How the pandemic is changing hotel design

As hotel renovations and construction continue picking up speed, hoteliers will need to adjust their property designs to new guest demands that may not have been paramount even two years ago. Tom Ito, principal and leader of Gensler’s hospitality practice, shared some insights on what trends are likely to affect hotel design going forward, and how they will affect both the guest experience and operations. 

Personalization Through Technology

The mobile technology that became so prevalent during the pandemic will only continue to evolve and guide design, Ito said. “It's about not only being efficient, but also ... being more personal in terms of having more control over what you touch and what you don't touch,” he said, As mobile and kiosk check-in become increasingly commonplace, the lobby experience will have to adjust to allow people to navigate through the space in what Ito calls a clear and meaningful way. “When we look at mobility and technology, we look at it not only as something that's more efficient … but we're working in a way that's really going to make the guests feel more comfortable and have an enhanced experience.”  

The personalization will extend to the guestroom, Ito added, with lightning, music and temperature preset before a guest unlocks the door. “That's going to be a big change for us in terms of providing the atmosphere and the ambience and how we design spaces, based on this digital integration,” he said. Conversely, voice-activated technology will let guests control their guestroom ambiance verbally. “We're seeing a lot of that as another digital interface.” 

Improved Efficiency

Technology is also helping make hotel designs more efficient for operators—vitally important as properties work with reduced staffs. For example, centralized heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with an air filtration monitor can measure the amount of fresh air coming into a guestroom or even a ballroom so a hotelier can keep guests both comfortable and safe. “You can also check the occupancy of a room or restaurant before you go in,” he said. 

In restaurants, contactless technology lets guests order and pay for their meals without having to talk with the waitstaff, and the staff no longer needs a dedicated space to hold menus or process credit cards. “That might have an effect on how we design wait stations and the like,” Ito noted. “A lot of what we're going to see is being tested now.”

The layout of a hotel’s back of house also will evolve to make operations more efficient and safer, with dedicated areas for deliveries to be sanitized and improved overall ventilation. Ultimately, Ito expects to see smaller backs of houses as more operations are taken online and need less physical space. Even checkout counters and the point-of-sale stations can be removed and converted to “more suitable space,” he said, and registration desks can become expanded lobby space. 

Outdoor Spaces

While the pandemic made it harder to socialize in hotel lobbies, Ito sees ways to keep guests connected while also minimizing risks. Connecting indoor public spaces with the outdoors is “the most valuable thing” to get fresh air and natural daylight in, he said. 

In regions where the weather prohibits year-round outdoor access, Ito has seen a growing demand for biophilic design. “You bring the outdoors in, in a way,” he said. “We're seeing a lot more of that type of idea of simulating outdoors, or at least getting spaces that look outside so that you can get daylight.” He expects this trend to extend to meeting spaces, with a growing demand for outdoor meeting rooms.