Beyond market niches: Designing hotels that can flex

There will always be hotels catering to specific needs. There are hotels for pampering, hostels for the frugal adventurer and business hotels designed for efficiency. And no doubt, these types are likely to exist in the future. But more recently, there’s a shift from accommodating to specific market niches towards places that can adapt to changing moods and activities.

RETHINKING HOSPITALITY STEREOTYPES
Over the past year, we’ve been discussing this topic of flexible, adaptive places. Our 2016 Sleep Set project and collaboration with the Sinus Institute has us rethinking hospitality stereotypes.
For instance, one of the newer considerations is the blurring of the work/life divide. Joel Butler (Sleep Event Manager, UBM) comments, “Work and life balance is an important factor. For some this means working less hours to spend time with family, for others it represents a convergence of working and living, with work being an enjoyable and meaningful project, as opposed to being a place where we go to from 9 to 5 that should allow us to get through to retirement.”
Additionally, since the 2008 economic downturn, hoteliers’ campaigns have varied from ‘staycations’ to championing unusual locations where our money might go further. Perhaps the accidental outcome of this has made us strive to keep exploring the unknown.
“As long as you can get wi-fi or see that blue dot on the map, people feel more secure and are happy to find their own way,” says Nick McLoughlin, Head of Design, S&T Interiors. This, combined with more disposable income and a more global world view, has inspired us to seek out opportunities for sincere connections with other people and the world. This style of travel is fast becoming the norm, even amongst generations not normally associated with this aspiration. “The market should not only focus on the Millennials. There are other fast growing markets, such as multigenerational travellers,” says Gensler’s Florent Duperrin.
You can’t deny the pleasure you can get from ordering a coffee at your local café, picking up a good book at an independent bookshop or finding someone who has good local advice. It’s become the first thing we acknowledge, and it will influence our recommendations to others, often immediately through social media. As Alexis Despature from Muzeo comments, “In an open and mature market, wrongly priced and/or over-marketed offers will not survive.” Cheap airlines and fast independent travel have made exploring these things elsewhere more possible, and social media has shown the reality of products and experiences.

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NEW WAYS TO ENTICE TRAVELERS
For the past 5-10 years hoteliers have placed greater emphasis on permeable ground floors where the movement of people and how the space is used is less scripted. However, people now see that as the norm; what else can be done to entice us?

— Looking beyond historic monuments and tourist destinations: Instead of typical sightseeing, people are looking for places to stay in interesting neighbourhoods near markets, independent venues, restaurants, bars or bakeries. It’s really about going back to basics and getting it right.
— The rise of Big Data: “Data analytics obtained from a variety of technology platforms, such as Beacons, Apps, Room Control systems, etc. are providing a greater insight into the traveller’s needs and preferences, allowing operators to profile their guests with greater accuracy for marketing, or predict their needs, rather than wait for them to request assistance,” says Oli Morgan, director, Blend Technology Consultants.
— In-house entertainment: Green Rooms encourage acts/troops staying there to put on performances for all to enjoy. Other hotels have artists in residence who give drawing lessons, enabling them to give back and share their skills.
— Think beyond the size of the bedroom: Hostels are no longer tired, dreary and potentially risky places to stay. Yotel will soon open in central London and Premier Inn Hubs seem to be gaining ground, proving that there is more to quality hospitality than the size of the bedroom.
— Creating the “Smart Room”: Voice recognition is likely to be integrated into hotels in some shape or form, despite some security concerns. How this works with a more personal service will be interesting to see how it plays out.
— Open to the public: Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, London have proved that “front of house” spaces can be used more extensively for public use.
— Borrow from Airbnb: Airbnb is unlikely to replace hotels, but it highlights guests’ preference for flexibility, personality and personalised services, which the Airbnb model offers to a greater extent. Hotels have changed significantly in the last five years partly because of this.
EMBRACING CRAFTSMANSHIP AND COMMUNITY
The adage “reuse and repurpose” inspires us to think differently about material selections, furniture and artwork. Some independent hotels have cleverly used repurposed items to bring a homely feel to these transient places. Even more encouraging are those spaces that embrace craftsmanship by artisans and makers, something we felt vital to roll into our concept at Sleep 2016.
At Sleep 2016, we built upon the notion of what it means to be part of a community that supports itself and offers a venue to show off and share the talent. For us, our Sleep Set wasn’t just showcasing these locals; it was about providing a location for them to come and meet the guests, mingle with the neighbourhood, offer masterclasses and learn from one another.
Today’s travellers are more shrewd and knowledgeable about their impact, and they aren’t looking for something staged for tourists. An insincere or superficial encounter won’t resonate with savvy guests. The more hoteliers can be involved, the deeper and stronger the connection. After all, it’s these moments that we retell to others and recommend for future trips. The distinct offerings and the way hotels offer these services is paramount to their future success. “Service providers and vendors need to create more unique experience which let their clients/customers explore and discover, rather than simply providing what they think is best,” says Gensler’s Trevor To.

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