In Association with
Thanks to all who took part:
Caroline Cundall, IHG / Steven McGee, ISG / David Judge, Judgexd / Angela Bardino, Grimshaw Architects / Paul Davis, Aecom / Neil Andrew, Dexter Moren Associates / Alejandra De Cordoba Estepa, HKS / Ben Reed, Hansgrohe
At hansgrohe’s Water Studio in London, we gathered a delightful cross-section of experts from the world of hospitality that included designers, consultants, end users and brand engineers to discuss the wonderful subject of the perfect hotel room. As with workplace, the hotel sector is experiencing greater change and challenges than at any time in recent history.
For the consumer there is more choice, easier access, increased transparency and immediate, pain free ways and means of giving feedback. For the operators; more competition, greater and ever-present threats and the headache of trying to provide a perfect experience for guests while remaining ‘different’ and true to their integrity. Is there any such thing as the perfect hotel room? There is an acceptance that the market will become more fragmented and we will arrive at a dozen ‘hotel types’. A business traveller’s perception of perfection will considerably vary from a parent’s, for example. Then you have the hopeless romantics, the escapists and the backpackers to consider, not to mention those who are only after a hotel room because they’ve RSVP’d to a wedding or a 50th birthday party. Then you’ve got the added complexity of the tech-savvy generation; those who can’t leave their phones and devices alone for a heartbeat. All of these personality types have different ideas of what constitutes a perfect hotel room; so how do designers, architects and managers working in hospitality create the places that will tick the boxes of the many, as opposed to just the few? How do you personalise an experience for the multitude of personas setting foot in your lobby?
Paul: I think for every project, you have to look at who the end user is. You can tick the boxes for certain people, but you’re not going to tick the boxes for everybody. That’s how we usually start the process – by looking at the user profile.
Alejandra: The brands help us a lot – because they have diversified so much, it is now pretty clear who you are designing for. How do you work out who you are designing for? You know if you’re designing for Four Seasons or for Hilton.
Neil: I guess the tricky bit is, at the very early stage in the process, when there is no operator selected, how you actually then go about differentiating.
Caroline: Most hotel owners will have a pretty good idea of which direction they want to go in. From our point of view, at IHG, we have very varied brands and we also have to consider when we put hotels into areas…we wouldn’t, for example, put two InterContinentals into the same town – because they have an exclusivity. You want to create exclusivity with a luxury hotel – whereas with a brand such as Holiday Inn, we actually want them to be everywhere, we want it to be a brand that people know and love. That’s how we would be approaching it with the owners. When it comes to design, that’s usually already established. Designers already have a direction in which to go through the brand’s direction.
So the design is created well before a building has even come out of the ground?
Steven: From a contractor’s perspective, definitely. What we try to do is to bring some reality to the numbers, to try to ensure that what has been constructed is viable for the developer. We end up with quite an array of clients – some are very experienced and some are one-off funds. Sometimes, what we are advised can be somewhat questionable! Sometimes you have someone with their own ideas – but that might not be the right product.
Caroline: Sometimes, as an operator, that is exactly what we need to be talking with them about. You might have a historic building – and we think, ‘Brilliant, that would be perfect for this particular brand’ – while they were thinking about a totally different brand, and it might not be at all suitable for that brand. It does depend when the designer gets involved. Sometimes designers are brought in at that early stage because it’s actually a costing issue – it’s entirely on spec. At the end of the day, the owners are predominantly concerned by what it is going to cost.
Angela: We’ve seen a complete shift in what we’re asked to do in terms of hospitality. What we’ve found is that it comes out of our workplace studies. We’ve found that businesses are ending up with lots of free space within their office space and they are looking for innovative ways to use it. We’re starting to see this amazing Airbnb-style/mixed office split. We’re doing a really interesting study right now on how that can work for businesses. This is for companies who own their properties rather than renting them – and they want to keep these properties, they are part of their portfolio. They don’t want to rent them out to someone else because that would dilute their brand – so they are looking for a completely new initiative.
We turn to our generous hosts, hansgrohe, and ask when they get involved in the process.
Ben: We’re constantly trying to review the market and to talk to designers, hoteliers and investors. We try to get in at such an early stage that we can help provide solutions. Knowing the market so well, we try to give a value-engineered solution up front to match the brand. Understanding our market is crucial – that way we know what is expected of us. Ultimately, of course, it is down to budget – that is always the challenge.
David: Are we not operating in a theoretical world here – based on the question of what is the perfect hotel room? If that is the case then I think we should be throwing all logic out of the window! Should the discussion not be around forgetting all the issues of practicality and budget? I’m not a hotel specialist, but I’ve spent 15-20 years being somewhere else in the world, right across the planet – staying everywhere from the very expensive to the absolute crap! There is something about the small but perfectly formed when it comes to the business traveller. I do think that a lot of hotels get things very, very wrong – because they concentrate on being ostentatious at the high-end and then…well, they don’t concentrate on anything at the low-end! They just think about how cheaply they can do it. I recently stayed at a budget chain – and I have to say it was the most awful box of a room I have ever stayed in. It was truly awful. I was there for two weeks. If I had stayed for a night or two it might have been OK – but by third night it was Cell Block H! My two favourite hotels in London are the Hoxton and Citizen M. The new Citizen M at Tower Hill, in particular, manages to sacrifice space in such a brilliant way – you don’t feel as though you are sleeping in a showroom! It really is small but perfectly formed and the attention to detail is simply amazing. It has a sense of personalisation, it’s more about sleep – and it works really well. Talk about meeting expectations. I love technology in rooms that allows for a personalised experience.
“I do think that a lot of hotels get things very, very wrong – because they concentrate on being ostentatious at the high-end and then…well, they don’t concentrate on anything at the low-end!”
Alejandra: The space needs to be highly technological – but the customer doesn’t even notice that it is. You have to make the room work like an iPad.
Caroline: The moment you walk in the door, you switch the light on – and I get really peeved by these hotel rooms that have all these variations. You’re tired, you get into your room and you want to be able to switch a light on!
David: There are so many hotels, all over the world, where the basics of lighting control is dross!
Neil: What is interesting is that the two London hotels David told us he really likes are both about driving people to the public spaces – and I think they both work really well. You need to look at it holistically – it’s not just about the hotel room, it’s about the entire hotel. People are actually spending their time in the public spaces and the room is just to sleep in.
Alejandra: No business guest is looking for a hotel room – they are looking for a hotel, they are looking for a location. Then you have to design the perfect room – or else they simply won’t come back.
David: Interestingly, the Citizen M and the Motel One models make sure that the ‘downstairs’ are fantastic places to be.
Alejandra: Just look at what The Ned has done! It doesn’t even matter about the food – it’s a party place. People are going there just for a drink, just for the experience.
Paul: It’s almost intimidating because there is just so much on offer there. You’re senses are almost assaulted!
We move on to discuss the emergence of the neighbourhood hotel – and how bringing locals into your space – to work and to socialise – impacts upon the design.
Alejandra: If you look at a number of hotels, you can see more and more how the furniture arrangements have changed. You never used to have six or seven sofas in the lobby!
Neil: They’ve essentially become co-working spaces.
David: What Citizen M has got really right as brand is their conversational capability – a bit like Ikea, they almost give you a consumer challenge. They allow you to almost shape your own space. They are able to talk to their customers in a way that a lot of the luxury brands can’t. They tell you, ‘This might not be perfect – but that’s ok, because you know that we’re trying to do the best we can for you’. This is something that is ignored by a lot of the premium brands – because they can’t get off their horse and talk to people in a down-to-earth way.
Ben: I know that IHG has been successful in their open lobby programme with the Holiday Inn brand – which has had a huge impact. Again, this is about opening up to the community.
Angela: It has made the experience much more vibrant. Instead of having an empty lobby, you’ve actually got people who really want to be in the space. Going back to Citizen M in London, I think it probably is the locals who are using the space more than everyone else. People probably are still going to their rooms to work – but only if they’ve got a room! I’d guess that most of the people in the lobby aren’t actually staying in the hotel.
David: And this has to be tied into the change in working patterns – the single employee, entrepreneurial businesses that have sprung up worldwide. The growth here is exponential. The hotel world has to reflect that.
Angela: Actually, that is very much what we are now thinking about – even with Crowne Plaza. The next direction for the brand is that it will be much more open to people coming in and using it as a workspace. Crown Plaza has always been a business hotel – but the way people now do business has changed and we have to change with that.
Conclusion: The perfect hotel room simply doesn’t exist. Each of us has different tastes and wants different things from not just the room, but the entire experience. While one person might be after a tech-laden, contemporary, compact space, another is yearning for a luxurious, spacious, tech-free escape.
In order to find the type and style of hotel room we want, we need to align with the right brand – and judging by the wise words of our panel, there are plenty of brands getting it right out there, providing a target audience with the room and the facilities they’re looking for.
It is vital that hotel operators adapt to the changing need of both the consumer and the community. This often means a greater shift in the look, feel and experience of the lobby/public space and not necessarily the hotel room – which still requires the fundamentals of a comfortable bed, good shower/bath, functional lighting and temperature controls and, now, free WiFi and easy to reach power and data.