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It’s back to the drawing board for The Prince Hotel Hong Kong, which is re-sketching its renovation plans in anticipation of changing guest behaviors brought about by the coronavirus crisis.

The 394-room property was closed for upgrading in February as owner-operator Wharf Hotels decided it was pointless to continue operating and renovating in phases when occupancy was plunging.

A span of just two months was also enough to make management realize that renderings drawn before the pandemic might be off the mark when the hotel reopens in a year or two.

“We need to adopt Covid-19 protocols as we anticipate this will be what guests expect in the future,” said Dalip Singh, general manager of Marco Polo Hotels Hong Kong, one of two Wharf Hotels brands.

The hotel, which will be rebranded Marco Polo Prince Hotel after its upgrade, is currently assessing additional investments as a result of Covid-19, including a “negative pressure” floor. This isolation technique, used in hospitals and medical centers, prevents cross-contamination from room to room (see how this works in this article). It is also reviewing hotel renovation novelties such as installing built-in thermal scanners, a mobile check-in system, and non-touch control panels in elevators.

On redesigns, Singh said he asked the project’s consultants for “greater spatial layouts,” not only in public areas but the restaurant and club lounge. Consultants have also been asked to look into materials that can be easily cleaned and sanitized, which include but are not limited to flooring, seating, table top, et cetera.

Among changes, the space of the club lounge has been increased by 30 percent compared with the previous design, as the hotel understands guests want more space and privacy. To create better traffic flows, the restaurant design comprises separate sections which complement each other and, aside from a main dining area, has two private dining sections and an alfresco area. “The alfresco ambience allows natural daylight into the space, which would be a new demand for travelers and diners,” Singh figured.

What’s more, previous function rooms will make way for space for private parties and small to medium size meetings. “We expect the scale of meetings to be smaller and, in view of the trend for video conferencing, we plan to upgrade IT capabilities,” said Singh. “Buffets will still be popular, but we will provide single portions and sneeze guards for a more hygienic dining experience.”

Out Goes the Carpets

Throughout Asia hotels such as the 36-year-old Prince that have been around for a long time and were planning to renovate just before the crisis find themselves in a fortuitous position.

The 26-year-old Amari Watergate Bangkok is another example. Closed on April 1 for a gut-out that will replace water piping, boilers, air-conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems, the hotel can soon trumpet “newest ventilation” or “elevated indoor air and water quality levels” when it reopens in December — advantages made newly sexy by Covid-19.

The design of its new guest rooms already features hard-surface floors accented by area rugs which are easier to clean and disinfect, along with easy-to-clean textiles and finishes that bring out local colors. Revisions further wiped off unnecessary clutter such as bed runners, decorative cushions on bedding and collateral overload, said president and CEO, Onyx Hospitality Group, Douglas Martell.

At all Onxy hotels, not just the Amari in Bangkok, public areas including lobby, restaurants, executive lounges and pool terraces will be reconfigured for safe distancing, with clusters of seating placed at least 1.5 meters apart. In elevators, maximum capacities will be reduced and in areas where queues may form, there will be safe-distance markings on floors.

The hotels will also deploy airport-style temperature sensors and other crowd-management safety measures when they can eventually host larger-scale events and groups.

But while some things change, a lot actually won’t, at least in the luxury segment, according to Clint Nagata, founder and creative partner of Blink Design Group.

“Since luxury is traditionally defined by space and having more of it, the physical precautions associated with social distancing is already a part of the guest’s experience,” said Nagata. “It’s sort of comparing business class seating to economy on airplanes.”

Blink’s current projects in Asia, which include Regent Phu Quoc, Raffles Maldives presidential villa and Mandarin Oriental Manila, are progressing and opening as per schedule within the year; as are those that are set to open within two years, such as Fullerton Ocean Park Hong Kong and LXR Shozan Resort Kyoto.

Lobbies of luxury hotels of the future will still need to offer all of the experiences as in the past but they will be more luxurious in providing privacy and space, said Nagata. He is also hopeful that the ultra-deluxe players will “finally” get to the point of virtual check-ins and virtual key cards to reduce contact points between staff and guests, previously anathema to personalized service. “They will be forced to innovate or minimize interactions,” he said.

New luxury hotel business models may emerge. For example, economic challenges caused by Covid-19 could lead to a new drive to reinvent affordable luxury. Nagata sees an opportunity for a “mini Aman” type of product. “Think more minimalist, modern design packed into a small footprint and furnished with luxurious offerings like a Duxiana bed covered with 1000 thread count Egyptian sheets and a large shower with massage jets,” he said.

Luxury brands with wellness at their core meanwhile see their niche becoming more valuable because of the pandemic. Banyan Tree Holdings’ executive director of wellbeing Lee Woon Hoe agrees with Nagata that privacy will simply become more private, thus an increase in in-room wellbeing practices, for example. The company has also created what it calls a White Room, a clean and sleek space designed to rid guests of distractions so they could reboot through guided breathing meditation. The first opened in its 12-villa resort, Banyan Tree Wellbeing Sanctuary Phuket.

Made for the Future

At the other end of the spectrum, startups who have reinvented the budget hotels segment can argue that they were made in advance for a virus-hit world. Their model of minimalistic design and use of technology is now prized for outsmarting traditional hotel keeping not just in efficiency and costs control, but in hygiene standards.

“Minimalistic and functional room designs help ensure that deep cleaning and disinfecting of rooms is done more thoroughly, while new technology such as self-check-ins/checkouts are a way to prevent transmission of germs and viruses,” said Amit Saberwal, founder and CEO of RedDoorz.

“We believe first and foremost that hygiene, cleanliness and safety will become more important in the decision-making of consumers on which hotels to book in the future — more so than any hotel design.”

Photo Credit: Artist impression of Marco Polo Prince Hotel’s Club Lounge: Note the more spacious layout, plus private sections. Wharf Hotels