the noise and influence of social media – it has a lot to answer for. That inaccurately convinces clients and developers that design is easy and disposable, and that it doesn’t take five minutes to produce a moodboard. But in reality, especially when considering sense of place, you’re thinking about a building and a brand. Putting these elements together requires a real curation of things. Otherwise, I have seen it when people go off on tangents and throw details into the canvas. Nothing ends up gelling and it becomes a messy clash of ideas.

“Trying to get the balance between the soft, the elegant while making these spaces feel comfortable places to work, sit and socialise is a challenge.” – David Mason, Head of Hospitality, Scott Brownrigg

HK: One of the most obvious changes in hotel design, and in the demand from guests, is in the public areas. How has this changed the way in which you specify furniture?

CT: Everybody is working from everywhere. We have a beautiful resort project, which is currently on the boards. As a result of the direct demand from modern travels, we are thinking about putting USB charging sockets on the day beds next to the pool. Generally, I think this is a positive step forward for hotels, which have a life on their own. I think it’s wonderful – and a real stamp of approval from the community – when the neighbourhood becomes part of the life inside a hotel. After all, nobody likes a dead public space.

“All of our furniture is designed at a deliberate height so that each piece can gel with other elements. As opposed to creating one iconic piece, we wanted to create a design DNA.” Digby Summerhill, Director, Minotti London

DM: It’s a hard balance to strike. When our commercial interior designers get asked create these multifunctional spaces, the way in which they design is very task oriented. Trying to get the balance between the soft, the elegant while making these spaces feel comfortable places to work, sit and socialise is a challenge.

Digby Summerhill, Director, Minotti London: We’ve always had modular systems that are flexible. All of our furniture is designed at a deliberate height so that each piece can gel with other elements. As opposed to creating one iconic piece, we wanted to create a design DNA; something that runs through an interior design scene. It’s not a coincidence that no individual item stands out in our collections. One thing I think is interesting is that we didn’t design any of these pieces with hospitality necessarily in mind. Instead we very looked at consumer behaviour and understood the demands of consumers within public areas.

HB: We are often trying to design public spaces to not look like public areas. The idea of a lobby/lounge going against what people would expect in a conventional hotel, to shelter intimate spaces, private nooks where people can work, is very appealing to me. I agree that idea of the community coming in and using the hotel is huge, but perhaps this is something that London has not got right in the past. In other cities there is much more fluidity and it works beautifully. Allowing furniture to adapt to how people are using is a big part of this, and an idea that is really exciting.

Image caption: (Left) David Mason, (Right) Jo Littlefair

HK: Let’s talk about sustainability. A study recently showed that 76 per cent of guests believe that hotels could be greener. Is consciousness the new luxury, as I suggested in my recent editor’s letter?

JL: We’ve been really encouraged recently to have had two projects come to us with sustainability at their hearts. Absolutely every decision has to have a sustainability angle. What we hope is that it continues through to the final touch points, because there will be financial implications along the way. Having filter taps in the room so that hotel guests can refill water bottles is a fresh approach that I love. The design utilities recycled parts of the existing building, giving a whole new meaning of injecting life back into a hotel. We are really thinking about those elements, including timelessness. I agree that it is about style. For us, it’s not about having a hemp interiors, it’s about creating luxury that has a slight assured sense of elegance and quality that has a higher purpose.

DM: The best way to differentiate luxury when it comes to sustainability is to be clever. Having a brief like this is rare, let alone working on two. So, designers, it is our responsibility to educate our clients and specify materials and items that don’t harm the environment or the end user. Behind this, it’s therefore so important that we understand the products and materials and what sets them apart from others in the market.

“Luxury is not just about design, it is about service as well and so many other things that are intrinsically layered on top.” – Hamish Brown, Director, 1508 London

HK: To me it’s very transparent when hotels use words without actions when it comes to sustainability. Is it the designer’s responsibility to ensure clients avoid greenwashing?

CT: You have to remember, we are designing spaces that will open in three years time. It’s a long time, and things change very quickly. You have to be ahead of the game and lead in that way so that the hotel is relevant when it opens. You have to ensure that the strategy you have in place is looking ahead and avoids the need for significant last-minute changes. On the other hand, as designers, we have a responsibility to influence the clients. But I think soon, it will become a necessity across the entire industry. I predict this will happen faster than we think, and it’s already started with wider conversations with local suppliers.

HK: What are you all doing at the moment to try and differentiate your luxury projects from others?

CT: I am always asking myself, how do I position this hotel in the current market, or in a wider sense, how do I position this hotel for an international clientale? This is because the competition is no longer just the hotel’s neighbour, it’s a global arena.

DM: I suppose it is now about experience. People desire luxury experiences. A hotel group has just bought the Fort of India. How incredible would that be; to stay and experience something totally unmatched like that. Travellers want authenticity and they consider that to be luxury.

HB: Sense of place cannot be underestimated. The definition of luxury differs from place to place and demographic to demographic, and you have to respond, beneath the surface, to understand what is happening in those locations. Luxury is not just about design, it is about service as well and so many other things that are intrinsically layered on top. When those elements and concepts interlock, that’s when you have a seamless luxury experience when service and design sit side by side and are harmoniously linked.

HK: Consumer demands of public areas have spilled out into outdoor spaces. Has this changed the way in which you design these areas together?

JL: We love integrating the outdoor areas so that they becomes a seamless flow where we can. I would say this is especially the case in food and beverage sector. We have recruited designers that only specialise in those areas so that we can get the operational flow right. That connection to the outdoor is integral to our overall wellbeing. Humanity is an element of luxury that we have not touched upon, because our disassociation with human relationships is becoming more enforced by our use of technology. I feel that human touch – it can be as simple as eye contact, and/or just being understood in a different country – is really important that we deliver with hospitality. And first and foremost, design and architecture should enable this.

“Usually I will use the sustainability angle as an added value and not the primary reason why we are specifying, unless the brief has an eco-friendly thread in its core.” – Jo Littlefair, Director and Co-Founder, Goddard Littlefair.

HK: Sustainability is becoming a buzzword that some would argue is losing its meaning. What makes a piece of furniture sustainable for you?

JL: At the end of the day we, as designers, have to ensure that the furniture looks fantastic – and it meets all the needs and demands from our clients as well as regulations. But it really does come down to how we communicate this with the client. We do have to choose our words carefully, but that’s the same as when pitching any idea to the client. Usually I will use the sustainability angle as an added value and not the primary reason why we are specifying, unless the brief has an eco-friendly thread in its core.

DM: Different cultures are going to be more interested than others, that is for sure. It is all about baby steps, and we do as much as we can.

Technology and manufacturing has been a massive help. Sustainable products and materials are now at a price point that works for a client and a luxury brief. To then specify a product that is eco-friendly and longer lasting than another becomes a no-brainer. I really believe it is changing. Clients are more aware of the value of reclaimed or reupholstered furniture. Having said this, it is also a balancing act. I am working on a hotel at the moment with the aim to reupholster the casegoods and the beds, and sadly it is actually almost as expensive as buying new pieces.

“I think if you can justifiably explain how a decision adds value, then cost can sometimes be reconsidered.” – Hamish Brown, Director, 1508 London.

HK: In regards to luxury, do you believe value outweighs cost?

HB: It’s a lovely idea, and my view is that value does outweigh cost. If you look at today’s market and the economy, there is a huge sense of getting value. It’s not always about cost. I think if you can justifiably explain how a decision adds value, then cost can sometimes be reconsidered.

JL: We get closer to understanding the deal that the developer has struck and the budget that has driven the deal, which underpins the whole project. Basically, our client has a figure that they cannot deviate from. So yes, it is common sense, and I do value beautiful furniture, and we do have to be ambassadors that push for quality so that these pieces don’t end up in landfill, but there is a bottom line figure discussion. As a designer, you are the piece of magic in the middle having to constantly and consistently value engineer the project.

HB: The most successful projects that we work on are the ones where everyone involved is upfront and honest with cost and there is a real transparency there.

HK: Has the weight on where the budget is spent in the hotel changed?

DM: It’s always in the ceiling!

CT: I have seen that generally, not enough budget is left for the finishing touches.

JL: For me, it’s artwork.

Following the exclusive panel discussion, the leading designers and architects were able to browse the showroom, which showcased, in an apt setting, Minotti’s 2019 collection of timeless indoor and outdoor furniture.

Minotti London will be the venue of Hotel Designs’ Meet Up London, which will take place in Spring 2020. More details will follow.

If you are interested in hosting our next editorial roundtable, please email Katy Phillips or call +44 (0)1992 374050.