Remember striding across a vast marble lobby to a long check-in desk that hugged an entire wall? That experience is becoming almost as quaint as dialing a rotary phone. Welcome to the new era of hotel design.
As the global recession begins its end, we’re finally seeing the fresh face of the hospitality industry, as the hotel openings and renovations that were stalled three years ago come to fruition. Gone is the era of cookie-cutter predictability when hotel chains replicated the same hotel all over the world. Today, architects and interior designers want to deliver an experience, a wow design factor that has a sense of place; rooms that are environmentally friendly with the latest technological connectivity; and amenities that promote health, wellness and interaction with the outdoors.
The New Lobby
You’ve had a long journey and are walking into your hotel for the first time. Hotel designers hope they can deliver that exhale moment, a combination of relief and self-congratulation that you picked the right hotel. Soaring entries that feel distinctively modern, but still welcoming now hide the check-in areas and coffee shops of old. Lavish design features, illuminated walls, local works of art, fabrics and furnishings that reference the locale all deliver the experience that begins at the front door.
A sense of community is also part of the new lobby, with plenty of places for guests to sit with their laptops, order a light bite, or hold an impromptu meeting. Hotel analysts say the evolution of hotel lobbies was needed to attract Generation X and Y travelers who grew up surfing laptops at Starbucks. “Hotels did a lot of research with their business travelers,” says Adam Weissenberg, the head of Tourism, Hospitality & Leisure at Deloitte. “They said, ‘If we create a lobby community where you can work and relax, will you use it?’ These were travelers who ordered room service and worked in their rooms.”
“Lobbies today are active, changing environments,” says June Farrell, vice president of international public relations for JW Marriott Hotels. “Lighting and sound shift from morning quiet to active nights. The a.m. coffee bar becomes a cocktail lounge.” Some lobbies, much to the delight—or dislike—of travelers, are even scented with signature fragrances of citrus, vanilla, or woodsy notes. The idea is to deliver the experience to all of the senses.
Spare, chic, modern looks that were pioneered by mid-1990s boutique hotel groups such as Morgans and W are now seen in major hotel chains. The boutique brands, however, continue to innovate. Morgans, which attracts a loyal business clientele from creative industries such as fashion, advertising, and media, opened its latest property, the Mondrian SoHo (www.morganshotelgroup.com), in February as an ode to a Jean Cocteau fantasy film.
W Hotels (www.whotels.com), which now holds design competitions at some of the world’s top art and design fairs, has five new city hotels, all designed by prestigious, cutting-edge design firms. In 2011, look for the W London Leicester Square, W Taipei, W St. Petersburg, W Paris–Opera, and W Guangzhou.
“The traveling executive today doesn’t want the dark woods and chintz that their father or even their chief executive used to check into,” says Jonathan Langston, managing director or TRI Hospitality Consulting in London. “They want luxury, but with a modern edge.”
The New Room
Hotel rooms today are all about comfort and technology, and being green. Keycards that activate lighting, heating and air-conditioning systems are standard among new constructions. Guests expect luxurious beds, even at mid-level and budget properties, and are demanding ample outlets to plug in chargers.
Hoteliers say the bathroom will become even more spa-like. “Guests can expect bathrooms with memorable elements that haven’t been seen before,” says Larry Traxler, senior vice president of global design services for Hilton Worldwide. Speaking of the chain’s Hilton Hotels & Resorts, he says, “We are doing radiant heated-floor systems, generous walk-in showers with benches and resort-like pebble floors, teak benches, universal power outlets, and illuminated mirrors with integrated televisions.” Also expect to see glass walls separating bed and bath areas, a trend that designers say brings in more natural light, but others argue limits privacy.
Anthony Lee, the general manager of London’s The May Fair Hotel (www.themayfairhotel.co.uk), says even toilets are getting upgraded. The hotel is installing pricey Toto models in its 35 new suites. “The seat goes up, it goes down, it warms and massages your bum and even plays music,” Lee says with a laugh.
Technology is another area with which hotels are trying to keep apace. Industry watchers say that guests demand a top-quality flat-screen television, with excellent picture quality, a function that allows guests to perform their own online check-out, and access to movies, global satellite television channels and radio stations. “As a business traveler, you want to be able to work in an environment that mirrors the technology and comfort of your own home or office,” says Langston.
Loaded iPads in rooms at New York’s Plaza hotel (www.fairmont.com/theplaza) and Paris’ Les Pavillon des Lettres (www.pavillondeslettres.com), where they’re stocked with international newspapers, bestsellers and jazz and classical music, are just the beginning. “Next will be the cloud technology,” says Weissenberg, referencing the computing technology that stores all applications and data in a cloud that travelers will be able access from any location.
The New Scenery
Check into a new hotel and you might find yourself spending more time outdoors. Rooftop bars and gardens, open-air courtyards with discreet heaters for cool days, and elaborate outdoor pool landscapes are all being incorporated into the latest hotel designs. Perhaps the most striking is the infinity pool that chillingly appears to drop off 55 stories over Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands Skypark (www.marinabaysands.com). With 2,560 rooms in the massive hotel, the pool could get a little crowded.
You’ll also find natural drama, literally, climbing the walls in new hotel designs. Housed in a glass and steel tower designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom (www.sofitel.com) opened last year with a living wall, a vertical garden designed by Patrick Blanc that’s made of 20,000 vegetation species. London’s Athenaeum Hotel (www.theathenaeumhotel.com) planted its living wall, also by Blanc, on the hotel’s exterior.
The New Design Hot Spots
Some of the most spectacular new hotels can be found in emerging markets, places like China, India, and the Middle East, which were less affected by the recession. Here the trend is for towering hotels (this month, check out the opening of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, the world’s tallest hotel), enormous bedrooms, and unabashed luxury, often popping up in key global financial areas.
Shangri-La’s China World Summit Wing (www.shangri-la.com), a 278-room hotel occupying the top 81 floors of Beijing’s China World Tower, which soars 1,082 feet over the China World Trade Center complex in the central business district, opened with some of the largest rooms in the city at 700 square feet. “The intention is to create a personal sanctuary for the discerning traveler, away from the crowds,” says Adrian Rudin, the general manager of Shangri-La’s China World Summit Wing.
The new Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center (www.ritzcarlton.com) brings 341 rooms—and a 10-story waterfall—to the city’s financial district. The same trend is afoot in Europe, where Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel, Stockholm (www.radissonblu.com), a 414-room hotel with 11,000 square feet of solar paneling, is linked to the city’s new green-certified Waterfront Congress Center.
Business travelers headed to India will find New Delhi’s first new hotel in 15 years, and the city’s largest rooms at The Leela Palace Kempinski (www.theleela.com). In Pune, The Hyatt Regency Pune (www.pune.regency.hyatt.com) offers a mix of contemporary design and wellness opportunities such as a yoga studio.
Singapore has a new Sir Norman Foster-designed masterpiece: the Capella Singapore (www.capellahotels.com), a figure-eight-shaped luxury resort hotel on Sentosa Island that also receives high marks from business travelers.
Hotel developers say travelers can also expect to see their brands and innovative designs in brand-new markets. Ritz-Carlton says that it will be expanding to new cities in the Middle East. Hilton will bring new design and amenities to South America with the opening of Hilton Bogotá (www.hilton.com), the Hilton Panama, and The Panamera, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel (www.waldorfastoria.com), all opening this spring and summer.
The New Designs of North America
While North America doesn’t have anywhere near the number of new hotels that business travelers will find in emerging markets, there are some major cities that are seeing some stylish debuts this year. Four Seasons (www.fourseasons.com) devotees now have two new options, the Four Seasons Denver that marries rustic Rocky Mountain touches of stone and wood with soaring windows and spectacular views; and the Four Seasons Baltimore, an 18-story, 256-room tower on the water that will finally be opening later this year in the Harbor East neighborhood.
For business travelers who prefer more of a boutique-style hotel, Kimpton Hotels (www.kimptonhotels.com) consistently delivers something different in every new location. The recently opened Hotel Palomar Chicago in the River North neighborhood has a heated pool and sundeck that can be used as event space. New York’s new Kimpton Eventi hotel that towers over Chelsea has two innovative restaurant concepts that are collaborations between restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow and futuristic designer Syd Mead, who worked on Blade Runner and Aliens. Downstairs, FoodParc is a 22nd-century self-order kind of food court, with top-quality burgers, shakes, BLTs, and gelato. Upstairs, it’s Bar Basque for drinks and tapas, with its dizzying red bar and windowed dining room that looks outdoors to installations playing on a video screen.
The Andaz hotel brand from Hyatt is another design-conscious boutique option that’s expanding across the United States. With locations in San Diego, West Hollywood, New York City, Maui, and also points abroad, executives who fancy the chic, sleek interiors, all-inclusive wireless, healthy minibars, and complimentary laundry services are increasingly finding more of the same in a variety of locales. The fact that Andaz is a Hyatt brand that still allows road warriors to redeem and accumulate Gold Passport points gives a traveler welcome flexibility.
North of the border, competition is heating up in Toronto, as the 52-story gleaming glass Ritz-Carlton, Toronto that opened last month will be joined by a new Four Seasons Toronto opening next year—50 years after the venerable chain opened its very first hotel in this city. In Vancouver, Fairmont Pacific Rim (www.fairmont.com) is an East-West Zen fusion blending beautifully grained hardwoods and marble with pools, fire pits, and commissioned works of contemporary art, both indoors and out.
“No matter where the hotel is located, good hotel design is about getting the fundamentals right and then discreetly layering on opulence,” says Langston, citing one of the year’s most awaited hotel design projects, the reopening of the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane (www.fourseasons.com/london) as a success. “It has that balance. It gets it right.”