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Hospitality Tomorrow: How COVID Will Change Hospitality Design

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On May 15, 2020, OBM International (OBMI), a leading global architecture firm, gathered virtually with various experts—from wellness, interior design and sustainable tourism planning—to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on the world of hospitality through Hospitality Tomorrow, a global online conference exchange of thought leaders. The intention of the conference was for overlapping facets of the industry to share their expertise with attendees in order to break down the key areas of change that will impact the industry, following this global pandemic.

Focusing on the design for hospitality, four innovative minds contributed and weighed the anticipated future adaptations in the wake of COVID-19 and beyond. Social and economic changes will impact individuals who are responsible for design as well as the societies, where we masterplan communities. Moving forward, public health will have an emphasized influence on the quality of life, demonstrating the importance of light, space, and safety as dominant areas of concern from a guest’s perspective. Practices that were previously recommended will now become consumer demands, including sustainability, air quality, resilience, and the need to reconnect with nature.

Tim Peck, Chairman of OBM International, spoke about the big picture of where design is headed and how the search for transformational experiences within hospitality will not dissipate in the wake of this pandemic. One design change that may become evident is the reversal of the millennial traveler trend, which features smaller rooms and larger social spaces. Mr. Peck believes more space will be dedicated to individual rooms, allowing them to be more private and easily transformed, emphasizing flexible accommodation and adaptable furniture within the rooms, and convertible spaces that can be used for living, dining, working and catering to small groups for socializing. This, in conjunction with creative options of natural ventilation and the use of UVC cleansing as part of the air-conditioning process, was discussed. Given that there will likely be short term apprehension surrounding travel, it is the responsibility of design teams to address issues of health and safety, and clearly communicate how they will soothe these concerns. Some possible solutions Mr. Peck discussed are designing varying levels of ambiance and social interaction that are balanced with interactive voice technology to reduce touchpoints and pre-programmed vertical travel. Throughout the panel, he raised the need to communicate these changes to the consumer and create a culture of cleanliness—bringing new rituals into plain site that celebrate the act of cleansing.

Vivianne Garcia-Tunon provided additional insight with specific emphasis on the Spa & Wellness industry, as the founder and CEO of Wonderflower. She anticipates that the cleansing of hands and feet prior to treatments will become imperative as an arrival experience, as well as leaving all shoes at the door, much like in Hindu culture. Mrs. Garcia-Tunon also highlighted the need for a wellness revolution as an outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a renewed sense of importance on health, and an overall holistic approach to design moving forward. As the perception of wellness shifts, we will continue to look to science for prevention and education. She touched on how rounded corners and sloped surfaces will be a new design feature in spas and treatment rooms to allow for more thorough cleaning and sanitization. Back of House design will see more attention to detail with the need to safeguard employees, allocating more dedicated space for cleaning and disinfecting. Prep rooms will become Front of House, showcasing the innovative design, and displaying new treatment procedures; transparency which will instill consumer’s trust. Elements of robotic technology will become more prevalent, although it is not likely that these offerings will overtake the need for human touch and interaction in this industry. Further areas of focus include researching new sterile materials that are anti-mold and anti-germ, with natural cleansing elements that have been validated by science; low VOC, hydrophobic paints, greater attention to air quality, and an increase of thermal and heat-based treatments will become more popular, as spa environments seek to ensure health and sanitation while continuing to deliver a serene wellness environment.

James Leihouller, CEO of DiLEONARDO, shared his interior design expertise focusing on materials and the need to limit high-touch areas. We anticipate the use of more mixed materials that create a sense of ease with cleaning such as copper and antimicrobial finishes. Further, we will see innovations like photoactive pigment integration into glass, ceramics, and steel surfaces, with pigments that kill microbes when exposed to artificial or natural UV rays. Designers will focus greater attention on adapting spatial flow in common spaces, considering how guests can safely move through spaces while adhering to social distancing protocols. There will be real-time data management and technology solutions that respond to consumer reactions. New signage will help to build trust through transparent communication, ensuring that partnerships and policies with medical organizations and societies clearly articulate that health, wellness, and safety is a top priority.

Denaye Hinds, Managing Director of JustaTAAD sustainability consultancy, moderated the discussion. She added that increased sanitation as well as the use of natural materials will be important, indicating that sustainable and resilient criteria for design already address the need for a safer and cleaner environment, for guests and staff alike. Environmental Product Declarations for materials selected will become more of a requirement as we navigate how design will evolve post-COVID-19. Designs that allow for more natural ventilation and increased focus on healthy air environments and edible green spaces for food security and plant life will be integrated into overall concepts and design plans. Further, there will be increased transparency surrounding products, materials, and furnishings, embracing a more circular economy that addresses the need for economic resilience.

While we understand that the challenges will be a great, concentrating on prevention and delivery of safety to our valued guests is key. The desire to connect as people must not be forgotten. As designers, we intend to adapt with a sense of resilience and a renewed focus on sustainability—understanding that adaptation is necessary as change threatens the very foundation of our industry. In the wake of COVID-19, every element of the hospitality industry will be required to adjust and adapt—with wisdom, efficiency, and flexibility—because the only thing that is constant is change.