How attitudes towards hotel design have shifted post-pandemic

As Covid restrictions ease and travel and holidays pick up once more, changes are afoot for the hotel industry. From new constructions and major renovations to design tweaks and adaptations – hoteliers need to adjust their property designs to meet new demands from guests. Demands and expectations that may not have existed, or been important, to visitors a few years ago.

In this article, Ewald Damen, partner at Virgile + Partners will explore how attitudes are changing as clientele might diverge between those just wanting to get back to normal and those who are more consciously looking for new reassurances – and how hotel design can address this.

What are hotels doing to meet these needs and will they take inspiration from more entrepreneurial, boutique hotel design and its more personalised approach to guests’ experiences? Will there be a greater emphasis on outdoor spaces and wellness, or an increase in technology and services to meet different guests’ attitudes?

Changes are inevitable throughout life, but the influence of the pandemic might have triggered a larger impact on our future lives than we could have potentially expected. Not only did the pandemic give us time to rethink, but some have also seen it as a time to ‘reset’ our daily lives. Trend analyst Li Edelkoort gave an interview with Dezeen in the early Covid days stating the pandemic could offer us all a blank page for a new beginning.

I guess Edelkoort discovered time to herself as she when she was stuck in a beautiful boutique hotel called Dorp in Cape Town which in itself, would have been a welcome place to spend a first lockdown. She referred to it as life coming to a halt and a standstill, a time to reflect on how and why we live life the way we do.

To say life has taken a dramatic U-turn now nearly a year and half later would be an exaggeration. However, it seems a number of people have taken notice of some benefits that came with Covid, often related to the simple fact that not being able to leave one’s home, freed up more time to achieve a higher sense of consciousness. Working remotely, less of a commute and fewer physical meetings on the other side of town have improved our time management. Only after we stopped doing it, did we realise how much we took part in the “rat race”. When we stopped, we had more time to do things at a slower pace; more considered and thoughtful.

Now things are [slowly] opening again, the response to Covid is starting to show its possibilities and restrictions. Groups of people are keen to let life continue as if nothing ever happened. However, Covid does have a lasting impact caused by restricted supply chains and recovering markets, at least for the moment.

No industry has suffered more so than the travel and hospitality industry, which has been affected by government restrictions, high costs and fewer travel routes. It was not only recreational travel that suffered, but business trips were equally restricted, and one could argue that with a much broader acceptance of Zoom calls, the question has become ‘is a trip around the world for a meeting still justifiable?’ A higher environmental awareness due to the “clean air” in the weeks after lockdown has also played its part in a recognition that the previously continuing growth in the travel industry might show a significant slowdown.

This, together with a sense of a better lifestyle, will pose a challenge for the many hotels around the world. The guest will change their expectation to reflect the more flexible and time-conscious way of life they have become accustomed to. With more complicated and expensive travel, the length of a work trip might be extended to a holiday, or combined to several destinations, altogether making the choice of the hotel more important and potentially chosen with new criteria in mind.

Covid measures such as cleanliness, considered people-contact and spatial awareness, will hopefully become normalities in the services provided, but less obvious considerations should be explored to reflect the new comfort a guest is expecting.

As with the home office, a hotel might have to focus more on a better workspace in a room or revive the business centre as people are now expected to be available for work at times including when on holiday for a longer period. Business hotels might have to feel less corporate and more human friendly, reflecting more of the comfort found at home and deriving their inspiration more from the boutique hotel and with a more stylish design. State of the art technology to assist the guest in the ability to simplify their stay or let them work anywhere without problems [even from the pool] will be more in demand.

Sustainability has been in the foreground for hotels over the past years/decades, but efforts might need to be accelerated and more visible due to higher conscious awareness. This should equally be reflected in the overall design, with much more use of natural materials, natural ventilation and other aspects that enhance the guest comfort with sustainability in mind. Outdoor space is more valued and the quality of [organic and local] food including an increased focus on health and wellness is becoming higher in demand, shifting away from the covid unsafe all you can eat buffet.

Covid’s largest legend might be an acceleration of something that was already in motion, a change in the frequency of travel and higher expenditure, which will most certainly have a great effect on the guest expectation, once again making me think of Li Edelkoort working in her beautiful boutique hotel in South Africa during the first lockdown and seemingly taking more notice and appreciation of her welcome stay.