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Beyond The Borders

BITAC® Global Brings International Design Issues Into Focus

Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Dennis Nessler
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Leading hospitality executives from as many as 21 countries are in attendance for BITAC® Global, an annual event that kicked off Sunday night and is being held at Breathless Riviera Cancun.

Among the highlights of the first day of the event—which included numerous networking opportunities—was an educational session featuring a handful of leading architects and designers. Entitled “International Influence On U.S. Design,” the discussion addressed such topics as the impact of technology, Millennials, and sustainability.

The panelists framed the conversation by focusing on how guests have evolved from a design standpoint over the last several years. Richard Fleming, CEO, Richard Fleming Architects, offered his perspective. “We’ve come into the age of instant response. So where before we had the luxury of planning out two years, I think the industry is now looking for very quick responses. We’ve been looking to try to provide that solution that’s more ‘finger on the pulse,’ so they can respond quickly. Developing solutions in a much shorter time frame is what clients are asking for.”

Matthew Becker, senior associate, Perkins Eastman, stated, “What’s interesting is that the diversification of the brands is being driven by the fact that so many of the users of the properties now are communicating visually. So if there is a great aspect of a property that can drive RevPAR and occupancy in tremendous ways,” he said.

“Differentiation in design is key,” added Debbie Flevotomou, architect/director, Debbie Flevotomou Architects.

Meanwhile, according to Sandra Benitez, principal, Design Atelier, “The clients want authenticity; they want to have that sense of place. The guest wants to experience where they are,” she said.

Shannon Kim, corporate director of technical services, Plateno Group, agreed, “authenticity and localization is such a boom now all around the world.”

The impact of the different generations on design was, of course, part of the focus of the panel as well. Fleming maintained, “I think that there’s been a paradigm shift in design. Baby boomers are now feeling out represented by Millennials and by 2017 Millennials are going to spend more money than the Baby Boomers. The other shift in design is before where we were ‘form follows function,’ it’s now ‘form follows luxury’ and that’s represented in the ways Millennials are communicating. They’re focused on the experience; they’re not collecting anything,” he said.

While Kim acknowledged the growing importance of Millennials, she emphasized designers can’t forget about the Baby Boomers, a group which she includes herself in. “We are tech savvy, and we can get by with a small area in the shower and the whole less is more concept. At the same time we like to spend money, and focus on the destination and the experience. It’s about respecting both sides and balancing that and creating design to accommodate those big groups of people,” she asserted.

A growing emphasis on technology is part of that balance, and Fleming noted that today’s guests have been the catalyst for design changes. “How much contact do you have with the guest because technology is considered to be empowering. They’re asking for no reception desk and no check in. The industry is asking that question when do we make contact? When do we create the wonderful experience and response?”

Meanwhile, the approach to lobbies and public spaces continues to evolve. Benitez discussed specifically a project she is working on in Latin America. “They don’t want as much of the open air public space. They seem to want just a place to be seen but they don’t necessarily want people to be functioning and working there,” she said, acknowledging that’s a contrast from what most U.S. properties strive to create.

Becker added, “the trend right now is for the lobby space to be sort of an outdoor culture where you can see everything that that sight has to offer. More and more technology helps to facilitate those connections that are made,” he said, adding, “the major trend globally is for interactivity and action.”

While sustainability has been a global movement, some regions have taken a lead, according to executives. Becker noted, “In the Middle East they’ve already started in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, for example, with their own programs that are equivalent to what we have here [in the U.S.] with LEED Certification. So it’s of importance to the government there and it’s of importance to the operators of hotels. Less so in Asia, but that might come eventually as they deal with their issues. Everyone here has flown into Beijing and seen the impact of all of the manufacturing there. I think they will come around as well,” he said.

In contrast, Becker talked about the progress in America. “Since in the U.S. we’ve had it for some time, everybody’s companies have come up in terms of the product that they offer that meet sustainability goals. You actually aren’t at a disadvantage design wise if you’re choosing from these companies,” he said.

Kim added, “More and more hoteliers are aware of the fact that the running costs of the hotel is more than if you were to build [green]. I’ve seen hotels where they actually have a five-minute hourglass on the shower reminding guests about the water. When it comes to sustainability you have to think about how to plan a hotel properly,” she said.
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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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