Industry Update
Opinion Article 5 June 2020

The Meaning Of Space For Luxury Hotels & Hospitality: Part 3

By Suzanne Godfrey, Consultant and lecturer in luxury and luxury hospitality

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In the final article of this three-part series exploring space in relation to hotels and luxury hospitality, Suzanne Godfrey, consultant and lecturer in luxury and luxury hospitality, looks at the opportunities it creates for hoteliers to create space and to meet the needs and expectations of their guests today. See part 1 - See part 2

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The opportunity for hoteliers to create a Sense of space:

Having explored what space means in the context of luxury hotels and hospitality, how can hoteliers create space or the feeling of space to meet the needs and the expectations of their guests today, as well as respond to what may, in light of the coronavirus outbreak and people's recent experiences with it, be a growing consciousness for space - whether physical, social or personal - in the future?

Creating more physical space - whether in room size, corridors or public areas, through rebuilding and/or redesign, and offering a better outlook or aspect - in most cases, is not practical. However, there are things that hoteliers can be thinking about in relation to space and luxury hospitality; and how to create or offer that feeling of space that guests may be looking for.

Three key areas that I see include: (1) Space in relation to the brand, (2) Creating space through design, and (3) Providing privacy and personal space.

1. Space in relation to the brand

Defining space and what it means in relation to the brand is about who you are as a brand and how you reflect this in relation to the use of physical and public or social space, as well as in respect of personal space. It comes from:

  • looking at the brand's identity and defining what space means in the context of the brand's culture and personality;
  • defining the brand's attitude to space and how this might translate, for example, into architecture, design and choice of materials and furnishings that, over time, may become recognizable brand features; as well as
  • defining the relationship the brand wants to have with people, specifically clients or guests, but also how colleagues (employees) relate to each other, which is reflected in how the brand behaves, delivers service and, ultimately, defines the experience the brand wants to create for a guest.

Take, for example, the relationship the brand has with people. Some hotel brands may have a more casual, informal relationship with their guests based on who they are as a brand; whilst others may have a more formal one that is more appropriate to their brand culture. The W Hotels, for example - more a lifestyle than luxury brand - has a more informal and relaxed culture. The brand focuses on creating familiarity and adopts a very friendly manner. This is expressed in how they approach and greet guests. Overall, the relationship is much more interactive. This is perfectly appropriate for W and the brand it wants to be. It's also the experience guests expect to get from a W Hotel and may be one of the reasons for them choosing to stay there.

The brand's relationship and attitude to space may also depend on other factors that are related to the context, influenced, for example, by:

  • the location;
  • the primary purpose of the hotel or resort and guests' reasons for staying there - business, pleasure or both; as well as
  • the cultural make-up of the hotel's core clientele, which requires culturally-sensitive responsiveness.

Whilst these aspects will need to be considered on a property by property basis - and may evolve over time - how space is defined in each location needs to originate from an understanding of the brand, so it remains a reflection of who you are. This, in itself, will reinforce the brand's identity and may provide a basis for brand loyalty.

How the brand defines space obviously influences (2) and (3) below.

2. Creating space through design

Creating a feeling of space - or being more spacious - than the actual physical dimensions is about space planning and design. Whilst this largely depends on the expertise of a good designer and/or architect, the following are some areas where I see opportunities to "create" space:

  • Creating a sense of space

Creating a sense of space through:

  • interior design - the use of light - natural or artificial and mirrors; as well as, for example, choice of materials, fabrics and colors - see Aman example below;
  • spatial design - proximity to things defined by the interior layout, design and furniture, as well as in relation to people and managing social density at any one time or place. This includes service design and the positioning of service elements as part of the servicescape - the physical environment in which service takes place - and its effectiveness in delivering service, which may extend from check-in, to access to facilities, to the seating and table arrangements of restaurants, bars and terraces.

In recent weeks, we have all become more spatially aware, particularly in the context of proximity to people, with hotels having to look at the design of their servicescape, amongst other things, and make changes to meet the requirements of social distancing.

  • Decluttering

Less is more! Decluttering relates to the space and arrangement of furniture in a room and includes, for example, the style of furniture, the decoration and the quantity of pictures or ornaments and how they are displayed. This does not mean it has to be stark or minimalistic, although minimalistic design can create the impression of space in some instances - see Aman example below. It also does not mean that it can't still be homey!

  • Ambience and mood

Creating the right ambience for the guest that conveys a sense of space through how the guest emotionally feels. This may involve using design and styling to create a more relaxed environment. Or, the use of sensorial aspects, such as color, scents, music and natural sound effects that are designed to calm the senses and bring a feeling of peace and tranquility.

Whilst much of the above is the domain of an architect and/or designer, it's important that they understand the brand and create a space that reflects the brand and it's not design for design's sake.

3. Providing privacy and personal space

Privacy and personal space for guests is partly defined by the brand's behavior - how the brand acts, what it does and how. It is, therefore, directly related to the attitude and behavior of employees in relation to the guest, as well as how service is delivered. It includes recognizing the guest's need or desire for space and tailoring the experience by creating time and emotional space on an individual, guest-by-guest basis. It also relates to proximity to people and respect for personal space, particularly in a social context. This extends from the interaction and relationship between guests and employees, as well as with other guests.

As we emerge from a Covid-19 pandemic, guests may be more conscious of personal space and having it or, alternatively, be craving more human interaction and contact after months of social distancing.

Some concepts to consider in relation to personal space and providing privacy for guests include:

  • Space in time

Giving the guest time to relax: This involves:

  • Providing an overall experience that respects the guest's need for space in time. For example, offering activities such as meditation, yoga, massages, as well as other traditional or non-traditional therapies; and creating opportunities for a digital detox.
  • Giving the appearance of being unscheduled. This includes flexibility in the arrangement of activities and meals, as well as room service and hotel operations that affect the guest.
  • Providing relaxed yet seamlessly efficient service that reflects national culture and respects cultural differences, particularly in relation to the guest's concept of time. For example, what might mean "on time" and "efficient" in one culture, may be perceived as rushed and stressful in another.
  • Recognizing personality differences that may affect how an individual emotionally feels in certain situations. This may, for example, depend on the guest's degree of openness to experiences, extroversion or agreeableness, which may influence their behaviour and how they respond to interactions and service delivery.

Understanding the cultural differences and personality of each individual guest is obviously not always possible. But, over time, through observation, knowing the guest and having a deeper understanding of cultural dimensions and personality traits, it is possible to be more aware of the specific characteristics of regular or long staying guests and thereby appreciate how comfortable they are likely to feel in a particular situation. This will help to create space in time and provide a more relaxing experience for them.

  • Intuitive, anticipatory service

Providing exceptional service that is intuitive, subtle and/or invisible, relies on people and process and requires both to be highly tuned. It also requires delivering service that is not intrusive. A number of years ago, I went to a renowned Michelin star restaurant of a celebrated French chef. It was a family celebration and I was really looking forward to it. I appreciate good service, but on this occasion, the service was so efficient that it was intrusive. The waiter hovered by my shoulder all evening invading my personal space. It affected the interaction of others at the table and the overall ambiance. There was no space or time permitted to relax and to simply enjoy the experience and the occasion. I never went back.

Exceptional service that is anticipatory requires:

  • being attentive to guests' needs and alert to situations and particular circumstances, but without being intrusive;
  • being observant, apprehending guests' needs or desires, and responding appropriately;
  • a degree of contextual sensitivity - see below; and
  • knowing the guest and, for example, their particular habits, likes and dislikes - data which can be collected over time and shared as part of a personal guest profile.

  • Contextual sensitivity

Contextual sensitivity is about knowing and reading the moment and mood of the guest and being able to respond appropriately whatever the occasion. This includes:

  • sensitivity to the situation - this may be affected by the weather, location, time of day or other external forces or aspects that relate to the context; as well as
  • knowing the guest and their particular circumstances - this should include the reason for their stay and who they are traveling with, as well as other information that may be of value and relevant to the situation.

Guest information may be directly or indirectly obtained both in advance and during the guest's stay through frontline employees from reception to room service, as well as guest relations and hotel managers. This may occur through interactions with the guest, in the course of natural conversation, as well as being observant and attentive, which includes picking up on chance comments or remarks. For new guests particularly, the Internet may also be a source of information. To be useful, this information is best shared through a formalized feedback process that respects guest privacy and is made available to relevant departments and individuals so they can use it during the guest's stay.

  • Management of guest interactions

Managing the relationship with the guest requires knowing when and how to interact with them, being professional and appropriate in all situations, and ensuring the guest gets the personal and emotional space they want or need. This comes from:

  • knowing the guest and having an emotional connection with them - this is something that is strengthened over time;
  • being able to read the guest's body language and respond appropriately - this may depend on the individual and the context, for example, one day, a guest may be happy to engage, on another, they may prefer to be left alone;
  • being culturally sensitive to a particular guest and the situation with respect to spatial distance - people of different cultures have a different perspective of space and what is felt to be an encroachment on personal space, which may create discomfort versus what is acceptable, and may also respond differently to spatial cues;
  • managing guest interactions and being sensitive to the dynamic between guests - this is sometimes difficult to control, but relies on being culturally and contextually sensitive; and finally
  • respecting the relationship the brand wants to have with the guest.

Case Study: Aman

One luxury resort and hotel brand that doesn't (yet) have a property in Dubai, but provides a good example of some of the ideas presented here, is Aman.

Aman describes itself as a destination for "space and privacy" and has defined what space means in relation to the brand. It uses architecture and design to create space within its properties and also focuses on providing privacy and respecting guest's personal space. In so doing, it claims to instill "a sense of peace" to all who stay there.

How does Aman do this?
From the opening of its first property - Amanpuri, which itself means "place of peace" - on the island of Phuket, Thailand in 1988; Aman adopted a design aesthetic and approach to space planning, which demonstrated an understanding of space and how to create peace and harmony that defined a new era in the design for luxury hotels and resorts. The interior and exterior design, for example, included large open spaces. Guest rooms incorporated what they call "oversized" en-suite bathrooms with dressing areas, terraces and pavilions. There was also extensive use of natural light and materials, as well as mirrors. The brand also embraced a minimalistic approach based on the concept "less is more". This extended to the relatively small number of guest rooms - at Amanpuri there are just 40 - in order to provide guests with the space and privacy they wanted to offer.

Aman's mission, which reflects who they are as a brand, is, "to cultivate a sense of connection, stillness and peace through carefully considered architecture, which provides guests with the opportunity to slow down, find respite from the rigors of everyday life, and reach a deeper bond with both the self and the world that surrounds them." Although the architecture and design are adapted to each location to reflect the local environment and context, their design aesthetic, which reflects how people think and feel, became a blueprint for future properties and part of the brand's identity.

Their philosophy also extends to their service ethos. Aman's service is highly personalized. It is akin to what the Japanese call "omotenashi" - the art of Japanese hospitality; which is based on anticipatory service and deeply rooted in the concept of caring. Aman recognizes that each guest is different with unique desires and needs and aims to anticipate these and deliver service that has been described as "one step ahead of the guest". This requires a profound understanding of the guest and maintaining a detailed personal guest file that is shared across properties globally. It also requires relevant and frequent training, and empowering employees to make decisions that will create a meaningful guest experience. The very high staff to guest ratio, which is well above the industry norm, obviously helps as well.

A lot of the above - especially providing privacy and personal space; relies on employee and management training, developing people skills, being culturally sensitive and having an understanding of personality traits, as well as employee attitude and temperament. It's not just about what you say, but how you say it and the tonality used in guest interactions. It's also about what you do and how you do it, which includes awareness of not just the guest's body language, but also your own. This relates to all employees including management and how individuals work together as a team. Some things can't be taught, but a lot of this can!

It also involves clearly defining the brand's service philosophy, which reflects the brand's culture and personality. Then making sure everyone understands this with training and incentives tailored to deliver it. Ultimately, it's about knowing who you are as a brand and creating the relationship and delivering the experience the brand wants to have with their guests.

References:

  • Hall, E.T. (1990). The Silent Language. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
  • Hall, E.T. (1989). Beyond Culture (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Anchor Books.
  • Personal communication with Aman, April 2020.

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