Industry Update
Opinion Article26 May 2020

COVID-19 and the Ensuing Design Changes to Hospitality Spaces

By Beatrice Venturini, Hospitality Insights content editor at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne

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An interview with Monika Moser, Regional Managing Director at Wilson Associates, specialists in innovating hospitality architecture and design for luxury and boutique brands. Monika also featured as guest speaker in last month's EHL webinar "The Impact of COVID-19 on Hotel Real Estate", where her views on the inevitable changes to the future look of hospitality design shed a practical light on what hotels and restaurants post COVID-19 should be bearing in mind, along with the even more important theme of shifting values of their future customers.

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1. Had you perceived changes in the value-system of customers prior to the pandemic?

We had already noticed a shift in values that was beginning to emerge before the pandemic: The notion of luxury had recently changed from the idea of power and owning opulence towards more inclusive experiences with a focus on generosity and a caring society. We truly hope that these changes will bring an increased interest in the ethical behavior of a social economy, with an accent on sustainability at all levels. The new clients are sophisticated and curious, they have travelled and experienced various cultures. They now strive for meaningful, maybe more local travelling, significant relationships and purposeful encounters. The current situation will accelerate further changes in client behavior on many levels: Not only a more caring attitude, but clearly new concerns regarding safety and hygiene.

2. On a very practical level, what changes to design and space do you think the hospitality sector needs to envisage post-COVID-19?

Hospitality will naturally have to adapt its designs towards these changes. While post-COVID-19 will bring along a fair share of requirements in social distancing and increased cleaning standards, we believe that clients will search for a more spiritual and emotional dimension in their travels. Practically, there may be less requests for buffet services in F&B outlets, replaced by more in-room dining, touch-free interactions through online check-in and room key cards on smartphones. Design of public spaces and hotel rooms will require an important change in the selection of materials, using less carpets and rugs, and more tiles and stone.

In addition, we hope that there will be an increased request for sustainable design, sourcing local materials and products, and a return to craftmanship. Biophilic design elements (incorporating nature-based elements into the architecture) shall become an important part of our design proposals as to increase a connection to the natural world, focusing on health and the well-being of clients and employees.

3. How can the world of commercial design balance the need for human interaction, community and inclusivity with the opposing themes of extreme hygiene and social distancing?

Designers and architects, as well operations, will have to think differently in allocating spaces to various outlets. Public areas might become larger as we will have to adapt to social distancing. Restaurants will have to balance the requirements of less tables and seats with their profitability needs. Clients might look into hotels that provide larger rooms with various options to work, live, eat in the refuge of their private space. It might be difficult in the future to convince clients to continue to go to hotel spa or fitness areas as they might want to experience these services in the security and privacy of their room. Hotel operations will have to start looking into new and increased cleaning standards and might want to look into best practices in hygiene from the medical sector.

However, the most important changes will start at the construction, where architects will have to integrate more sophisticated solutions, for example in regard to air cleanliness and filtering. Technology will continue to play an important role in the future moving towards facilitating less touchpoints and a healthy environment.

I personally do not think that client swill refrain from seeking human interactions or being part of a community. However, I strongly believe they will be more selective, more meaningful and oriented towards the world outside the commercial spaces. Hotel operations might focus more on increasing revenue with service offers to the neighborhood as opposed to seeking for people to spend in their outlets. All in all, as most crisis situations, this can be an opportunity for investors to think differently.

4. In the EHL webinar, you mentioned designs based on "engaging the customer and invigorating the soul", along with themes of life experience, innovation, consciousness and inclusivity. Do you think these themes can remain intact post-pandemic?

A year ago, our company started a global turnaround strategy, reinforcing our values towards these themes. We are convinced that our designs can engage human experiences and our mission is to foster profound engagement through innovative design solutions. As it happens, we strongly believe that the post-COVID-19 period will increase the need for a social engagement at all levels. This certainly requires the curiosity of our designers who are ready to embrace these changes with enthusiasm.

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Beatrice Venturini

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