Connection, Compassion, Community

Renowned interior architect, HIX friend and Lobby member, Claire Richmond considers hotel design and the very human conditions of loneliness, being alone and ultimately being all together.

Design trends are often a mirror of the time and we can use them to see how values change over the years. Previously many design conversations focussed on the offering by discussing topics such as ‘the rise of design-led hotels’ or ‘remote working in hotel lobbies’. Then, they included health and wellbeing topics such as ‘engaging wellness in hotel design’ followed by ethical topics such as ‘strategies for sustainable hotels’. 

More recently, we’ve been taking about people’s feelings and perception. Seminar panels have covered ‘how to make guests feel safe’, or ‘the benefits of feeling part of a community’ and ‘how can we produce soulful design?’, showing an emphasis on design that is felt. I can’t help but think that these most recent discussions suggest a growing interest in connection, compassion and understanding within our industry.

Currently, many hotel concepts centre around the guests personality, their values or group identity but perhaps now we will also see a growing trend of hotels focusing on humanity. Humanity has always been part of good hospitality, it’s more easily seen in hotels with high staff to guest ratio, but we could see this focus escalate in many existing hotels or become the USP in new hotels. It’s too easy for routines intended to improve efficiency or professionalism to create detachment and diminish initiative. Imagine seeing more hotels that hold ‘listening and understanding’ as their main objectives. We could see more hotels where guests become citizens rather than consumers, participants rather than observers, resulting in staff asking the questions, rushing less and stopping to talk more.  

There’s a reason why now is a good time to focus on this. Across western society, feelings of loneliness and separation have been growing for decades. Remember Bridget Jones singing ‘All by Myself’ back in 2001? Even then, the increasing pace of life made us less social, and our desire for efficiency meant we avoided ‘unnecessary’ conversations. Less people are mixing with other citizens generally, so it’s not surprising there has been a significant rise in people identifying as lonely, especially the under 35-year-olds. It’s not just about family and friends, loneliness can be a feeling of detachment or isolation from fellow citizens, employers and the local community which is why people missed talking to the bus conductor or attending parent and child groups in 2020. This is where hotels can step in and provide a service to the community. 

We see this growing desire for connection with the increase in social hotels like The Standard or Citizen M or co-living spaces like Locke Living. There are already some venues in hospitality that give back to the local area like the Green Rooms, Wood Green, where hotel residents and local creatives host free cultural events. Also, add-on services have responded to this need for face-to-face interaction, for example, Be Mate offers to pair guests with a ‘City Mate’ to greet them and show them around a city as they arrive, this one-on-one connection can have a huge impact.

Design can play a part in creating environments that encourage people to socialise, but human connections cannot be achieved purely by design, the heart of the hotel’s community is the staff and its guests. At this point we should note that loneliness is not the same as being alone, you can be alone and not be lonely, or you can be surrounded by people and still feel loneliness if you feel unheard or unseen which is why listening and understanding are paramount. Staff engagement and continuity will develop the community and if people feel they can make an impact they are more likely to engage and to stay. Real-life interactions build our empathy and connections and in fact, brain scans show that when we interact, brain waves synchronise and people’s emotions can be mapped onto our brain, and we experience their emotion. So, positive feelings like excitement are contagious and right now some collective joy wouldn’t be a bad thing. Imagine seeing more hotels elevating the position of the floor staff, after all they are the ones building the relationships, creating the atmosphere, bringing delight and making memories for, and with the guests. 

2020 can be a catalyst to start the reversal of the rise in loneliness and hotels can play their part by creating connections with people and restoring or growing new communities. If our desire for compassion has changed then our metrics to measure good operational performance and good design can also change, values such as solidarity, community, togetherness and kindness should be equal to efficiency, productivity and professionalism. 

The theme of ‘All Together Now’ and hotels will be presented and discussed at HIX 2021 in London, 18-19 November. Register your interest here.