What do we think about when we think about excellent hotels? For many, the benchmarks have long been impeccable Swiss-trained service, design values that align with or anticipate the latest aesthetic trends, and the promise of an experience that could never be found at home. But for a sector and clientele still navigating the disruptive sea change of the early 2020s, do these ideals still hold up? If not, what might the new benchmarks be? We’re glad you asked.
Disconnect and Disentangle
According to a recent study, three in five teens and young adults say their generation spends too much time looking at screens. Indeed, when much of the world’s day-to-day function now relies on such devices, it has become incredibly difficult to avoid digital distraction. However, following lengthy lockdowns with only this technology for company in some cases, a screen-time reckoning is now on the cards.
Gen Z guests in particular are seeking off-grid experiences, or at least those that provide some breathing room from the encroaching digital tide. As noted in Sparks & Honey’s Gen Z 2025 report: “In a world where data can always find you, hiding from it will become an increasing premium. The ultimate marker of success won’t be measured in Gen Z’s working hours, relationships or other social currencies. It’ll be disappearing off grid – and not being found, or tracked, by anyone not designated by the disappeared party.”
For hotels, this does not mean providing complete social isolation, rather a form of disconnected intimacy that strips away the scale of globalised modern living and focuses on meaningful social experiences that counter the artificiality of zoom meetings. And whilst the degree to which hotels can remove all guests from the anxieties of the last few years will be paramount, for younger guests especially – soon to be the dominant market consumers – the consideration of evolving privacy values tops the list.
No longer is it enough to place guests in close proximity to cultural institutions; in the new hospitality landscape hotels must become the source. Whether that’s partnering with existing institutions like PUBLIC hotel’s link-up with Brooklyn cabaret troupe House of X, or in-house initiatives like The Ned’s New Music Mondays, establishing hotels as node on the artistic and entertainment map reduces the need for guests to look elsewhere for their fix.
A growing number of live events, residences, pop ups and collaborations have extended the reach of hotels, and in this sense one of the most valuable assets for future brands will be an experienced and insightful programmer. With a dedicated finger on the pulse of both local and global movements in music, art, film and literature, hotels can respond to the beat of the world around them and so too work towards setting the agenda themselves.
How far hoteliers can lead the cultural conversation – not just react to it – will set them out as spaces with much more fluidity and flexibility than traditional venues. For guests, meanwhile, this authentic connection with the creative fabric of a community will go a long way to setting a project apart in both crowded urban markets and far-out rural spots alike.
Guilt Free Sustainability
The sheer amount of conversation around sustainability these last few years has seen the topic become oversaturated. That’s not to say these efforts aren’t appreciated, rather a slate of green initiatives are to be expected from modern hotels, and standing out or being hailed as ‘excellent’ in this field now takes real, tangible innovation to truly break through.
Or does it? Perhaps a shift in perspective would be equally effective. Beyond the hotel design bubble sustainability is not as influential a driver for the everyday guest. However, translating these efforts into the interior space itself – see the zero-waste styling of Mo de Movimiento for inspiration – is a more memorable and immersive means of communicating these ideals.
Unfortunately, when a hotel experience is defined by how sustainable and green it is, it can have the adverse effect of bringing sharply into focus how unsustainable and decidedly un-green the guest’s normal day-to-day life is. That doesn’t mean hotels should stop trying to reduce their footprints and minimise their impact, but rather the messaging around these efforts should be realigned with the evolving conversation around these issues.
Embracing the niche
The fracturing of the hospitality market into increasingly specific functions – from a Japanese hotel dedicated to live-in artists to one-off comic-book character tie-in London restaurants – has seen hoteliers staking claims in in hyper-specific communities and carving out spaces with limited scope but considerable depth. Long gone are the days of being everything to everyone; instead, the capacity for hotels to create venues and experiences that appeal to increasingly particular guest profiles will reign supreme.
The David Rockwell-designed Civilian in New York’s Theatre District knows its clientele will predominantly be Broadway fans and leans into this with a combination of stage-esque design details and targeted marketing. Likewise, the Wes Anderson-designed dining carriage aboard Belmond’s British Pullman train plays to a clearly defined audience in the film director’s fan-base.
Non-fans are welcome too, of course, but this highly specified section of the market is swapping out a broad perspective for one with a mantra of ‘if we build it, they will come’. And where basing an entire project on a single sector of a market is a risky commercial move, this strategy pays off with a shortcut to organic communities united by similar core interests. In the future, the closer a hotel can tune itself to these niche frequencies, the stronger the connection with guests will be.
HIX/TIPS – New Measurements of Excellence.
Tech Talk: Younger guests want to disconnect but not to miss out. Simply reducing the amount of technology is not the answer, though creating spaces dedicated to meaningful person-to-person experiences will diminish the craving to scroll.
Perfect Programmes: Locally sourced arts and crafts are all well and good, but the most successful hotels are plugging into cultural movements like music and performance schedules to create a more interactive and authentic link between guests and communities.
Sustain and maintain: Most guests are not seeking out sustainable hotels, but hotels that happen to be sustainable are in plentiful supply; the greener the better, of course, but relaying these ideals via design and experience is a much stronger way of communicating green values than shouting about straws.
Know thy guest: Data can often tell you more about a guest than they know about themselves – identifying the unifying threads between disparate travellers and playing to this shared element can drive a surge of interest and revenue. If that sounds too risky, then the non-committal pop-up model means you’ll never be tied to passing fads for longer than necessary.