Michael Adams Hotel Design Trends

Not Easy Being Green

July 07, 2006

By Michael Adams

In the midst of so much talk about increasingly extravagant hotels and services, the question is begged more and more frequently, “What about green design. What’s being done about environmental issues in the hotel industry?” Truth is, not much. At a recent panel I attended, one designer said, “Among my colleagues, it’s important to think it’s important.” In other words, lots of lip service, little action. One architect, Kip Richardson of Ankrom Moisan Architects, relates of his experience with a panel of hoteliers who were grumbling about high energy costs cutting into their bottom lines. When he asked if energy efficient design was part of their future plans, he says he was met with bank stares and the response “no client demand.”

Another case in point: Our recent HD Awards for Creative Achievement had a category for Green Design. We had an abysmal response of two entries in the category, and neither was deemed exceptional by the judges. (They did choose another property, the Earth Spa in Hua Hin, Thailand, which was not entered in the Green category, for its sustainable excellence.)

So, sad news for the tree huggers? Not necessarily. Signs point to a greater awareness across the board. Our magazine holds an annual Green luncheon as part of our Las Vegas show, and this year attendance doubled. This year’s American Institute of Architects convention had a huge emphasis on Green design in its conference session, including a keynote by uber-conservationist Robert Kennedy Jr.

You’ve probably been to a hotel where they ask you to conserve energy by reusing towels and linens. Fair enough, and a good start, but as one writer put it, that’s especially risible in a place like Las Vegas, where waste and energy profligacy are of monumental proportions.
As Richardson points out, as revenue growth slows in the hotel industry (as it inevitably will), that bottom line will be increasingly scrutinized, and cost-savings measures that seem insignificant now when times are good may loom in importance. He points to some easy measures available now that can immediately affect profits: automated sensors that turn off lights and heat when guests leave the room; dual flush toilets; lighting retrofitted with energy efficient bulbs; energy misers on vending machines and appliances.

Despite a current administration that is virulently hostile to environmental concerns, the public mindset may be shifting. Richardson points to the banking community, whose members are more and more examining investment opportunities for their sustainability and social responsibility.
Naturally, some of the changes in hotels will come with a higher price tag for consumers. The real test of an attitudinal sea change will be if travelers are willing to pay more green for Green.

H.O.T. Topics

July 06, 2006

By Michael Adams

For the past two years Hospitality Design magazine has co-sponsored (with Gettys, a Chicago-based design firm) a Hotel of Tomorrow project (aka H.O.T.) that allows industry folk to prognosticate on just what the guest room of the future might look like in 20, 30, 50 years. Naturally, a lot of the ideas that have come from these sessions are pure Samantha Stephens: (“You walk into your room and think of a location—like a Polynesian resort—and suddenly coconut trees and a sandy beach appear before your eyes!”)

But after wild speculation and a day of ideation, participants (many of them product manufacturers) repair to their labs for a few months and emerge with ideas that seem well within the realm of possibility. Among them:

• High-quality room service food via a delivery system in 30 seconds or less.
• Bed fabrics that can’t stain, are microbial, renewable, and automatically adjust to body temperature, allowing them to heat or cool. (and they promise they can make the fabrics vibrate, too!)
• Bathrooms will be totally experiential, with sheets of water delivering vitamin/mineral supplements and walls and floors broadcasting images of alternative locations.
• Carpets with fiber optic technology that, when stepped upon in a darkened room will guide a guest to bathroom, closet, or window.
• A living wall, covered in any ivy-like plant nourished by integral grow lights and a concealed watering system. The wall provides oxygen-rich air, sound insulation—and periodic blooms!
• A bed environment that will automatically cancel out noise and light, make automatic comfort adjustments, and assist with jet lag.
• A lamp that will turn during the day (as flowers do) to seek out sunlight that allows it to power itself at night. Electricity is replaced by “flower power.”

You’ll be happy to know that meetings appurtenances were not neglected. At the last H.O.T. session, one team devised a conference chair that made automatic ergonomic adjustments, had a built-in microphone, massage capability, and performed simultaneous translation in several languages.

Don’t look for these advances this year. But it’s comforting to know that our personal well-being—and the environment—are front and center in so many of these ideas.

Embracing the Experience

July 04, 2006

By Michael Adams

Having recently moderated two panels of hotel owner/operators, the most recent in Hong Kong, I can report that the latest buzzword embraced by major brands is “experience.” Not that it’s a new concept by any means. The word was first used as a hospitality concept by authors Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine several years ago for their book “The Experience Economy,” but it is just beginning to take hold at the upper reaches of the executive suites of hotel companies. (Disney learned this lesson years ago and are credited by Gilmore and Pine as the exemplars of giving a guest not just a room with bed and bath, but a total “experience” that leaves him or her with a great deal more than a list of mini-bar and telephone charges at the end of the stay.)

Hotel chains are in a competitive dither trying to out-experience each other, giving customers everything from a custom-downloaded i-Pod to (in one Indian resort) the chance to become a mahout by adopting an elephant for the length of a stay.

Hotel designers are rising to the challenge by creating environments probably far removed from home sweet home. Having already conquered the bed (how long has it been since you’ve slept in an uncomfortable hotel bed?) and the bath (spa amenities abound), they’re now on to technology, lighting, and stylistic touches that are so attractive that most are available for purchase. Rooms that used to boast all the comforts of home now have become showrooms to make homes resemble the haute look of hotels.

But here’s hoping we don’t lose the human touch. Hoteliers on both of these panels I mentioned rejected the idea of the human-free check-in process that’s come to be standard on most airlines. “We’ll never give up the human touch,” one of them asserted, and all agreed.

That’s fine by me, as long as we can improve the human touch. A recent check-in to a Las Vegas hotel where I’ve been a guest maybe 12 times in the past seven years founf me dealing with a very pleasant desk clerk who asked (very pleasantly), “Is his your first trip to our hotel?” Even in a very busy Las Vegas property, isn’t there the technology available to let them know I’m a frequent visitor? That small gesture of recognition would go a long way to creating an experience for me.

The Power of Details

July 03, 2006

By Michael Adams

As the editor of Hospitality Design magazine, whose readers are largely comprised of architects, interior designers, and owner/operators of  hotels, restaurants, resorts, spas, nightclubs, and other public venues, I have scant contact with professional meeting planners, but that was not always the case. In a previous incarnation, I was an editor for some years at Successful Meetings, and became rather intimately acquainted with planners’ needs/wants/hopes/fears, etc. and always stood in awe of the demands of the profession on a planner’s time, patience, sense of humor . . . and feet.

There are ways of course that these two aspects of my career intersect—hotel design.  Few people travel more than the professional planner, and few are more dependent on an efficient, secure, dependable property than those who have the well-being of dozens, if not thousands, of atteendees in their palms.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that we are in something of a design vortex. Television channels abound with amateur and professional designers alike presumably changing the lives of ordinary folk by bringing paint and new furniture to bear on a series of frumpy rooms.  Travelers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about design, no longer content with lumpy beds, dime-store paintings, soiled coverlets, and poor bathroom lighting. Even mid-range and economy hotel chains are beginning to understand that creative design is a marketable tool and says as much about their brand as an efficient staff or a price points.

But cool design strokes don’t excuse designers from overlooking the little things, and those continue to vex not only travelers, but other designers.  Henry Wong, an architect from Wong Gregersen Dabrus Architects in Toronto has spent the last 15 years gathering pet peeves from travelers all over the world, and their complaints—from inadequate and inconvenient outlets to glass walls separating bed from bath—form a cautionary primer for designers: don’t get hung up on beauty and style if you’re overlooking the practical details. 

Henry’s entertaining research can be found on www.wgdarchitects.com (click on “Forum”) and covers every conceivable category, from lobby and HVAC to security and elevators.  It’s an illuminating look at the power of details (it’s peppered with numerous quotes from respondees), and a lesson to hotel designers that beauty is fine, but it’s ease of operation that wins loyal hearts.

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