Future hotel guests arriving at their destinations may see reconfigurations to public spaces in response to apps that are changing the way customers interact with the property.
The hotel industry’s emphasis on pushing more features through smartphone apps during the pandemic has a long-term impact on how future properties are developed.
Brands like Yotel were early adopters in using technology to free up space in hotels prior to the pandemic. But major companies like Hilton all the way down to independent hotels relied more on mobile apps during the pandemic to do everything from check-in to ordering room service. But these features are expected to remain well beyond the health crisis, and that will lead to a new approach in building a hotel.
Lobbies, fitness centers, and even back-of-house areas only employees utilize stand to get a re-do thanks to the contactless craze.
The new approach to hotel layouts can provide a financial lift to an industry still reeling from the pandemic and its catastrophic impact on travel demand.
“We’ve been focused on sometimes smaller hotels, where there’s not a lot of space, so we can turn the lobby into more of a communal space and for revenue-generating space, like restaurants and bars,” Rami Zeidan, CEO of boutique hotel operator and technology company Life House, said in an interview with Skift.
Life House considers itself a tech-enabled hotel operator that depends on software to streamline and power the operations. The emphasis on tech means less of a real estate need for space that isn’t translating into revenue.
Besides doing away with square footage devoted to check-in counters, there are other guest experience spaces like gyms that have been affected by the pandemic and technology.
“We’ve developed an Apple TV product that provides custom in-room fitness exercises, which eliminates the need for gyms,” Zeidan said. “And Covid was definitely the catalyst for that.”
Hotel Spaces Meet Apps
Tom Ito, a Gensler architect who launched and heads up the firm’s hospitality practice, said the industry isn’t completely getting rid of check-in areas. Instead, he notes the concept is one more in “testing mode.”
That’s beginning to change, however, as apps come online that allow guests to control their experience and as customer service responds to demands for more casual interaction.
Developing guest control over the hotel environment means that big public areas, such as lobbies, may be reimagined to accommodate more flexible spaces like meeting and casual dining places.
Technology-induced shifts in design are more common with new, ground-up construction than one during renovations, Ito noted.
Co-working is another potential use for space that’s been reimagined and redesigned. Hotel developers were already looking into co-working possibilities before the pandemic. Accor’s push into so-called lifestyle hotels, which rely more on local guests driving revenue, includes embracing co-working concepts at its partially owned Ennismore spinoff.
“They were saying that co-working and hospitality should go hand-in-hand,” said Edouard Schwob, executive vice president of JLL’s hotels and hospitality group, of the broader trend.
Big Space, Big Opportunity
This kind of redesign talk presents an opportunity for large spaces in convention hotels and their best use in the post-pandemic era. Flexibility became the norm during the pandemic for large spaces, and conversations around that topic continue for new-build hotels.
“What we’re looking at is the ability to have smaller meeting rooms that can be interconnected by technology so that you can connect to the room and be connected to the world outside because of this hybrid notion you are seeing in the workplace,” Schwob said.
That concept could be extended to outdoor spaces, partly because of safety considerations but also for an enhanced experience, Ito said.
Atari Hotels partnered with hotel managers GSD Group and Gensler to take advantage of the popularity of online gaming. Details of the first Atari Hotel project in Las Vegas aren’t entirely clear, but the development team maintains the check-in area won’t involve a standard front desk.
“You definitely won’t be going through a traditional check-in counter,” Ito said. “You will go through a portal.”
The diminished need for point-of-service systems to support back-of-house operations, like inventory management or repairs scheduling, that are critical for a good customer experience is another space-saving opportunity.
Schwob said he could envision a system where housekeeping would send a message via the app that a lightbulb needed replacing, or a leaky sink needed fixing, and the software would even be able to prioritize the workflow. Other tasks like restocking supplies would be optimized and add to more efficient space use.
“When we design a hotel, we spend an inordinate amount of time on the back-of-house,” Ito added. “Because when you look at guest flow, we also look at it from the service side; we spend most of our time on the back-of-house planning.”
Where hotel apps might go next to provide a more seamless guest experience depends on how much the industry is willing to put into them.
Investment will be key to fueling a global travel rebound, and many hotel operators are still in survival mode unable to pour money they don’t have into the latest tech features.
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Photo credit: The planned Atari Hotels brand will rely more on technology in its futuristic layout of hotels. Atari Hotels