New hotels focus on communal spaces and areas where travelers and locals can gather over larger guest rooms.
by NICK FORTUNA
In a marketplace featuring super-sized portions of French fries, sport utility vehicles, new houses known as McMansions, and huge television screens, American consumers seem to agree that bigger is better. But one exception to this rule is hotel rooms, which are getting smaller as hoteliers focus their resources on communal spaces designed to draw local visitors as well as out-of-town guests.
Andrew J. Fay, president of The Gettys Group, a leading hotel design and development firm, said hoteliers are beefing up their restaurants and bars and creating more welcoming lobbies in an effort to make the communal spaces in hotels the living rooms of American cities. And rather than using a cookie-cutter design model to match the other hotel properties in a brand’s portfolio, the goal is to capture the flavor of the locale.
“I think these trends are generally true across the variety of the chain scales,” Fay said. “We’re looking for ways to integrate the hotel into the fabric of the local community more and more and making it feel like it is an authentic and local experience and not just something that’s being consistently duplicated around the world. Authenticity trumps consistency every time.”
Deborah Golding, president of The Hotel Design Group, said scrapping bathtubs in favor of larger, nicer showers with glass doors instead of shower curtains is one way hoteliers are able to shrink the footprint of guest rooms. The showers also cost less to install and can be cleaned more quickly and easily by hotel staff, she said. To enhance the guest experience, hotels are beginning to install new showerheads equipped with speakers that can be paired with guests’ Bluetooth-enabled devices to provide music.
“People have found that no one really uses the tubs in hotels, so [installing showers]opens up the rooms, reduces costs and looks nicer,” Golding said.
The traditional desk and desk chair also are being phased out of many guest rooms and are being replaced by a small multipurpose table and two chairs, enabling guests to eat, have drinks, work or play cards in the same space. To make smaller rooms look more spacious, design firms are removing the doors from closets to create a more open feel, Golding said.
“The dining/desk combination gives the room less of a corporate, old-hotel look,” she said. “It’s just more multifunctional than a desk with one chair. And by opening up the closets, you’re making things more accessible. Since you’re there for only a few days, it’s just easier to have a nicely opened built-out closet.”
Additional square footage is being gained by replacing the large armoires used to hold the boxy televisions of yesteryear with smaller pieces of furniture that can easily accommodate the new flat-screen TVs, Fay said.
“The smaller guest room doesn’t necessarily mean hotels are sacrificing style, comfort or functionality,” Fay said. “I think they’re just becoming a lot more efficient. They’re made to feel a lot more spacious with clever lighting treatments and through ceiling height and developing furniture pieces that are more efficient as well, like incorporating USB ports into furniture, wall-mounting headboard lights and incorporating storage space into bed bases. All of those elements are ways that you can deliver all of the functionality but in a smaller space.”
For hoteliers, the most obvious benefit of having smaller rooms is that they allow the hotel to offer more rooms in the same amount of space, increasing the number of guests who can be accommodated and therefore boosting a hotel’s revenue potential. However, the benefits don’t stop there, according to Clay Markham, the senior vice president and director of the hospitality sector for the CallisonRTKL design consultancy.
Smaller rooms are easier to prefabricate offsite and transport to the construction site, which is an especially attractive option in congested cities, where finding adequate space for large construction equipment can be challenging. Prefabrication also can dramatically shorten the construction process.
“It’s a much shorter timeframe for construction, and that saves you a lot of money,” Markham said.
“Rooms are getting smaller, and that doesn’t just go for the millennial-style lifestyle hotels, it really goes for the luxury hotels too. Huge rooms become a bit unmanageable from a cost standpoint for the developer. I think well-curated rooms at the luxury level are essential, but that doesn’t mean they have to be especially large. The lobby spaces and the social spaces are attracting guests down to the public spaces as opposed to them staying in their rooms.”
Indeed, the hotel lobby is undergoing a dramatic transformation from a space designed solely for checking in to a spot where people can congregate and socialize, Fay said. Hotels are offering more grab-and-go food options, upgraded restaurants and bars and large tables where guests and locals alike can sit and relax or get some work done, just like they do in coffee shops like Starbucks, Fay said.
The grab-and-go stations take on increasing importance as hotels upgrade their restaurants and bring in popular chefs or third parties to run them. These high-end restaurants typically are not suited to offering the affordable and quick-serve breakfast options that many hotel guests rely upon to start their days, Markham said.
The goal of the reinvigorated lobby is to drive revenue for hotels and better integrate hotels into their communities by making the lobby more welcoming and attractive for locals looking to eat, grab drinks or hang out.
“Even the restaurants that are being created at the luxury level are not generic hotel restaurants anymore, and if they were, they would fail because they need to reflect the community and have the vibe of the community,” Markham said. “With high-end chefs or third-party operators being brought in, the restaurant can no longer be embedded in the back of the hotel. It may have to be on the street corner so that it is very accessible.
“Since high-end restaurants don’t typically want to serve breakfast, the grab-and-go and cool, hip market-type offerings are really being expanded.”
In showcasing hotels’ individual locales, many new hotels are attempting to bring the city into the main ballroom and function space by including at least one large glass wall that allows attendees to look out upon the city, Markham said. Hotel designers also are experimenting with ideas such as removing the wall between the ballroom and the prefunction gathering space to create a more open feel.
“Having at least one exterior glass wall allows guests to always be connected to the outside environment,” Markham said. “People don’t want the generic anymore. They want to be connected to the place where they’re in. It all comes back to being extremely flexible, especially with meeting space, because hotels are engaging different kinds of corporate entities. The meeting rooms don’t have to be as rectangular as they were before. They can be something a little more fun in terms of shape.”
Fay said some hotels situated next to large apartment buildings in populous cities are looking at other ways to engage locals, such as by providing storage and receiving rooms for package deliveries since the apartment buildings often lack adequate space to accommodate the sharp increase in deliveries from online shopping. When locals stop in to pick up their packages, they hopefully will take the time to find out about that day’s restaurant specials or stay for a beer, Fay said.
“There’s a lot more communal space,” Fay said. “They’re inviting locals and guests into a space that’s animated, where they can be connected if they want to or do their own thing if they want to, but they feel that they’re part of something. Historically, when you went into a lobby, someone would immediately ask you, ‘What’s your room number?’ and you’d feel out of place if you didn’t have one. Now, people are really welcomed in hotels: ‘Please come in and sit. Please have a cup of coffee, and bring a friend.’”
Newer hotel lobbies also are offering more unisex bathrooms in response to calls for better accommodations for transgender guests, Golding said.
The communal feel of lobbies is extending all the way down the value to chain to “poshtels,” which feature shared rooms, bathrooms, cooking areas, laundry facilities and gathering spaces, Fay said. These dressed-up hostels, which are popular in Europe and are becoming increasingly common in big cities in the United States, aren’t the dingy, musty hostels many travelers might associate with backpacking through Europe. Instead, they are being designed as social-gathering venues, Fay said.
“We’re seeing huge growth in the world of poshtels,” Fay said. ■
Photo credit: ©iStock/ShotShare
Photos courtesy of the Hotel Design Group