4 ways to design hotels as community resources

Leveraging mobile devices to manage check-in, roomservice, payments and access to rooms offers convenience and protection for guests and staff. Photo credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus / jacoblund (touchless check-in)

The pandemic has gravely impacted several industries, but among the hardest hit is hospitality. With occupancy numbers dropping from 80+ percent to 20 percent and the hundreds of layoffs taking place in a matter of weeks, hotel operators, once looking forward to a thriving conference and vacation season, are now scrambling to survive.

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Today, hotel owners and developers are asking how to best adapt in this new reality. One possibility is to create adjustable spaces that can help their communities in the face of natural disasters or the next pandemic, and even keep their staff employed.

Taking a health and wellness approach is not only critical to protect employees and guests, it’s also good business. Following are ways hospitality and other industry leaders can implement resilience-focused design.

1. Check air quality and materials use.

Now is the time to revisit mechanical systems to better understand how to improve air quality, circulation, and help reduce contaminants and pollution in the breathing space. For properties being considered as alternative care sites, it’s important to look for direct room exhaust potential to accommodate negative pressure—an isolation technique used in hospitals and medical centers to prevent cross-contamination from room to room—and HEPA filtering. Countertop, flooring and wall surface materials that can be effectively cleaned and sterilized, such as quartz counters and luxury vinyl flooring, also will be needed.

2. Consider flexible solutions for care settings.

Consider modular construction that can enable hotel properties to quickly transform into short or long-term health-care sites. In addition to reducing material waste during the initial construction, prefabricated, high-quality modular bathrooms can utilize one prototype design with hygienic materials and surfaces. Other ideas include adding sinks in corridors or in janitors’ closets, installing cleanable partitions to subdivide hotel rooms, minimizing contact surfaces like door locks and installing wireless nurse calls and cameras.

3. Expand food-and-beverage services.

Hotel food facilities are a tremendous resource that can nimbly be converted to support emerging needs in times of crisis. While hotel bars and restaurants may need to shut down and be cordoned off, provisions can be made to keep the back-of-the-house spaces and kitchens functioning. These areas can provide roomservice, serve health-care workers and potentially patients. Other options include opening kitchens to offer daily meals for hotel employees or partnering with local food pantries to help communities in need.

4. Implement touchless technology where possible.

Minimizing the number of surfaces that require touch is necessary in our current environment. Voice- and motion-activated control systems that can operate elevator buttons, doors, faucets and other surfaces will become the new standard. As hotels return to normal operations, leveraging mobile devices to manage check-in, roomservice, payments and access to rooms offers convenience and protection for guests and staff.

Beyond the mandate to ensure health and wellness, industry leaders and operators have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconfigure hotels and design multifaceted spaces that help them easily transition to community service centers when needed. In doing so, the industry can continue to prepare for and function in difficult circumstances, as well as play a vital role in the overall recovery.

Steven Upchurch is a principal and co-managing director of Gensler Dallas. Randy Guillot is a principal and global health and wellness leader at Gensler’s Chicago office.