A panel of industry experts discusses the future of hotel design, and why "lifestyle" is transforming the places we stay
The debate took place at the newly revamped Two Ruba ground floor dining lounge at the Hilton Tower Bridge in London, a space that was conceived by hospitality designer Afroditi Krassa and unveiled last September.
It was attended by Chris Webb, senior director of interior design at Hilton Worldwide; Marco Nijhof, CEO of Yoo Hotels and Resorts; Jason Myers, former general manager of Jumeirah Group and managing director of Jumeirah Restaurants (now CEO of Busaba Eathai restaurants); and Guy Dittrich, freelance writer and independent commentator on hotels, travel and design.
THE WAY WE WORK
Yoo Hotels and Resorts' Nijhof: "I think the business hotel is dead. Actually dead. At the end of the day, the business hotel is becoming a destination, for both business and leisure.
"We are creating spaces that are different and make people feel comfortable. In our hotel rooms there are no desks because the Millennial sits on their bum, they have a laptop on their knees."
Journalist Dittrich: "This idea of working in the lobby might work for some people but if you are preparing for a speech and need to run through it, you have to do that in your room and have somewhere to spread your papers out.”
Hilton Worldwide's Webb: "I don't think business hotels are dead, I just think how business is done and the way people work is totally different to what it was ten years ago.
"Public spaces in hotels are totally transformed – the days of working in your room facing the wall and being punished for going on a business trip are over, thankfully.
"Business hotels are still for work and the seamless integration of technology is important to making them a success. Equally, design is only good if it works, but making public areas and rooms look stunning also fundamental to a hotel’s success."
BRIDGING THE GAP
Busaba Eathai's Myers: "I used to sit through all these meetings at Jumeirah and we used to obsess over what we called 'four-star luxury lifestyle' and the 'business hotel'.
"W Hotels really crashed on to the scene with how to create these 'lifestyle' businesses for a wider audience, giving lots of different reasons to come. And I think that is what is exciting.
"You have to have seven-day, 24-hour operations with a different concept of thinking."
Webb: "People go to different brands for different experiences but for me, over the last ten years, it’s about experience and location. I would probably stay somewhere independent or a boutique, I am a big fan of what Soho House are doing.
"W do what they do really well. I think it is a balance between aesthetics and function and it's really hard to pull off. For me, it's about feeling you are part of the city you are in."
Dittrich: "Location is the key – if you are not guided by your loyalty points, then you will stay near to where you are working or next door to your client.
"It's also about the corporate deal you have and your budget. W may be nice but at US$450 a night there might be other choices your company insists you take.
"I think some of the most interesting things happening in the hospitality space are in the hostel sector, the budget sector, with Qbic hotels and Starwood's Aloft. These are much more applicable to many more people than your five-star hotels that are unaffordable [for most]."
Nijhof: "My secretary told me I had to stay in a Generator hostel and I said 'How low do you want me to go?' But, my God, I was blown away with what these guys do – they give any business or budget hotel a run for their money.
"They have created an experience that is fantastic – I walked in [to the London property] not knowing what to expect but it was full. And I thought with my grey hair I was going to be the oldest man walking around but that was not the case.
"What's more, I paid – in a central London location – £87 for a single-use double room. There is a great pub, great food, you can watch any TV channel you want with an app on your phone. It would put a lot of hotels to shame. I could also say Citizen M are great but what Generator is doing is pretty remarkable."
THE ROLE OF DESIGN
Myers: "Design can open doors, it can create a story and generate interest. But when you open a big hotel, it is about how you glue all the elements together. How you create that DNA, that culture, that vision, is really difficult in a big hotel."
Nijhof: "Design is great – this hotel [the Hilton Tower Bridge] now has a tiny lobby and a huge restaurant, and anyone who buys a cup of coffee generate 89 per cent profit.
"It's about return on investment. Lobbies can be the biggest waste of space ever but I think this Hilton has taken care of that from a design point of view, very, very well.
"We contacted Smith Travel Research and asked them to check what the average rate is for a room in a boutique design hotel in London and there is a £64 premium. That is what design brings – that is why you are seeing big brands entering design and lifestyle. There is a huge premium people are willing to pay for it."
Dittrich: "I would like to see hotels having more fun. If you look at what 25Hours are doing, and Qbic, they are having fun with design but it's still functional. You want to stay there rather than have to stay there."
Nijhof: "Design catches the attention, but at the end of the day it is the service you have to deliver if people are to come back. Painting a room white and putting an Ikea picture on the wall does not make a design hotel.
"There is more to it than that and that is where sometimes some of the bigger brands get lost. Firmdale, for example, in its quirkiness, its Britishness, has done very well. And at the Ham Yard in London, the service is spectacular."
Myers: "The Hoxton hotel in London is doing incredibly well – it's full of hipsters on their Apple machines, and there is a whole cool movement going on.
"Talking about a hotel and how they interface differently with their community is something we are going to see more of. It's also about the other services they offer when it comes to design, which is why hotels are taking F&B, gyms and the other parts incredibly seriously."
Nijhof: "The Hoxton has a high-street-facing nail salon next to its lobby – I would have never have expected that, and it is packed. That is where out of the box thinking can work so well."
Krassa: "So is Hilton ready for a nail salon in its lobby?"
Webb: "It depends on where you are in the world and where you are in the city. The Ace Shoreditch has a flower shop, the Hoxton has a nail salon and they might be relevant for their location but every location has a different need."
FUTURE OF SERVICE
Dittrich: "When I think back 12 or 14 years, there was a hotel where you could order a desk for your room or hooks to hang things on or a cupboard if you wanted one.
"Now it is about big data – the big hotel brands that know from your loyalty data that you like Krug champagne and then make sure there is a bottle in your minibar.
"But I think it needs to be more than that. With design and modern materials and technology, you should be able to personalise your space and make it feel more like 'my space' not just 'the space'."
Nijhof: "I think the future is about innkeepers – it's about taking care of your customers in an old-fashioned mum and pop kind of way with a handshake on arrival and departure.
"That is what hotel business was about and that is what I think we need to get back to. Independents possibly do a better job of personalisation but overall it is lacking in hotels and we need to bring it back."