Skift Take

Hotel design can be bland because brands, owners, and lenders aren't incentivized to take risks. Some outside pressure is needed to boost innovation.

Series: Early Check-In

Early Check-In

Editor’s Note: Skift Senior Hospitality Editor Sean O’Neill brings readers exclusive reporting and insights into hotel deals and development, and how those trends are making an impact across the travel industry.

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Skift highlighted 15 Hotel Designers to Watch Now last week. While helping to put that list together, I noticed that innovation isn’t as widespread as it could be.

To learn more, I spoke with John Hardy, chairman and founder of The Hardy Group.

  • Hardy’s Atlanta, Georgia-based company is a full-service development company for hotel investors and brands.
  • Over three decades, the group has participated in 870 hospitality projects worldwide worth more than $6 billion. Projects are typically urban hotels, resorts, and select-service hotels.
  • Hardy Group also owns hospitality real estate.

Hardy said the hotel development ecosystem has many incentives that discourage innovation.

  • “Brands still drive a lot of design,” Hardy said. “But many brands are doing just the bare minimum to be competitive.”
  • “It’s often just copying other brands to slice and dice the ownership market more and more so that they can define smaller and smaller target markets to sell franchises to owners,” Hardy said.
  • “Lenders discourage any kind of creativity, and owners often do as well,” Hardy said. “So it’s somewhat of a closed system that’s repeating itself without improving the quality of the product.”

To boost innovation, Hardy invented the Radical Innovation Awards.

  • It’s now in its 16th year.
  • “I invented it out of desperation to find more creativity in the hospitality market,” Hardy said.
  • “The goal is to shake things up by bringing in outside influences and creating a forum where talented and passionate people with great ideas can get a forum and have a chance to get ideas to market.”
  • Architects, engineers, students, and product developers worldwide take part.
  • Besides a chance to win money and notice from industry leaders, participants in the program have a chance to take part in Black Fire Innovation, the University of Las Vegas’s new incubator for integrated resort and hotel technology.

The Radical Innovation Awards have uncovered a few concepts that the industry has since popularized. They’ve also sparked others to innovate.

  • A 2015 winner, Zoku, a co-living specialist based in Holland, now has multiple properties. Zoku has recently begun creating cohorts of remote workers housed at one of its properties.
  • In 2017, a student majoring in physics, Caspar Schols, built for his mother a Douglas fir-lined garden house with re-arrangeable layers and sliding walls. The cabin’s structure had a double-glass inner shell topped by an insulated outer shell and a steel roof. The design reduces the need for artificial climate control. Today Schols has a business called Cabin Anna making variations of the structure, and Hardy Group plans to be a customer.
  • A pair of 2019 student winners, Ruslan Mannapov and Airat Zaidullin, came up with a concept for rooftop gardens for hotels using an operationally practical modular design.
  • A 2020 winner, the Bruskin modular shower from Belstone, is made of precut glass panels that are easier to assemble by construction teams and clean by housekeepers.
  • The awards have uncovered themes that include ecologically sensitive designs, glamping and tented hospitality, the rise of professionalized alternative accommodations, and space travel.

One of the ideas that got a boost during the pandemic was glamping, and Hardy thinks nature-centric hospitality experiences have momentum for years to come.

  • Hardy said glamping-like products tap a segment that the traditional hospitality market hasn’t served.
  • On the demand side, many consumers want the novelty of an outdoor, tented, or van experience without the hassles of do-it-yourself camping. On the supply side, many areas where it isn’t economical to build hotels or where communities have resisted hotels may offer cost-effective openings for glamping. Innovative designs and processes have helped demonstrate the viability of the business model.
  • “We’re looking at doing some ourselves,” Hardy said.

To be sure, Skift also tries to do its part to promote innovation across all verticals of travel with its annual IDEA Awards. (See our shortlist for this year, here). I always read tips and feedback. Contact me at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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Tags: awards, design, Early Check-In, future of lodging, hotels, Skift Pro Columns

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