Ahead of a HIX Talks panel exploring the future of inclusive design, we look at the different issues hospitality designers will face when creating truly accessible spaces.
The hotel industry has historically operated under highly segmented categories, with clear distinctions between price-point, atmosphere, family-friendliness and other attributes. Indeed, a high degree of exclusivity remains a key selling point for some of the most famous properties and storied brands in the world, and the luxury segment especially still markets itself as largely inaccessible save for a select few guest profiles.
For the next generation of guests, however, issues around inclusivity and broader social responsibility have been cited as key consumption drivers. 73% of Gen Z guests say they only purchase from brands they believe in, and 70% are more likely to spend with companies they consider ethical. Likewise as hospitality becomes more localised, and hotels begin to occupy more tight-knit communities, the question of accessibility rears its head too. As such, there will be both a commercial and social incentive to democratise the next generation of hospitality spaces and ensure few to zero usage barriers.
In this instalment of HIX/THINX, we ask what the future of inclusive and accessible hotel design might look like.
Whilst outreach initiatives, events and training can go a long way in raising awareness, to be truly accessible the spatial experience is of an inclusive space is required to factor in a wide range of needs. Consideration for differently abled guests, be that physical or sensory, should not mean auxiliary fixtures or add ons but rather something built into the foundations. In this context, providing a chairlift by the front door is the first step, but the real design challenge is be to create an entrance experience that is the same for all users, regardless of the disability.
Similarly, the spaces must work equally well for the staff that use them everyday, who must feel comfortable operating in them if they are to pass this sentiment along to guests. Hilton’s Heart of House programme has been doing just this for some time, drawing through design elements from the wider guest-facing portions to generate a sense of equality. In more localised settings this staffing element will be crucial, as guests are much more likely to respond to representation in a project that being faced with strangers.
Similarly, the interior design products guests use – whether that’s a shower fitting with braille or a curtain fabric sourced from a local culture with ties to the area – will bear some responsibility too. Exhibiting at HIX 2023, Kueco’s Axess range designed in collaboration with F. A. Porsche to provide practical inclusivity solutions like grab bars, railings and support rails for elderly guests as a sleek, minimalist presence.
The first step in designing any successful solution is gathering the data. Organisations like BeInclusive Hospitality are doing great work with their inside hospitality reports, capturing a wide range of underrepresented viewpoints from all levels of the UK industry and providing a snapshot of minority experiences in hospitality spaces. Read their 2023 report here.
The next step is to consider these voices within the design process. As Tarek Merlin, co-founder of London studio Feix&Merlin and co-owner of Corner – an LGBTQ+ cafe in South London, notes: “It’s about being considerate of others. Inclusive design means to design more equitably, broadening the conventional approach – which might traditionally have excluded certain people – and replacing that with a strategy that starts, at the very least, by thinking about how a space can be as usable as possible for as many people as possible. The objective should be to remove barriers, change perceptions and be welcoming to all.”
Lastly, with a suitably accessible and inclusive physical space constructed, the stage needs to be open to a wide range of content that encourages further engagement with these issues. Hospitality venues have been used effectively in recent years as a means to educate guests about sustainability issues, and with the right approach, are equally capable of doing the same here.
Want to know more? Some of the ideas here will also be discussed during the HIX Talks programme, with a panel featuring Lorraine Copes (Founder, BeInclusive Hospitality), Tarek Merlin, Director and Co-founder, Feix&Merlin, and Alexander Matthams, Senior Inclusive Design Consultant, Buro Happold.
Cover image: Corner / Feix&Merlin