Design on the Edge
Flexibility. Connectivity. Fluidity. Sensitivity. These are key concepts that guide hospitality designers and architects in their efforts to appeal to the Gen X traveler. But wait — these concepts aren't for just the young and hip. In fact, if there's a recurring theme among designers and hoteliers discussing Gen X and design, it's this: the line between generations is blurring. And while there are differences in experience and outlook, common needs and desires define the hotel experience.
“We as marketers have a tendency to put people in boxes — the Boomers, the Gen Xers, the Ys, and I think that's for convenience purposes,” speculates Jim Anhut, senior vice president, brand development, InterContinental Hotels Group. “But regardless of their chronological ages, our guests think like Gen Xers. We target the Gen X psychographic versus the Gen X demographic. And internally, we've had some fun with it: all of our guests are 35; whether chronologically or not, at 55 they're jumping out of airplanes and learning how to snowboard and climb mountains.”
Nunzio De Santis echoes that theme. He's executive vice president/director, HKS Hospitality, a Dallas architecture, interior design firm with more than $3 billion in hospitality construction under way. “The segment is much broader than you'd think,” he says. “There are many people in their fifties and sixties who embrace this ethic of less is more, of clarity and purity of design. They don't necessarily want to walk into a hotel dripping with heavy drapes, fancy millwork and floral carpet. You'll always have that product and it has its place, but the market is adapting at all levels and segments in reflecting this new attitude. Every brand out there, from Ritz Carlton to Starwood to Hilton, from the leisure market to the business hotels and convention centers, wants cool, hip and clarity.”
It's about throwing off the old and tired, the overly embellished and static, for something cleaner in line, less cluttered, flexible, fresh and organic. If those themes sound somewhat new agey, well, it's a new age, isn't it?
“It's all about less is more, not more is more,” declares De Santis. It's about how you provide the tools to make the guest experience every bit as lavish and luxurious as pompous, over-the-top guestrooms. The paradigm has shifted dramatically and I think it's a wonderful time for the hospitality industry because so many operators are embracing these ideas.”
De Santis' firm has been busy bringing these concepts to life for the W Dallas, W Hollywood and most recently, the prototype for Hyatt Place, the new limited service product. “Hyatt Place directly responds to the Gen X idea of less is more, and a sense of community and connection,” says De Santis. “And mobility is so important, as is connectivity, sensitivity, simplicity and proactive participation. You walk into the front door of Hyatt Place and there's no desk. There's this multi-use area that's almost, I hate to say, Starbucks-like, with wonderful, open seating at multi levels, kind of random and fresh.”
De Santis describes how the Hyatt Place appeals to this niche with its flexible space — ”The person who serves you at the bar may check you into your room. The bar at night becomes a complimentary breakfast center in the morning. Even the lighting changes over the course of the day. It's a place to work, engage with friends, have a great cup of coffee and some light food. There's stand-up work tables and floating seating, and wonderful banquettes that embrace groups. It's a work zone, a social zone and a pleasure zone.”
When it comes to the guestroom, De Santis says the workplace within the guest space has become increasingly important. “The desk is key, and in many cases it's no longer a desk but a roving environment that can move from one side of the room to the edge of the bed. As for technology, “it doesn't necessarily have to be front and center, but it has to be extremely accessible, with great ease and flexibility.
“People like to be connected in odd places. I want to let guests sit in the bathtub with their laptops. Or, since there's a move toward getting rid of the bathtub, offer fabulous showers with a memory board in them where one can make notes and have a creative outlet.”
Say goodbye to boxy rooms with solid walls, too. As in the public spaces, we're talking zones. Not ready for those wall-less bathrooms? Not to worry, says De Santis. In the W Dallas, the bathroom “totally opens up and engages the room, and yet it can be closed off by a beautiful fabric curtain.”
If there's one major difference between the Gen Xers and previous generations, it's their more social nature, suggests IHG's Anhut. Hoteliers need to respond to that. They're getting married later in life, they've grown up making friends on Internet chat rooms, and they generally hang out in groups more. “Gen Xers aren't afraid to interact with people they don't know,” says Anhut. “More females are on the road today and they don't want to be confined to their rooms, either. The hotel industry has to respond and create environments that are safe and perceived to be okay to be alone in.” That might mean more open and better-lit lounge and lobby seating arrangements, for example (out with the dim, hidden-in-the-corner bar). “We've picked up a lot on what the retail industry has done, by way of our general design being very open and flowing and by encouraging socialization and interaction with our service staff,” says Anhut.
Playing to the Gen Xer's shortened attention span, and ability to multi-task, Hotel Indigo is designed to change out certain elements, like graphics and artwork.
“We need to anticipate the guest's needs, wants and desires as opposed to the Boomer era in hotels (the ‘80s) which featured very process-oriented operating models,” says Anhut. “Then it was more about getting you in and getting you out as efficiently as possible. Today it's a more service-driven model. It's an exciting time because the demand there is for us to focus energy on service. Gen Xers respond to that. Before it was about not invading their space. Now they want us to invade their space.”
Visit www.LHonline for more information and related articles.
THE BIG IDEAS
Design enhancements aimed towards Gen Xers and Millennials include:
Gathering settings and places
Branded equipment, amenities and products
Branded furniture, such as improved beds and bedding, fixtures and equipment
Technology of all types: in-room entertainment, such as flat screen TVs; enhancements to Internet-related functions; guest history; self check-in and -out; business centers
Reprints and Licensing
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