Adapting To The Changing Expectations Of Modern Hotel Users

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urbanland.uli.org
By Patricia Kirk


To meet the evolving expectations of today’s travelers, new hotels are being infused with active, social spaces that encourage interaction between guests, offer unique experiences with local flavor, and provide healthy lifestyle amenities, said experts speaking at a ULI San Diego/Tijuana event.

This placemaking approach to planning, designing, and managing public or shared spaces in hotels is people-centric and capitalizes on local assets, resources, and potential to strengthen community and promote health, well-being, and happiness, explained panelist Ellie Combs, an associate in the Gensler San Diego office who is design lead for the Hospitality Interiors Group.

Similar to the micro units in the apartment sector, the concept of “less is more” is being applied to hotel design, with compact guestrooms, thoughtfully designed to provide functionality and something different, she said, noting that the modern guestroom, including the bathroom, measures about 250 square feet (23 sq m), compared with the traditional 450-square-foot (42 sq m) guestroom. Meanwhile, shared or public hotel spaces are more robust.

The guest experience has changed from a technological perspective, too. New hospitality technology allows hotel guests to use their smartphones to check in, key into rooms, and communicate with hotel services. Zingle and Amadeus’s Service Optimization Solution HotSOS software, for example, work together to allow guests to use instant messaging to make requests, routing them to the appropriate staff.

As a result, the reception desk is being replaced with large, welcoming lobby spaces with a variety of seating areas that feature different motifs. “It’s all about creating a fantastic place to create a moment,” Combs said. Activated by both guests and employees, she notes that each space has a unique feel created by layering accessories, like rugs, plants, and artwork, to offer a warm, inviting, and relaxed atmosphere.

“People are looking to have a unique, nonbranded experience,” Combs continued, noting that consequently storytelling has worked its way into design, with designers taking a concept and making it into a storyline or character.

This includes giving spaces historical context with local art installations. This helps to create a unique and local sense of place, Combs said. “Gensler puts a lot of effort into developing relationships with local artists and fabricators. Working with local artists and fabricators creates a buzz around the project,” she added.

The essence of place also extends to the environment, so preserving trees and the site’s natural topography should be part of the planning process, noted Combs.

The Robert Green Company’s recently completed $120 million Pendry San Diego, a 317-room boutique lifestyle hotel by Montage in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, is one example of the latest hotel trends. Designed to attract experience-oriented generation X and Y travelers, the Pendry is located in the heart of Gaslamp activity, just steps from world-class restaurants, bars, and nightclubs and a short walk from the San Diego Convention Center and Petco Ball Park, which is home to the San Diego Padres.

Measuring 344 square feet (32 sq m), guestrooms are fairly spacious by today’s standards, and the hotel features a rooftop pool, two uniquely designed restaurants, and a regional microbrew beer hall. “It’s important to have restaurant concepts that can stand alone, can exist without the hotel by attracting locals,” commented panelist Robert Green, noting that food and beverage sales can add up to 50 percent of net operating income. The Pendry also has a 6,200-square-foot (576 sq m) fitness center and spa, 30,000 square feet (2,800 sq m) of meeting space, and three levels of subterranean parking.

More and more, other property types are incorporating hotel concepts and features into their designs and programming, and this is expected to continue. Combs noted design concepts that originated in the hotel sector, including different types of shared and open spaces, where employees can interact, collaborate, and socialize, are being created in the workplace, as these design strategies have been shown to improve productivity and morale.

“Things created in the hospitality environment are fusing themselves into the commercial and public realms,” agreed panelist Todd Majcher, vice president of resort development and design at Lowe Enterprises. He noted that his company reinvented the San Diego County Operations Center, ultimately improving employee morale, by opening up workspace and adding common areas and a $1 million art component.

Majcher said that Lowe has also developed multifamily projects amenitized as hotel space and is currently working on a project in San Diego’s East Village that is a mix of hotel and multifamily.

A new Lowe boutique hotel is also being incorporated into Ivy Station, a $300 million mixed-use complex on a 5.2-acre (2.1 ha) site in Culver City, California. At the gateway to Los Angeles’s Westside, this transit-oriented project is adjacent to the Metro Expo Line light-rail station and includes a five-story, 200,000-square-foot (18,600 sq m) office building; 200 apartment units; Lowe’s 148-key boutique hotel; 55,000 square feet (5,100 sq m) of retail and restaurant space; and two-plus acres (0.8 ha) of open space with various types of programming for the Culver City community, residents, office occupants, and hotel guests.

Combs points out that the recession changed the way people think about spending money, which is reflected in a more toned-down, less opulent, approachable style of luxury found in new hotels than those built in past decades.

She noted that “communal hotels” will be launched in U.S. hospitality markets in 2018. Communal hotels provide guests a private room in a suite that includes kitchen and living spaces shared with other guests in the suite.

Marriott is adopting this concept, which is already spreading across Europe, converting hotel rooms within its hotels to communal suites to compete with short-term rental operators like Airbnb.

A bold, innovative hotel developer/operator, the Robert Green Company plans to build a 565-bed, low-cost shared-lodging hotel in San Diego as part of the planned Fifth Street Landing hotel complex, which also includes a luxury, 831-room convention center hotel connected to the meeting facility via a bridge. This project includes expansion of the Fifth Street Landing Marina with a new public boat; a recreational island; a promenade with cafés, restaurants, and shops; and public open space and viewing plazas.

The shared-lodging hotel came in response to the California Coastal Commission’s call for more modestly priced accommodations along San Diego County’s coast and provides other hotel developers the option of using this project to satisfy the Coastal Commission inclusionary requirement for affordable lodging units in projects.

Principal Robert Green, who was also a panelist, noted that California coastal communities present another layer of environmental challenges for hotel developers, but indicated that meeting requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is the biggest headache.

“CEQA has lost its way,” suggested Green. “It’s being used as a means to further political agendas, rather than to protect the environment,” he added, contending that the national, polarizing rhetoric has insinuated itself in local politics and is making it more difficult for developers to secure entitlements.

Lack of a skilled workforce and rising construction costs are problems for all types of developers. Green contended that developers are paying a premium for unskilled and unreliable workers. He noted that construction costs escalated 22 percent over the last 18 month in Sonoma and Mountain View, but construction prices are rising in southern California markets, too.

Noting that every project has a budget, Combs encouraged developers to bring designers on early in the planning process. Designers can be helpful, especially when renovations are planned. By walking the job upfront, she said, a designer can offer advice on what is essential or not and provide ideas that can save money.

In addition, Green said that lenders are tightening up on hotel financing. The good news is that while capital has become more disciplined, there is still a lot of liquidity in the marketplace, he noted. “For the time being, there’s a lot of capital available on the debt side,” he said. Pointing out that hotels have always been the most difficult project type to finance, Green suggested, “You just have to find the right people or companies to work with.”