You’re on a business trip in an unfamiliar city, and you’ve finally made it to your hotel. The guestroom, while smaller than some other hotels you’ve stayed in, has tons of outlets and USB ports for connecting, but no desk. Downstairs, the bar is serving locally crafted beer and the bartender suggests all kinds of things to do while you’re in town.
The breakfast area has family-style tables where other guests sit sipping coffee, laptops hooked in as they prep for meetings. Throughout the other public spaces, people are working and socializing in parallel; the space is a carefully calculated blend of private spaces and open lounge areas for people to mix, mingle, work, and play.
This new experience? It’s what we call a lifestyle hotel. At its most basic, this new hotel experience embodies the many nuanced characteristics of today’s traveler, who looks a lot different than yesterday’s traveler. And that matters to us because evaluating and understanding the desires and needs of the user is integral to our work as designers.
“Knowing your guest is what makes or breaks a design,” says Elizabeth Temple, a senior interior designer in Baskervill’s hospitality studio. “Community, culture, and experience have always been a part of the equation in hospitality design, but now they’re defining the process. It’s now a specific community, a specific culture, and a specific experience we’re designing for. What we’re doing is creating an emotional connection for guests.”
The Travel Revolution
Lifestyle brands are more than a passing trend; they’re the business model of the future. In the next five years, 25% of new hotels will be a lifestyle-branded space. One of the driving forces behind this shift is the rapidly changing demographics of today’s traveler.
Hoteliers see younger travelers as movers and shakers who are leading a revolution in the travel industry. Research indicates 66% of people under 35 consider travel an important part of their lifestyle—that’s a far cry from generations before them.
When travel is that important, the hotel experience can’t just be an afterthought. It has to define the stay, says Elizabeth. And that’s what major hoteliers are getting right—the essential link between truly knowing who guests are and really understanding how those guests use hotels.
“Knowing how hotel guests want, and need, to use a hotel’s public and guestroom areas is vital to shaping the lifestyle movement,” Elizabeth says.
Even the color palette and artwork are inextricably linked to the hotel’s locality. You’ll never wonder where you are; the place is as much a part of the hotel as the hotel is of the place.
All of these changes are highly purposeful. Hoteliers have spent years learning how the shifting demographics of travelers, integration of advancing technology, and growing cultural factors influenced the purchasing decisions of their guests. Why were they loyal to one brand over another, and what made that brand stand out?
The answer? A distinct, local experience.
Crafting an Experience
If you had visited a full-service hotel decades ago, you’d have been greeted by the same layout, color palette, furniture, and artwork whether you were in Boston, Birmingham, Charlotte, or Chicago.
It wasn’t just the hospitality industry—standardization was king in the corporate and healthcare worlds, too. If you’d walked into your average office building anywhere in the country 30 years ago, you’d have likely been greeted by neutral carpet, uninspiring art, and stock furniture. Work spaces were clearly defined by private offices on the exterior (the only place with natural light) and high-walled cubicle farms on the interior. Same goes for healthcare. An appointment at your doctor’s office meant much of the same prototypical design choices. A pediatric clinic was no different than an oncology clinic.
The design philosophy of yesteryear meant you would always be surrounded by the look every time. But that one-size-fits-all approach is no longer de rigueur, thanks in large part to the very core of lifestyle branding.
Today, we focus on what the experience should be like, and then we create the design around it, says Lewis Goetz, Baskervill’s Managing Director, Metro DC and an award-winning architect and interior designer.
“You see it everywhere now,” he says. “University dorms and cafeterias are more like upscale hotels and restaurants, airports feel more like shopping malls with airplanes, libraries are coffee shops with books, and hospital rooms feel like hotel suites.”
Designing for the Bottom Line
Space is as much tied to a company’s success as anything else because space directly influences the ways in which we think, feel, and do – and that includes how efficiently we work and how we buy.
“Your space can inform someone of who you are and what you stand for before anything else,” says Lewis.
But a hotel isn’t a corporate office building, and a doctor’s office isn’t a café. Do the same rules for crafting a spatial experience apply across all industries? They do, Lewis says.
“Focusing on the innate ways in which people interact and move within their existing environment to accomplish their tasks, collaborate with peers, and achieve short and long term objectives, whether they be daily tasks, strategic projects, or emergent situations, says a lot about the ways the space can and should be designed,” he says.
These elements—the way people use a space and what they want and need from it—go hand in hand with how the space makes them feel.
Bringing People Back for More
The links between experience and happiness are startling; positive experiences are proven to bring about higher reported feelings of happiness and creativity. And happiness matters. Volumes of research prove that happiness is not just a feel-good measure but a real strategy to drive competitive advantage. In fact, a 2012 Harvard Business Review report cites that happy employees are 31% more productive and three times more creative. That’s not nothing.
Happy hotel guests, patients, and students will continue to return to the brands, companies, and providers that gave them a positive, memorable experience and emotional connection.
In a world where differentiation can be the measure of success or failure, experience is the key. Done well, the experience guests, employees, patients (or anyone for that matter) has in your space should be true to who you are as a company.
The Ritz will never look and feel like a modern, millennial-focused AC Hotel, and it shouldn’t. A cancer clinic for adults shouldn’t look and feel like a pediatrician’s office, but it should elicit the same feelings of safety, wellness, and comfort. You don’t need a literal café to adopt a “café culture” of less formal, collaborative space, but you do need the culture to support it.
“Brand and culture matter,” says Elizabeth. “They’re the DNA on which experience is built.”