Hotels in the Middle East have long had a reputation of providing the highest quality service for guests who seek the five-star luxury treatment. Now, when the region’s hospitality industry is faced with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, hotels are experiencing pressures like never before – the hospitality landscape has already begun experiencing exponential change, the flow-on effects of which are likely to be felt for some time. Factoring in new guidelines and regulations such as social distancing, we, as agents of change, are now tasked with looking at how the fundamentals of hotel design will need to evolve to meet these practical measures while still being able to provide travelers with the luxury experience they seek.
The impact on hotels during COVID
What typically sets apart world-class hospitality is the influence of design within the property, the technological innovations that enhance the guest experience, and the service provided by the staff. These factors have been compromised by the pandemic and it is the architect and designer’s role to study this and overcome it with strategies that reprioritize space and create memorable experiences, which both protect the health and safety of the guests and deliver a commercial return for owners and operators.
With social distancing being a ‘new normal’, there are many trends influencing the industry that need to be incorporated but without conceding the feeling of comfort and luxury. Guests will still want to travel but will seek a private, more isolated experience and may prefer more a sense of privacy in the hotel, safely distanced with a private pool and a controlled-capacity clubhouse within a resort environment for example.
How will hotel rooms change?
Hotel rooms have in recent years been designed to be more compact as the hotel’s social and common areas were considered to be where a guest would most likely spend more time. A room was a place to take a shower, watch TV, and sleep. Now, it is a sanctuary with luxurious linens and comfortable furnishings but as these materials could possibly harbor a contaminant and may going forwards only be available upon request. Carpets are likely to be replaced by hard surface products like floor tiles and connecting guestroom doors may be reconfigured into corridors that can be regularly sanitized. Touch-free room keys, lighting, and in-room technologies will soon be expected from every guest, while employees will be seen regularly sanitizing public spaces, doors, and other high footfall spaces. We should also expect to see handwashing stations on every hotel floor. These stations can be incorporated to fit around the design of the brand and can infuse a sense of fun around the safety process in much the same way Aesop turned handwashing into an experience to try new products within their retail stores.
Reinventing the F&B sector in hotels
Relationships with local businesses could also take off with some likely to repurpose valuable hotel square footage once given over to a gym and instead direct guests to a local affiliate. Hotels can also relieve themselves from the financial burden, and potential liability of an in-house restaurant in the post-pandemic environment by allowing food delivery services to deliver within the establishment. Partnerships can also identify with local restaurants so that guests can stroll up the street, enjoy a meal for a discounted price, and charge it to the hotel room.
A return to normal for hotels?
There is still no one-size-fits-all solution, and due to the nature of the pandemic, the situation is still evolving day-by-day. Many are still optimistic that we will see a return to ‘normal’ operations and are planning for a future with a vaccine. In the short-term, our focus is on cleanliness and other temporary measures that instill confidence and security in guests that they can travel and stay in comfort and safety.
In the mid-term, we are likely to see leisure travel especially in the luxury sector pick up before business travel. This too will return; however, consciousness has been brought to travel that companies aren’t likely to shake so easily. We now know many of the meetings we once traveled for can be conducted remotely, so companies will be more selective with these choices rather than the quick fly-in/fly-out trips. We will see a shift toward ‘workcations’ or ‘bisleisure’ trips that see people enjoy the limited travel for work by tagging on a few personal days to make the most of being in a different location.
In any case, COVID-19 has us wondering what the world will look like post-crisis. It is true to say that an enhanced focus on cleanliness is likely to stick around, but in reality, macro trends will prevail and the emphasis on guest experience will remain, it may just look a little different for a while. As agents of change, we need not to underestimate the power of striking the balance between considering new measures while looking at the critical role of space utilization in achieving operational efficiency, guest safety and ultimately profitability.