Here at HIX, our guiding mantra for 2022 is a reminder that ‘great things will grow’. Indeed, where COVID has been a once-in-a-generation challenge for the hotel industry, not everything to emerge from the disruption has been a catastrophe; just a few years ago work-cations were the thing of fantasy and dark hotel kitchens the thing of schlocky horror films. Now they are the next big shifts in hospitality, and their innovative approaches to design and service are already driving change.
So whilst the old conventions are being bent and broken, new possibilities are growing in their place, and hotel design at large is being reconsidered as a series of ground-breaking questions are posed: What can hotels be? How should they function in this new world? Can we put wheels on them?
In the months leading up to HIX 2022 (17th & 18th November at Business Design Centre) we’ll be exploring the brightest new ideas driving hotel design and experience in our HIX/THINX column. Here you’ll find trend reports, interviews and think-pieces covering everything from guest demographics on the rise to newly launched food-tech platforms, complete with practical toolkits and actionable advice for designer and operator alike.
Ultimately this content will feed into the HIX 2022 conference programme, where a diverse roster of expert speakers will discuss the shifting sands of the hotel interiors experience as part of a deep-dive series of conversations and panels. For now, we’re kicking things off with a round-up of four lightbulb moments that have sparked conversation just three months into the year, and what these big ideas might mean for the future of the industry.
The Mobility of Things
When Hyundai announced its evolution from car company to a ‘smart mobility solutions provider’ late last year, this was of little consequence to the interior design world. However, the unveiling of its all-encompassing ‘metamobility’ concept at January’s Consumer Electronics Show is a different prospect entirely. Envisioning a world connected by smart robotics, the brand’s ‘mobility of things ecosystem’ would see environments of all shape and size capable of autonomous movement – be that modular vehicles, inanimate objects like tables and chairs given license to roam, or entire public spaces that can transform in line with changing demand.
In the hotel space, this could be applied at every level of operation, from self-driving luggage carts to portions of the room designed to break away and ferry guests around a locale. And Hyundai are not alone. Bringing these ideals squarely into the remit of hospitality design, a partnership between Accor, Citroën and JCDecaux is seeking to revolutionise urban mobility with branded service pods that would carry guests around a city. As such, the future of hotel design looks increasingly moveable, and with technology like Ori’s transforming room robotics making these new forms possible, this mobile world is closer than ever before.
A Seat at the Table
New launches like L’Epicerie – a chef’s table experience in the heart of Claridge’s kitchen – and The Hoxton Holborn’s Rondo La Cave – a wine bar / test lab / F&B incubator concept – have seen guests welcomed backstage to observe and participate in the F&B process beyond the final plate. Facilitating a level of interaction unheard of in conventional restaurant spaces, test kitchens and chef’s tables are transforming elements of menu development and culinary experimentation into moments of spontaneous theatre, and simultaneously bringing previously functional kitchen space into the realm of high-design.
With guests seeking out ever-personalised and unique experiences, projects like the intimate House of Joro – wherein the chef’s table serves as centrepiece between four guestrooms – see the lines between hotel public space and restaurant blurred for a new type take on culinary experience. Could this heightened level of participation and the ongoing dialogue between brand and guest it creates be a perfect antidote to the encroaching presence of impersonal delivery platforms? “People like to feel ownership of a space, especially if it’s in their neighbourhood,” says Julia Pearson, VP of F&B Development at Ennismore. “To be able to influence the menus of new spots is something people who don’t work in food will never otherwise get to do.”
The rise of digital nomadism and a newly minted work-from-anywhere contingent has seen brands like 25hours and Selina capitalise via continent-spanning membership and subscription models that consistently engage guests as they hop from one location to the next. Likewise, a wave of private members clubs in hotel spaces has encouraged new approaches to community creation, and the resulting spread of exclusive facilities designed for use by a hotel’s most loyal regulars is extending brand reach both within and beyond a project’s four walls.
Above loyalty points and in-house discounts, the addition of physical or experiential environments that can be unlocked with repeat patronage is proving a valuable asset for both guest and operator. The former is staying longer and seeking deeper connections with hotel space, whilst the latter is looking for a means to retain business as hotel-hopping becomes more commonplace. Additions like a member’s only swimming pool or an elevated co-working space away from the lunch rush might come at a price but can offer both enhanced privacy and closer connection in equal measure.
Over in Hong Kong, investors have been rushing to convert hotel assets into co-living facilities, leaving many wondering whether this is the early signal of a wider shift or simply an effort to diversify. But as Ovolo partners with Dash Living, and regional hotel-slash-rental players like Weave and Figment poach hospitality designers to reimagine their interiors, the home-hotel hybridisation is gaining momentum, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that these two mediums are heading towards a point of both aesthetic and functional intersection.
Hotels and shared living digs already share service touchpoints and design DNA, but as prominent voices criticise the flaws of the co-living market – namely a lack of space and the inequality of design at the more affordable end of the scale – this could be a prime opportunity for hoteliers to step in and save the model from itself. The long-term hotel residence has already proved popular, and with brands like The Student Hotel paving the way for mixed-use hospitality communes between long and short stay guests, hotel operators are in prime position to offer alternative living under the safety and comfort of a branded guarantee.
Prepare for lift off: Spatial design is going mobile, so make sure your product sheds any static tendencies in preparation for a future of flexible, adaptable movement.
Pull back the curtain: Guests want to look behind the scenes and see how things tick, from sustainability and waste reduction to the sources of their food – Instead of hiding this function, consider it as part of the wider experience and design.
Remember the name: Disused or underperforming space? Put an exclusive guest list on the door and see it take as guests form organic communities that live on past the duration of a stay.
Live in the moment: HotelCo-living isn’t just long-term occupation; take cues from residential spaces and consider introverts as well as extroverts… Remember, not everyone opting for this model is doing so for the social aspect.