The notion of today’s “new normal”—or abnormal—is on everyone’s mind. But what does that mean for the hospitality and design industries? At a time when there are more questions than answers, speaking with and listening to peers and experts is the greatest tool the industry has to help navigate the continually changing circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon the world. Through multiple interviews, webinars, and socially distant Instagram Live discussions, we compiled insights from experts that paint a broad picture of the longterm impact the crisis will have on the hospitality world in the months and years to come.
Traveling with Purpose
Gone are the days of hopping on a plane for a business meeting only to be back inside your home less than 24 hours later. “We will see hospitality trend away from efficient hotel rooms or hotels that cater to a work-life [balance] scenario,” Gray Davis, cofounder of New York-based design studio Meyer Davis, said in an April interview, “and instead see more of a focus on travel for the sake of cultural immersion and vacation in the truest sense.” Hotelier Bashar Wali, former president and CEO of Provenance Hotels in Portland, Oregon, agrees. “This has given people a lot of opportunity to reflect introspectively and think about what’s important in life,” Wali said during a conversation on Instagram Live in late April. “The idea that somebody traveled for an Instagram moment seems so shallow now.”
Until travelers feel a sense of safety and security, differences in preferences and patterns will be notable. “People are going to be cautious about where they’re going, and they won’t want to immediately jump on a plane, so drive-to destinations will be the first to come back online,” SB Architects president and principal Scott Lee told HD. “People will always want to travel,” echoed Jason Holley, principal of London- and New York-based Universal Design Studio. “It’s part of being human, but people will want more from their experiences. They will be more value-driven rather than rate-driven. Experience will be the top of the agenda, and they will seek out more distinct, meaningful, and unique experiences.”
Moving forward in our new COVID-19 era, feeling safe will be the new luxury. “We already use many cues and signals to earn guests’ trust and show that a sanitary environment is top of mind,” said Matt Berman, principal of New York-based Workshop/APD, during the Design Trends Update: The New Normal webinar, which was hosted as part of HD Expo’s virtual programming. “Guests will no longer consider safety a given, so brands will have to reinforce [it] at every touchpoint—the glass is sparkling, food is fresh, the toilet is clean.” Even prior to COVID-19, New York design firm AvroKO had been developing “hospitable thinking” ideologies in order to affect design and take care of human needs. “We focus on the three S’s: Security (how can I help you feel less anxious in a space?), significance (how can this experience be meaningful?), and surprise (how can I delight you with something that’s a little bit unexpected?),” said founding partner Adam Farmerie. “We create a balance in our designs to include each of the three.”
“We still want to create beautiful spaces for people to visit, but what we want, from a design [perspective], is for our clients to have a level of versatility, so they’re not creating anything they will regret,” said Jeremy Levitt, principal at New York-based Parts and Labor Design. “We’re all working together to determine what makes the most sense as we move forward in this world.” During the Emerging Trends: F+B 2020 and Beyond webinar, Jason Maringola, design director of interior architecture at Washington, DC firm Streetsense, said it will be imperative to rethink the old ways of doing things. “People want to feel connected and be able to socialize, but in a safe setting,” he says, “so we’re looking at more private dining opportunities and more chef-to-table experiences that create a protected scenario for our guests.” “We’ll see more restaurants and hotels expanding their outdoor seating and looking at ways to enclose spaces for operation during the winter months,” says Gordana Jordanovska of San Francisco-based Studio Goga. “There is a big opportunity for the design world to look for ways to close off key retail streets and create pedestrian-only avenues that expand outdoor seating (think Lincoln Road in Miami, Las Ramblas in Barcelona, or Skadarlija in Belgrade). Imagine beautiful, off-the-grid structures that can transform from the summer months to the winter months.”
Once restaurant restrictions are lifted, the takeout and delivery market may continue to flourish, points out Andrea DeRosa of Los Angeles-based practice Avenue Interior Design. “We anticipate more fast casual restaurants that are focused on take away orders rather than dine-in experiences. This is a trend we were already witnessing with growing interest in food halls and smaller food outlets,” she said. As for hotels, Jean-Gabriel Neukomm, founder of New York practice JG Neukomm Architecture, predicts a more residential-like treatment. “I could see hotels incorporating a digital service that includes apps like Peloton, WeWork, and Talkspace into their amenity package,” said the architect. “This would allow longterm inhabitants to bring more than just their work life into the hotel experience, [as a way to] synthesize home, particularly within the creative class.” Aparthotel brand Locke Hotels, which is owned by London-based edyn, is already feeling this shift toward home-meets-hotel offerings. “We’ve seen a lot more interest from people who might not have considered an apartment offering in the past,” said edyn CEO Stephen McCall during a discussion on Instagram Live. “The hotel industry is not particularly quick to innovate, it usually takes a push. And while nobody would have wished for this, COVID-19 is going to accelerate the evolution of the industry.”
Although completely overhauling an existing establishment may be out of the question, implementing new practices and smaller renovations could be the key to welcoming patrons back in the safest and most responsible manner. “What we’re seeing is a lot more touchless technology and safer materials that are less porous and easy to clean,” said Maringola. “This is our moment to push the industry into a low-touch experience with something that feels safe and sustainable. As we’ve seen in the news, we’ve been able to reverse some of our pollution, and as an industry, we need to lead that charge and bring it to the forefront.” Gensler principal Tom Ito echoes that sentiment. “Antimicrobial materials should be considered, especially in high-traffic areas like lobbies, check-in desks, and conference spaces, and even linens and materials used in the room,” he told HD in an interview. “Digital check-in is already a reality and automatic controls will also enable hands-free use of lights, doors, and other operational functions.” For instance, Ace Hotel Group introduced a self check-in experience last year when it opened Sister City in Manhattan. During a conversation on Instagram Live, Ace’s president Brad Wilson explained that to make the digital system work, the choreography of the check-in process has to be flawless. “Too many times, people struggle through so many kinks with the system that checks you in that it gets frustrating and you need to go to a [front desk agent] and then it’s much easier.”
Like hoteliers, restaurateurs are also figuring out how to make their digital content more appealing while “also trying to create memories like we did in the restaurant,” said Donnie Madia, partner at Chicago-based One Off Hospitality, during the F+B webinar. “We’re trying to bridge the gap of the loss of the interaction with the server and bring that back to a family orientation—how the food looks when they get it home and how tasty it is—in order to feed guests and make them happy in a hospitable way without being there.” While design changes might be seen as temporary, infrastructure changes like IT, AV, and new HVAC systems could help “convert [guestrooms] into work suites to support longer-stay occupancies,” says Neukomm. “How great would it be to stay in a hotel but have access to your own office?” Take the Wythe Hotel’s partnership with short-term office space company Industrious. The boutique hotel in Brooklyn, New York transformed one floor into 13 offices, with each workspace able to accommodate up to four people, starting at $200 a day—signifying the shifting office landscape.
The New Hospitality
Other sectors, like offices, gyms, and coworking spaces, are also rethinking their models in light of COVID-19. At the Well, a members-only wellness club in New York, the team will enhance the club’s already rigorous cleaning standards. “During every shift, we have two people [who focus on sanitizing the space],” said cofounder Kane Sarhan during the Emerging Trends: Leading-Edge Concepts in Wellbeing webinar. “We always had that because we’re obsessive about cleanliness, and it’s a personal brand standard. Now, it’s going to be about regulating how people access the club and how they use the club. What we’re realizing is that people want to invest in health and wellness that helps boost their immunity and keeps them healthy.”
For concepts that are built on collaboration, like coworking-social club hybrid NeueHouse, being nimble and flexible will be essential now more than ever. “No matter what we have or haven’t done well in the past, there’s now an opportunity to start to rebuild a sense of trust and hospitality, in whatever that means, in this COVID world,” CEO Josh Wyatt said during a conversation on Instagram Live. “We’re on day one of what is going to be a long journey of innovation, design pivots, and enhancements.”
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