Putting heads in beds: It’s the objective of hotel operators, and has been for years. However, that goal is accomplished differently today than it was in the past. Even the most lackluster facilities used to attract guests, but those days are over. “Especially within the past 10 or 15 years, people are much more conscious of design and the quality of the space and experience,” explains Ron Kollar, chief design officer, Tishman Hotel Corp., New York City.
Catering to more savvy consumers, hospitality facilities strive to perfect the product-market match in order to remain competitive. “The hotel franchise systems are vying with each other to lure customers,” says Bill Steckroth, president, Steckroth Hospitality Group Inc., Boca Raton, FL.
Now, more than ever, hotels must offer amenities and designs that cater to multiple generations. Both older customers (Baby Boomers) and younger, Gen-X travelers have high expectations. As a result, high-tech guestrooms are becoming the norm rather than the exception. “Thirty years ago, ‘Magic Fingers’ was the technology. Today, you have Internet access, wireless environments, flat-screen TVs on the walls, and not only faxes, but two-line phones. [Guestrooms are] as much a workplace as a sleeping space,” explains Kollar.
The widespread adoption of technology by the public is dramatically impacting how hotels are designed, built, operated, and used. The proliferation of laptop computers (often with wireless capability) is changing where and how guests connect to the Internet. Technology is even affecting the size and layout of guestrooms. “Flat-screen or plasma TVs in upscale and luxury hotels will provide the opportunity to make rooms narrower and to change the space-allocation model for hotels,” says Richard H. Penner, professor, hospitality facilities and operations, Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, Ithaca, NY. Rather than reducing the size of guestrooms, some experts feel that the absence of a bulky armoire will provide a more spacious room and greater opportunities to enhance the guests’ experience.
In the past, hotels often allocated the same space for guestrooms with King beds as rooms with two Double beds. “More recently, most of the brands are keeping the [rooms with two Double beds] about the same size, and have found that they can enlarge the bathroom or save on construction costs if they make the King bedroom a little smaller,” says Penner.
With cookie-cutter facilities, boxy armoires, and floral bedspreads, there wasn’t much to distinguish one hotel room from another a decade ago. “Starting 10 years ago, there was a belief that rooms were so much alike that it would be easier to differentiate one brand from another in the bathroom rather than in the guestroom,” explains Penner. In some cases, square footage in the guestroom was sacrificed to offer a more spacious bathroom experience. Today, finishes like granite countertops and elaborate millwork vanities have even successfully added luxury to budget- and mid-market hotel properties. “The bathrooms in Hampton Inns today are what you would have seen in a luxury hotel just 10 years ago,” explains Steckroth.
The most recent trend in bathroom design is the walk-in shower stall. “It makes the bathroom seem bigger,” says Kollar. “And, I’m willing to bet that 80 percent of the people staying in hotels take showers rather than baths.” While a traditional tub/shower unit is 2 feet by 6 feet, a shower can be any size. This enables greater flexibility in the layout of the bathroom. To address the needs of families with small children, hotels continue to offer a select number of guestrooms with tub/shower units. “Sheraton, a few years ago, in developing a prototype, decided that all [its] King-bedded rooms would have [walk-in] shower stalls for the business customer, and all the [rooms with two Double beds] would have a tub/shower combination as a standard, primarily for the leisure market,” says Penner.
In addition to offering showers that are easier for handicapped individuals and the elderly to use, the glass-walled shower is edgier by design. Its sleek lines are consistent with the contemporary style that younger guests are drawn to.
In the 1960s, hotels welcomed guests through large 2-story glass atriums. Today, the trend is toward more intimate spaces - and less wasted square footage. “The larger spaces are being pared down to give the lobby a residential feel,” says Steckroth. In many properties, the long check-in counters have been scaled down, with numerous hotels now providing self-serve kiosks. As a result, the space and time required for guest check-in has decreased. Less money is spent during construction and the once-overwhelming expanse of space dedicated to registration has been reduced, creating a cozier, less intimidating entrance.
Internet reservations are changing hotels, too. “It reduces the profit potential for hotels and continues to force them to look for ways to do things cheaper,” explains Penner. With so many consumers shopping online for the best rates, hotels are being forced to lower operating costs as much as possible. To accomplish this, every square foot is being maximized. “Many hotels are creating multipurpose spaces, where the lobby/lounge is a breakfast room as well as a gathering point, and maybe a pre-function or break space for the nearby meeting rooms,” says Penner.
Following the post-9/11 slowdown in travel, the hospitality industry has recovered and is showing vigorous growth. “The hotel industry is strong, and the outlook for 2006 is excellent,” says Steckroth. In a recent report of first-quarter construction numbers from Portsmouth, NH-based Lodging Econometrics, the industry group revealed that hotel construction is at record levels and projects have been increasing steadily for more than 2 years. As new facilities open their doors, guests are sure to be greeted by environments that provide the amenities they need and the luxury they desire.
Jana Madsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.