How to Create More Resilient Hotels

Dec. 3, 2021

Hotels have been plagued with low occupancy since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. One way to make hotels more resilient against the impacts of future pandemics is designing flexible spaces. Learn more.

Resilient buildings can roll with the punches, and when it comes to hotels, there’s no more important conversation to have. COVID-19 was hard on the hospitality industry, decimating the usual crowds of guests and forcing hotels to deal with the financial impacts of low occupancy. 

Today, business is starting to pick up again as people cautiously begin to travel. However, questions remain about how hotels can become more resilient to shifting occupancy rates and other negatives ahead of the next pandemic.  

“I see resilience being broken down into three categories: diversification, relationship and agility,” explained Sarah Fox, associate principal at CallisonRTKL. These three categories come together to define a full picture of what resilience looks like for a hotel: 

  • Diversification: Make sure your portfolio includes geographic diversity and covers different types of markets that can help protect you when one area or type of market suffers from lower occupancy. 
  • Relationship: Build strong relationships not only with your vendors, but your community at large, Fox advised. “How can you partner with the community in terms of food and beverage, sports and recreation, or leisure?” she asked. “How do you embrace that partnership together?” 
  • Agility: For a hotel, agility is about innovation and being able to adapt to changes in culture. “It comes down to leadership,” Fox said. “Transparent leadership needs to be built on trust and open communication.” 

These factors are also an important part of resiliency against natural disasters, added Paul Scriven, energy and sustainability director of HDR. Hotels must have mitigation measures in place to maintain continuous operations, including a disaster recovery plan, training and plant redundancy so that everyone can deal with the situation arising. “The way in which a hotel plans and enacts their response in these strenuous times is key to their reputation and standing within the community in which they reside,” he explained. 

[Related: How an Iowa Mill Became a Luxury Hotel]

How to Build More Resilient Hotels 

One of the biggest challenges for hotels is creating spaces that can function across different market sectors, Fox said. During a pandemic or other natural disaster, a hotel may be called into service as a field hospital or medical office building, but those spaces often have drastically different requirements for MEP infrastructure or floor-to-floor space. The structure of a hotel can present a challenge that makes adaptability tough.  

“When we’re doing new builds, is there more of a universal design standard for building hotels that can be changed in the future?” Fox asked. “If typically we build a hotel with a 9-foot, 6-inch floor-to-floor with 9-foot ceilings, are we now going for 10 feet as the minimum, knowing we’re going to have to build into it a lower efficiency than we’re used to? Building that into new builds is something that needs to be considered.” 

Design should also include resiliency for critical systems, such as standby generators, major plant redundancy and life safety systems, added Scriven: “This is to mitigate operational impact and to maintain a degree of guest experience during such occurrences.” 

The flexibility of individual spaces, not just the hotel as a whole, should also be part of the resiliency conversation, added Trace Jacque, senior architectural designer and partner with BKV Group. Think about how lobbies, food and beverage areas, guest rooms, and business spaces can be transformed into different types of spaces. Space flexibility not only leads to resilience, it also benefits you down the road when you need to renovate. 

“If you can accommodate, for instance, a dining option while you fix up your main restaurant, having the flexibility to move things is a good thing and you can plan for that while you’re designing,” Jacques said. “Have lightweight and durable furnishings that can be moved around. Have clever space designers using shelving or decorative screens to subdivide larger space and make common spaces. It makes a large space feel intimate, and at the same time, you can adapt it to your needs.” 

Planning ahead is a crucial element of resiliency, Scriven said. Bring in professionals to help you understand your risk, then mitigate it wherever you can. 

“Where risks are high and can’t be mitigated to a satisfactory standard, then the key outcome is to develop a plan to manage that situation should an event occur,” Scriven said. 

[Related: World’s First Powerhouse Hotel in the Arctic Circle]

Building Community Resilience with Hotels 

Beyond the resilience of an individual building, hotels can also contribute to making more resilient communities. Fox urged hotel operators to source local products and create symbiotic relationships wherever possible with their surrounding communities. 

“The idea of incorporating the community into the overall holistic operations of the hotel is so important,” Fox said. “You really need to stress the environmental, social and governance [initiatives at your hotel]. Guests expect that and they’re going to be drawn to hotels and businesses that are employing that methodology.” 

One way hotels can give back to communities is to make themselves available as short- or long-term housing during natural disasters or temporary quarantine locations during pandemics. “They’re very convenient building types to have around in the face of all kinds of adversity,” Jacques said. “It’s hard to put people up in an office building or gymnasium for more than a couple of weeks. Hotels have all the necessary functions—they have bathrooms, food service, lots of privacy and a place to sleep.” 

Uses like this can be accounted for during the planning stage, Fox said. Existing hotels can also reexamine their spaces to see how they might serve the community during an emergency. Look at larger spaces, like ballrooms or other event spaces, and see how you might lay it out with hospital beds and temporary walls. “If a disaster did happen in your area or locale, you could immediately have a plan of action and work with a local hospital,” Fox said. 

Creating more resilient hotels requires the industry to shift its mindset, Fox said, but it can be done. 

“We need to always design for future generations,” Fox said. “We need to design with people and planet in mind, and we need to design for a larger purpose beyond our immediate short-term goals… If we design for seven generations to come, then we’re doing the right thing.”

Read next: The ‘New Normal’ for Hospitality Design Is Reinvention

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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