The annual BITAC® Purchasing & Design West got started in earnest with a panel discussion focused on how to anticipate guests’ needs from a design standpoint as well as the increasing connection between technology and design.
Entitled “Design Direction: Getting In Front Of The Trends,” the panel included
Dina Belon, director, real estate assets, StayPineapple; Alesha Calvert, project manager, Wynn Design & Development; Armen Gharabegian, CEO and Founder, ShadeCraft Robotics; Linda Lamb, owner/principal, Lamb Design Group; and
Bob Sowell, President, Destination Designs, LLC.
The panelists detailed some of the ways they go about identifying consumer trends, particularly around technology, and accommodating those needs.
“I would offer that in order to anticipate the [guest’s] needs you have to really understand the origin of the needs. I believe there’s a direct correlation between cause and effect of cultural and economic issues. When you think of the virtual overload of our tech society right now and you play it forward it means the guests are needing a quieter, simpler, and easier experience,” said Lamb, adding that she’s observed an increased demand for natural materials and tactile products.
Belon underscored the point. “We never knew we wanted an iPhone until one existed. So trends are tough in that you need to anticipate what a guest is going to want even when they don’t even know that they want it.”
She continued, “We’re a boutique hotel brand, we’re not Marriott we don’t have to attract everybody. We attract a small group of people that are really into different and perky…I think trends are always a difficult thing to identify, but I think most hotel companies are actually trying to find something different and unique and that’s the trend.”
Calvert added, “One of the things we really try to focus on with the guest interaction is the desire for craft. With craft it’s less about staying with the trend as it is about creating the trend,” she said, adding, “how things are fabricated” is also a top priority for today’s consumer.
The trend to bring in local elements to a property has also taken hold in recent years. Lamb maintained, “I feel very strongly about that because there’s such a need for a sense of place at a hotel. Where you walk in and you know you are somewhere, as opposed to just a generic hotel. Boutiques have that great opportunity to do that because they are the heart and soul of the community and the challenge is perhaps about balance.”
Belon added, “Our whole model is built on ensuring that you get a unique experience. We have four hotels in Seattle and they’re each in different communities within Seattle and they’re totally different from each other. I think that is the essence of the boutique model.”
Sowell agreed and addressed today’s guest. “They want to have experience where they’re at. The business travelers of the ‘80s and ‘90s woke up and said ‘okay what day is it and what city am I in? Because all the rooms looked the same.”
Sowell further reinforced the role of technology. “I think technology has really become the sixth sense, we have it with us all the time. It’s just like smell and touch and feeling, and we are creating that experience. Are you able to get all of those senses? Is it easy to charge that phone? People have five different things that they need to charge,” he said.
Gharabegian agreed and talked about the genesis of ShadeCraft’s Sunflower, a robotic umbrella that features artificial intelligence and is slated to debut this year. He stressed, “we feel it’s extremely important for hospitality,” and he further commented that it has generated great interest already in Europe and the UAE.
“The thing we focused on was when you’re outside on the beach or on the terrace you want to charge your phone. We looked at comfort and solar energy was at the core. For us it’s extremely important to hide the technology. It’s taken us 8 years to put the technology back into the product so it actually looks like a sublime, solid object. But you can see good and be connected to the hotel so it really is supplying comfort to the person outside and that was what our mission was,” he stated.
When discussing the impact of technology on design, you can’t overlook the role of social media. The executives acknowledged how that has changed their approach.
According to Belon, “we literally have photo locations. We have little footprints on the sidewalk and then a place to take a picture. We have our dash dog, which sits on the bed. People take pictures at all of our hotels. Everything that we do is about Instagram and Twitter and pictures and engaging the guest during those moments,” she said.
Sowell, meanwhile, did address some of the limitations of social media. “It only gives you a pulse of what is happening right then and there. The good thing about that is you know your where revenue streams need to be modified to be able get that money back in there. The bad thing about that is if you have to go in and change for a relatively new type of clientele that’s coming through and that can’t be done overnight,” he commented.
Calvert noted that the Wynn has created a number of signature moments, but it was before instagram was created. “As we look forward in the design process we are becoming very sensitive to creating those moments where you’re looking at the object or photographing with the item or with the moment instead of just creating an environment,” she said.
Sowell acknowledged that with any design you ultimately have to “deconstruct the costs” and figure out the financial impact. However, he noted that will only get you so far as he touted the value of BITAC® and its suppliers. “Then it’s about having these great manufacturers that we can go to and say ‘hey, I want this wonderful blend, but I need it to be washable on a daily basis.’ The technology is out there, it’s about pushing the manufacturers to bring in the product that we need,” he said.
Lamb added, “That’s the beauty of an event like this to find problem solvers that become part of our cadre of answers. They become the people and manufacturers that we reach out to when we need to meet budget and balance that scale between the aesthetic and functionality. “We have to be forward thinking but not at the expense of bringing products that have longevity and functionality to our job,” she concluded.