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As the hard-hit hospitality industry prepares to reopen under new government regulations, Mix sits down with Dylan Wills, Associate at HBA, to shed some light on how the industry can manage the inevitable changes they are facing.
As the hard-hit hospitality industry prepares to reopen under new government regulations, there is the necessity to rethink existing spaces. Social distancing is still a major issue and will seriously affect the very essence of hotels, restaurants and bars – perhaps indefinitely. How can designers adapt to these new rules and create impactful and effective spaces for the post-pandemic landscape?
Mix sits down with Dylan Wills, Associate at leading global firm Hirsch-Bedner Associates, specialists in creating beautiful hospitality spaces for clients from New York to Shanghai. Here, Dylan sheds a practical light on how hotels and restaurants can manage the inevitable changes that the industry is facing.
In the short term I don’t think there’s going to be a drastic difference within hotel designs and new builds. The main reason being that most of the the world’s hospitality companies have been closed down for the last two to three months. They’ve had zero revenue, and their annual figures for this year are going to be down. If you were an owner of a hotel, not having revenue for three months, would you want to invest large amounts of money to get your hotel open again? Of course, but you will see adaptability and flexibility – hotel operators now know that they need to be ready for anything that happens in the future.
The one thing you can do is use larger spaces differently. You can use things like furniture items and decorative items to create architectural barriers, allowing people to flow around the objects. In a lobby for instance, we can put furniture or pieces of art that make people circulate one direction or another but still enhance the look of the space.
In terms of the surrounding lobby, over the last two years or so we have been looking at these semiprivate areas – what I like to call personal bubbles – where small groups of people can sit and chat and interact. The great thing about them is you can sit in a small group but you’re still soaking up the overall social atmosphere of the public area that you’re in. The difficulty now, of course, is that we’re limited to the number of people who can sit at these areas. Whenever anybody leaves an area, somebody has to come in and clean it effectively. Cleaning up semi-private spaces for six people can take up to 10/15 minutes. Is it practical? I’m really not too sure.
Right now, there is one simple word that everybody is paying attention to – and that’s cleanliness. Everybody is very socially aware of hygiene and clean areas. We’ve all been hit really unawares by COVID and it has brought to light the fragility of who we are as people. I think going forward in new build designs and new hotels we’re really going to be focused on the materials we use, and how they can be maintained. We’ll focus on social interaction – influenced by watching how people are interacting with current spaces and social activity.
I think if hospitality in general – bars, restaurants, hotels – were prepared to be able to social distance with a few flexible changes, then I don’t think we would have had to shut down to the extent we have earlier in the year. I think they’re really looking at how they can be flexible in the future to cope with things like this.
Over the last few years, these spaces have been designed with the word community in mind. You have these long communal tables that can accommodate 12 people working at the same time. They might not know each other, but you’ve got this feeling of hustle and bustle and community. Going forward into a post-COVID world, that’s not going to be practical anymore. It would be a practical solution to try and involve that communal feeling but have smaller pod environments. I think that’s a more realistic option.
In 2018 I was working on a concept for flexible meeting spaces for a very large hotel operator, and we were looking at seating areas for six people – with a screen, Wi-Fi and QR codes on the tables and pods so that you can order food and drink from your phone. You can actually include UV lighting so that you don’t have to clean them every time someone leaves. It’s amazing that a five-foot-tall screen can give a person that feeling of security even though the air around them it’s still the same air that everybody’s breathing. I think that could really suit the world we are in now.
I think it very much depends on how you categorise that word wellbeing. It’s a bit like that other word, lifestyle. Everybody says, have you seen that new lifestyle hotel? But when you go to the hotel you think, number one: is it lifestyle? And secondly: what actually is lifestyle? It’s the same with wellbeing. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, I think the term wellbeing has broadened in its definition and will have more significance.
I think hotels will have a focus on wellbeing in terms of cleanliness. You could look at things such as UV lights in wardrobes in hotels, so that when your clothes are hung up on arrival, and you shut the door a UV light comes on that disinfects your clothes. I was part of a seminar last week where one company was talking about a UV product that they’re looking at for hotel rooms. The question is, is it operationally and cost effective. The process for the UV disinfecting takes two hours – and when you look at your average international hotel the turnaround for cleaning a room is usually 35/45 minutes. Two hours is just not operationally possible. Some of the larger operators have looked at what I would call a smoke bomb – it takes 15 minutes to smoke the room, there’s no smell and the room is totally disinfected. I think that’s more cost-effective at the moment.
Again, looking at wellbeing and health – in terms of gyms – there may be a shift towards moving fitness into the hotel rooms. There is one hotel brand in particular that actually has gym equipment in the bedroom. When you walk into the room the first TV channels are all fitness videos, so you don’t have to go down to the gym in the hotel and can avoid social interactions.
The difficulty that we have at the moment of course is that sustainability tends to cost more. If we really want to look at sustainability for the future, we need to look at ways to cut costs so that it’s more financially viable for somebody to look at sustainability. 10/12 years ago, when LED lighting was really coming to the mainstream, it was virtually impossible to try and persuade hotel owners to buy LED bulbs to the whole hotel because they were 20% more expensive than normal bulbs
I think people have become more educated now. They’re understanding that, for example, things like LED light bulbs use less electricity – therefore we’re using less power, therefore we have less carbon. Same with materials too. They’re really understanding that producing materials in different ways is saving our planet. But are they willing to pay the extra costs?
I think two things have happened during COVID. The first one is we’ve walked outside of our homes and heard less cars, instead tuned into the birdsong. We’ve enjoyed clear skies and amazing views that we haven’t seen in our generation. I think that gives a heightened awareness around how we really need to look at saving our planet effectively. Will that influence people into more sustainable design? All I can say is I hope so. I hope we can drive this forward. At the moment it comes down to financial costs and people’s commitment.
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