BITAC Panel Discusses Importance Of Creating Unique Guest Experiences Through Design
The importance of providing guests a truly personalized and unique hotel experience has never been greater and social media continues to play an increasingly important role towards that end, according to a trio of design professionals.
Speaking during a panel session entitled “Getting Personal: Creating A Unique Guest Experience Through Design” at BITAC Purchasing & Design Virtual Connect 2021, the designers also emphasized the need to incorporate local elements, as well as the potential impact of food & beverage and technology.
Robert Laschever, principal, Cauhaus Design, framed the discussion by acknowledging the role of social media while discussing how the bar has been raised for designers.
“We do have to design interesting spaces with interesting furniture and an interesting view; food and beverage plays a huge part in that. I think that’s the whole point is thinking outside the box, thinking unique, thinking what is going to make something memorable and let you know where you are. Whether it’s part of a brand or not each hotel is unique. An experience to be in Beirut or Cairo or Vancouver or wherever is not New Jersey, is not New York, is not Boston. So I think that’s part of the whole thing and what’s great for designers is that it means that it’s not cookie-cutter anymore,” he said.
Laschever further added, “I think selfies have blossomed into a whole other industry where people just are enjoying it and loving to tell stories, loving to show photographs and loving to be seen in amazing places in amazing situations,” he said.
Youssef Abi Jaoude, principal, Blu Beirut, Interiors & Architecture, reinforced the point.
“I think that these people have a pride of showing themselves in certain locations and that’s why design is becoming much more important. A boring location does not inspire these [social media] interactions so this is our role as designers to make more photogenic locations and put more effort on the design part of social media,” he said.
Cynthia Penner, owner/principal, Box Interior Design, described these selfies as a “social currency” and acknowledged their importance, but emphasized that design has to be about more than that.
“I think it really is that sense of authenticity to a place and I think that’s the part that’s really essential. It’s not just about designers coming up with a whole bunch of cool stuff and putting cool stuff on this wall and cool stuff on that wall and making Instagram moments. It really is about finding that cultural DNA that’s so unique to that particular property,” she noted.
Penner discussed some of the challenges as it relates to food & beverage in the wake of the pandemic and many of the new standards.
“It’s thinking about today and then thinking about tomorrow. So the approaches have really been how do you create safety and protocol adherence in a simple and easy way without creating alienation? The reason people eat in restaurants is to feel connected to others. So how do you create that connection and then how do you build in the flexibility in the future when the counts can go up as to how many people are in the space? How do you make that a really seamless thing for the operators to be able to add in the tables and create that higher density?” wondered Penner.
Abi Jaoude, meanwhile, specifically referenced his firm’s recent experience designing restaurants within hotels in Saudi Arabia and the challenge of striking that balance.
“It’s been a little bit more flexible [recently], but at the time every table needed to have its own separation. So we were trying to create [venues] saying ‘we need to make separation, but then again we don’t want people to feel lonely,’” he said.
Laschever cited the continued emergence of “foodies” as he further emphasized the role of social media when discussing the future of food & beverage.
“People have something brought to their table and then they arrange it and they arrange the place setting and take photographs. Again, they use that as a part of their sort of social media interaction,” he said.
Laschever added, “I think what is happening with both food and beverage is that the focus is going to have to be a little more inward. You’re not going to be socializing as much, you’re not going to be sensing the buzz, so I think the food and the beverage has got to be a lot more interesting and entertaining.”
Meanwhile, technology continues to evolve and designed need to evolve with it. “It starts from the beginning when people are booking their hotels through the web sites or the OTAs and it follows through,” said Youssef.
He further pointed to the development of smart rooms, many of which incorporate apps allowing guests to interact with everything in that room. “I think this will be much more important with them in the future and it’s becoming cheaper to apply. I think there’s a lot of good to do there,” he said.
Penner further discussed the balancing act involved with incorporating the latest technology and maintaining that personal touch.
“You want technology to be there beautifully in the background so it’s there when you want it, but I think there’s also a part of hospitality that is the human component and it’s a really fine line. I think finding the [latest] technology is super important because it’s how we live but we’re also craving this human connection. So how do you balance those two things in a way that feels really seamless and can keep the warmth of the hotelier, first and foremost?” she concluded.