5 steps to generate ROI from design

Architects at MR&H, from left: Albert Grau of Magma Hospitality Consulting (standing); Joan Balague of SLA Barcelona; Thierry Fourniret of Club Med; Luciano Mazza of HKS Architects; and Phil Jaffa of Scape Design Associates.

TARRAGONA, Spain — Architecture and design form the bedrock of a hospitality project. Because of that, there is a strong correlation between return on investment and project design. The stronger the design, the higher the overall return—not just in guest satisfaction, but also in real estate value at exit.

A grouping of designers touched on design in the hotel resort space during a panel at the Mediterranean Resort and Hotel Real Estate Forum, at PortAventura, here outside Barcelona.

1. Planning Time Is Key

A project needs a plan. Without one, and one that is carefully crafted well before any concrete is laid, you are already disadvantaged. Depending on the type of project, an owner should involve the master planner at the outset. "The earlier we are involved, the better," said John Goldwyn, VP and director of planning and real estate for WATG. "I synthesize the vision."

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According to Luciano Mazza, director of hospitality architecture for HKS Architects, before a concept is even introduced, there needs to be an overall vision of that the project will or should be. A strong start is "when an investor has a strong vision and is intelligent enough to share that with the architect and is open to changes," he said. 

Above all, "You need time in the beginning to find the right approach to a project and to understand the idea—it's all part of the overall process," said Joan Balague, partner at SLA Barcelona.

2. Not Every Site Is Right

Finding the right piece of land to build on has many considerations: location, sustainability, climate, topography and more. The one thing that is unique to each project, said Phil Jaffa, director of Scape Design Associates, is land. "No two sites are exactly the same," he said.

The first impression says it all, according to Mazza. "Listen to what the land tells you," he said. "Walk the site and make sure to put your ego aside.

3. Don't Fight The Land

One mistake a designer can make is imposing his or her vision or technique on land that isn't conducive to said vision. Better is to understand the parcel of land you'll be working on and bending to it rather than vice-versa. Doing so will allow you to create something that better blends into the environment and becomes part of it, rather than dissociate.

"Use unique features to tell a story, use the local environment," Jaffa said. "Work the project into the land by using contours. That's when the concepts fall into place. Let the land drive it."

4. Luxury's Limits

Understandably, investors are tough. They want to see their money used wisely and, even more, they want to make sure that their investment will pay off in the end. It's the reason they invest in hospitality in the first place.

Still, it's the architect and designer who knows best when it comes to the overall design, and important decisions, such as FF&E purchasing. Designers, then, have to coach and coax their employers.

"It's not just marble and gold," said Mazza. "You have to deliver a design that is beautiful and that can be maintained over the years. You also have to be conscious of the financial aspect."

The idea of luxury is also changing. It used to be about the marble and gold, as Mazza said, but today's luxury is as much a feeling or experience as it is a product. 

"How do you define luxury? asked Jaffa. "It’s space to me; room to breath; and the ability to connect with nature."

Ballague pointed to the idea of "inside-out design," because "being outside is so important." Especially in areas like the Mediterranean, where weather—good weather—plays such a vital role. 

"In the the Med, we are lucky with nature," said Thierry Fourniret, VP of architecture and design for Club Med. "We have to take advantage of it, from rooms to the outside."

In places like the Med, or areas on or close to water, it's key to not let buildings and structures dominate the landscape. "You want to see the sea, not a bunch of buildings," Jaffa said. "And you don't want bungalows atop each other, too."

Certainly, explained Mazza, the perception of luxury is changing. He alluded to a spa resort he is currently working on in India. The developer said: "My children have never seen a blue sky or star in sky," referring to Delhi smog. "That's true luxury," Mazza offered. 

5. How You Know A Winner

There is a saying in sports that an umpire or referee did his or her job well if the viewer didn't even know they were there. That's a lot like architecture and design. If you can create an environment so seamless and native that it literally dissolves into the landscape and into the guest's conscious, then you have done your job well. 

"My best compliment is: 'I don’t remember the architecture, but I loved my stay and experience,'" said Mazza. "That's what we seek to create."