The Round Table – Hotel Trends

In Association with


Thanks to all who took part:
Katherine Neathercoat, Scott Brownrigg/Theo Constantinides, Gardiner & Theobald/Alan Williams, Servicebrand Global/Claire Richmond, Gensler/Kristian Piolet, hansgrohe/Mark Doughty, Hoare Lea/Federico Toresi, 1508 London/Henry Reeve, IHG/Ben Reed, hansgrohe/Tina Norden, Conran and Partners

Last year we dipped our toes into the world of hospitality design and, following a fascinating and revealing Round Table session, felt that there was plenty more we would like to discuss on the subject. So we’ve once again taken over Hansgrohe’s fantastic Water Studio in Clerkenwell, assembled a number of key players from the sector and sat them around the table to talk about the latest trends, developments and issues affecting their businesses and hotel design. The following gives you a summary of what was a fascinating discussion.

Our timing for the session couldn’t have been better, and we start by asking those amongst our panel who have recently returned from the Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin to tell us about the major emerging trends from the event.

Theo: People were talking less about hotel styles and more about Millennials this year. It was all about what they want. It used to be that people primarily wanted a comfy bed and a great shower – now they want IT, a great bar and blackout blinds. There was a lot of talk about lifestyle – and I’m a simple man and I’d like someone to explain to me exactly what lifestyle means?

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Tina: It is a very difficult one to answer, I think. What it really comes down to is something that is aspirational – about how people want to live. What we talked a lot about this year was brands – how people differentiate between brands and how the brands differentiate themselves. The problem that we have is how you set the brands apart and create something that is original.

Federico: I think that’s why we didn’t talk so much about styles. They broke things down more simply into luxury, lifestyle and entry levels. There was quite a lot of discussion about the luxury market and how that it is starting to take over and there was also a lot of discussion about lifestyle and aspiration. There was a lot of talk about how, if people want to stay somewhere on a budget that is not Airbnb, then you have to give a reason to stay there – to give something extra.

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Katherine: I think one of the things that people are very invested in right now is experience. It’s not necessarily about the decoration and the design of the space – it’s keying into what people value. They might want that perception of something that is beautiful and elegant and very highly detailed, or it might be the service they get or it might be about the environment…

What the team that we sent out to Berlin reported back was that there is increasingly a massive crossover and blurring between the lines of how we design for hotels, workplace and residential. There was a real emphasis on designing for the digital generation – rather than talking about Millennials, which is almost seen as a negative term today and covers such a broad age range. Hotel design now, for us, is very much more about thinking about the experience rather than the design. So it is experience-led as opposed to design-led – and we’re finding the same with workplace, which also continues to be driven by hospitality design.

Theo: People are now working where they stay and staying where the work – there’s a real blending.

Katherine: You go to a workplace now and they want their reception to look like a boutique hotel and they want their floorplates to look like someone’s home. That, for me, sums up what that lifestyle offer we were talking about earlier means. It’s not so much what it looks like, it’s the functionality and the experience that really counts. A lot of hospitality is now designed for that digital generation – and I’m not so sure that, at the luxury end of the market, there is a great amount of difference in the offer.

“It used to be that people primarily wanted a comfy bed and a great shower – now they want IT, a great bar and blackout blinds” – Theo Constantinides

As we are lucky enough to have a major end user amongst our gathering, we ask IHG’s Henry to give us his views and experience on this differentiating of brands.

Henry: In terms of our core brands, we only really have five or six – as opposed to some other major groups who have many more than us. Our brands are split fairly clearly. We split quite specifically into luxury, upscale and mid-scale – and they don’t really blur too much, so we don’t have too much of a problem. Perhaps one issue we’ve had recently was that we completely redesigned our entry-level product in Holiday Inn Express (Generation IV), particularly with regards to work. So we removed the old-fashioned desk from the guest room – which was quite a bold thing to do. These are normally traditional L-shaped guest rooms with a desk in the corner – and we ripped it out! We did this partially because people are now working in a different way – on iPads and on phones, but also because it meant an optimized room footprint, so we could fit more rooms in, and the third outcome was that we could make our public spaces more appealing and lifestyle focused – and people would then go downstairs and potentially spend more money at the bar. By activating a public space in this way, people start to walk in and say ‘This feels great, I want to be here’ – and that includes locals and not just the guests.

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Once we had completely redesigned our entry-level product, that did have quite a significant impact on everything else – you suddenly had a nice big bed, USB chargers, everything was very modern and even small things like using more design focused fabric suppliers and products really uplifted the product, and that made all the other brands look up. It’s a nice problem to have – it’s exciting to have such a good entry-level product and to then look to bump those other brands up. At the very top level, going back to the lifestyle point, there’s only so much marble, brass and gold you can have – and that’s where this lifestyle element really comes in. You stop thinking of it as a hotel and more as a destination where you can come in and work, meet friends, hang at the bar…

Ben: For a long time you’d walk along the street, past a hotel and you’d think ‘I can’t go in there!’ Now, they positively encourage you in. They want you to use their bar and to bring the community around them into their space to increase their revenue.

“When I first became a Managing Director of a hotel I thought, ‘These guys must have all the intel about their guests’.” – Alan Williams

Mark: I’ve primarily been working in the workplace sector. I’ve worked on and delivered a number of hotels as well – and we’ve certainly seen how hospitality has come into the workplace and how that mixes across. It’s about home from home – it’s about having those spaces you’d have in your home, about lifestyle.

One thing we have seen in the hospitality sector is a big focus on energy use – people looking to drive down lifecycle energy costs and renewables.

Theo: We’ve worked on a couple of projects with American operators who really couldn’t give a toss about that. They want the air conditioning on and simply don’t care about that sustainable side.

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Federico: When it comes to new buildings, I find that the green issue is very much linked with the fund – and whether they are likely to flip it in two or three years’ time. If you have an owner who’s going to run it for 20 or 30 years, they are really keen to get as much in as possible that will save them money in the long run. If you’re working with a fund who’s going to look to flip it, like Theo said, they don’t give a toss because they want to cut the costs and make the thing work for two years!

Tina: We did a hotel with Mark a little while back – which was one of the first BREEAM Excellent hotels in the UK – and they were very much a brand who wanted to keep the hotel and to own it as an asset, hence they were interested in making that investment.

Henry: That tends to come from the owner though and not the guests. One question we get asked a lot is, ‘Do guests really want eco-friendly showers?’ – or do they not care because they’re not at home and they’re not paying the bills.

Alan: When I first became a Managing Director of a hotel I thought, ‘These guys must have all the intel about their guests’. So I contacted head office in the States and asked whether there was someone who could tell me how much importance a guest attaches to this versus that versus the other. The answer was ‘No’.

Henry: That data does exist, though there’s an element of give and take of providing guests with what they want and doing what you can to help the environment, sometimes these two issues align well, and sometimes not.

Alan: I think we should have a scientific understanding of what value a guest places on the various elements of their stay. Picking up on the earlier point of the experience, it will really assist the whole design world if there is a shift towards supporting the experience rather than just creating design for the sake of it.

“One thing we have seen in the hospitality sector is a big focus on energy use – people looking to drive down lifecycle energy costs and renewables.” – Mark Doughty

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With ‘the experience’ still very much in mind, we move the conversation on to talk about how there has been a shift from hotels focusing on certain demographics to shared values.

Claire: This is something we’ve been really interested in lately. So instead of saying ‘Well, that person’s this old, they’ve had this education and they come from this country’, it’s about saying ‘This person’s really passionate about music, they’re really creative’. I think a lot of this has to do with changes in technology. People connect on social media and we are far more open to breaking down generational and social barriers. We now have to think about designing for individuals and for groups – both in guest rooms and in public areas. But designing spaces for likeminded people to meet.

Alan: ‘I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Pine and Gilmore’s Experience Economy in the 1990’s? What they did was they took coffee as an example; first it was traded as a commodity, then it became a good – so you could go and buy a bag of coffee beans, take them home and brew them – then it became a service, so you could go and buy a cup of brewed coffee. Then it became an experience; this is all the razzamatazz and the rest of it…but this was in the 1990’s! That’s nearly 30 years ago. I reckon we’re now entering the values economy – which is where you just want to do business with organisations that you have a shared sense of value with and you just want to be with people like yourself.’