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Beyond COVID

Employee Perspective, Design

Hospitality Design Strategies Following COVID-19

By: Giovanni Marenco Medina LEED AP - Associate Senior Designer, OBMI

As a practice that has thrived for the past 80 years, resilience is at OBMI's core. We have never seen anything like COVID-19 before; nevertheless, our optimistic spirit tells us that we will make it through.

At OBMI, we envision a world where hotels can provide a wholesome restorative environment. A place where no matter how bad the exterior air quality; you can enter a hotel and breathe fresh, nourishing air. Hotels already create places that reset us and rejuvenate us. Can we create a place that becomes a haven, where purity and cleanliness of air quality are guaranteed?  A place to go to, instead of avoiding.

As hotels begin to reopen their doors, here are some important things to consider:


Who is most at risk, and what role do they play in the hospitality industry? As we learn more about COVID-19, we have discovered that certain age groups are at higher risk, with people aged 55-75 years old being the demographic with the highest risk of contracting the virus and falling ill. More specifically, 80% of COVID-related deaths are people over the age of 65. This age group is commonly referred to as 'Baby Boomers' and plays a vital role in the hospitality industry. Baby Boomers are the top contributors to the travel and hospitality industry, collectively spending an average of $157 billion on vacations annually, with the majority of spending on luxury travel. This demographic typically travels 3-4 times a year, spending approximately $6,600 individually, with more than 80% of them traveling internationally. With this in mind, we have begun to consider the solutions we can implement to create a sense of ease and safety while traveling—particularly for demographics at higher risk.


The quality of indoor air is crucial for guest health. Since Covid-19 is an airborne virus, living as an aerosol for up to 3 hours, indoor air quality is of the utmost importance. As humans, we breathe around 3,000 gallons of air a day and spend an average of approximately 22 hours a day indoors. Because most of the indoor air is recycled within the space, fresh air must be introduced more often through the HVAC system, and antimicrobial filters are in place to purify and sanitize the air. As such, moving forward, it is pertinent to upgrade and adapt these air systems.


UV-C Light

We have looked to the health care industry as a reference and guide for disinfectants since they are leaders in sterilization, having used UV-C light and Vapor sterilization technology for over a decade. UV-C light, which kills up to 99.97% of bacteria and viruses, has been at the core of disinfecting in hospitals. One downside to this form of sterilization is that it is harmful to people, thus having to rely on robots and other types of automation to sanitize and complete the job. Examples of this can be seen in China, where buses are bathed in UV-C light, NYC subway trains, hospitals OR's and patient rooms, airline industry, and currently Westin hotels are introducing robots to disinfect guest rooms.

Electrostatic Vapor

Another process of sterilization is a method known as Electrostatic Spraying, which is commonly used by major airlines and airports as high-grade EPA-registered and highly effective disinfectant against many infectious diseases. Now leading hotel brands such as Hilton and Marriott are using the same electrostatic applicant to rapidly clean and disinfect entire areas in a way that human hands simply can't touch.

Far Uv-C Light

In recent findings, a new form of disinfecting, known as Far UVC light, seems quite promising. This type of ultraviolet light "disrupts the ability for viruses and bacteria to replicate, deactivating roughly 90 percent of pathogens on your skin and clothes in roughly 10 to 12 seconds." according to Fred Marxik, a former NASA scientist. Research and evidence suggest that this method is the safest method of sterilization and could significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. This technology is being developed as a "cleanse portal" that people walk through before entering a new space, limiting the number of pathogens entering the said environment. The "cleanse portal," once approved by FDA, could be implemented at the entrance of hotels to limit the number of microbes entering a lobby; therefore, significantly reducing guest exposure to the virus.


Temperature testing has become a staple in some public places, as a requirement upon entry. This precaution is being used as a safety measure in countries that are reopening. Temperature testing can be very intrusive and may not create a warm sense of arrival for valued guests. With that said, mitigating this by using infrared cameras to monitor public spaces would create a more welcoming environment for guests and a greater sense of normalcy.


Emphasized attention to hygiene is imperative to get through Covid-19. If people do not see surfaces and areas being cleaned, they may have a hard time feeling assured that it was done thoroughly. Moving forward, it will be essential to showcase and stress the importance of hygiene. Some short-term considerations are: displaying infographics for protocols, offering easily accessible hand sanitizer in all common areas, and providing cleaning supplies in guestrooms and suites. These methods will allow individuals to sanitize their space further so that they can feel as comfortable as possible. Similarly, if available, showcase your UV-C light disinfecting robots and your butler robots. Furthermore, this can allow hotels to create new rituals, such as removing shoes upon arrival and being offered comfy slippers to indicate the value of maintaining a clean, hygienic environment.


This solution would minimize physical touchpoints through guest's stay, replacing known systems with technology-driven alternatives. Automation, QR, and voice activation will allow guests to interact with frequently touched features—such as entry doors, elevators, room doors, and light switches—with a much lower risk. These innovative considerations are here to stay, as people will continue to remain conscious of the risks associated with touching shared surfaces.


Social distancing has become a widespread response to combat the spread of COVID-19. Still, much research points to it becoming a societal norm that will be upheld during hotel stays for the foreseeable future. As this practice creates physical separation, designers and hotel operators must look for solutions to develop alternative approaches for social connectedness. One solution designers are implementing is reconfiguring large, open public spaces—like hotel lobbies—to include a variety of smaller intimate seating areas that can allow guests to adhere to distancing guidelines while still enjoying the common area. Incorporating interior landscaping is one technique to create these spatial barriers in a natural, lively way while still maintaining an upscale feel. In doing so, we hope to provide guests with a feeling that is welcoming, familiar, and communal with an adapted sense of safety. It will be crucial to avoid crowd creation, bearing in mind the anxiety that may arise from large groups. Despite these efforts to keep people at a safe distance, we will continue to prioritize crafting environments that are warm and inviting.


Following COVID-19 developments, OBMI is working to redefine the luxury hotel experience by innovating the design of amenities that distinguish hotels in this sector. Before this global pandemic, luxury in hospitality was defined by personalized attention; however, with the arrival of Covid-19, guests will likely feel uncomfortable with the idea of too many different people handling their food, luggage, car, etc. Perhaps, as an effort to minimize multiple contacts, a staff member can be assigned as the main contact person.  Now we are seeing hotel operators leveraging butler robots to help facilitate service touchpoints that can no longer be fulfilled by staff, given the current circumstances. It is crucial to ask ourselves: to what extent do we call on technology to aid us?


The new reality of COVID-19 will likely mean that guests will stay in their rooms for extended periods, with a decreased desire to mingle in common areas. Before COVID-19, the latest trend in hospitality was creating smaller guestrooms and larger spaces of gathering and socializing, which will most likely have to change. In response to COVID-19, hotels will likely need to create bigger, more flexible hotel rooms that allow guests to feel safe. The challenge with this design approach will be incorporating multiple interactive experiences that will enable guests to experience activities such as exercise, dining, working, or even making conference calls. The Westin Workout room is an excellent example of this concept in action. Another great in-room fitness option is such as the Echelon Reflect or the Mirror. The interactive fitness device when off is your standard mirror, but once activated provides a variety of classes for users to leverage in the comfort of their room without sacrificing a lot of space and reducing the amount of personal contact.

While Covid-19 has caused great distress in the hospitality and tourism industry, it has simultaneously created opportunities for innovation. Here at OBMI, we are confident that the sectors will successfully adapt and deliver a luxurious escape to valued travelers. In this time of uncertainty, we hope these suggested initiatives and changes will help start conversations and fuel favorable safety and hygiene initiatives for guests and staff alike.




Giovanni Medina Marenco, LEED AP - Associate Senior Designer, OBMI

As an accomplished designer, Giovanni provides OBMI clients with over 20 years of experience in professional planning and architectural design. His rare blend of business acumen, imaginative thinking, and project development abilities has allowed him to develop an impressive portfolio of elegant and enduring designs for leading hospitality brands, such as St. Regis, JW Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, and Ritz Carlton. His experience spans the globe with projects across China, South America, the United States, and the Caribbean with notable projects including the Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton Reserve and St. Regis Bahia Beach.



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