An increased emphasis on wellness, more flexibility within brand standards and the re-emergence of exterior corridor hotels are among the notable changes that have resulted from the ongoing pandemic as observed by a handful of purchasing and design executives at the most recent BITAC Virtual event.
Speaking during a panel entitled “Challenges Of COVID: How Purchasing & Design Have Been Altered By The Pandemic” at BITAC Purchasing & Design Virtual Connect, the group highlighted some of the critical trends.
Sara Shalls, principal, Shalls Design Studio, pointed out that wellness has become a much greater priority since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“Maybe it wasn’t up front and center in the conversation previously. Sometimes it was woven into specific designs or if you were building or designing towards a specific wellness program that was talked about before, but now without question it’s across the board. It’s something that’s woven into every design and every conversation that we’re having so I think it’s a good thing,” she said.
Lissette Landestoy, senior regional manager, Caribbean, Central & South America, Hilton Supply Management, also acknowledged the importance of wellness describing it as the hospitality industry’s “main focus.”
Landestoy, however, specifically touted Hilton’s efforts around cleanliness as part of its CleanStay program despite being remote for several months. “We’re doing a lot of virtual training with all our team members and operators. That has been really a big change from a procurement standpoint as far as educating in order to have our team members work in a safe environment and really engage the customers and loyal customers to come back to our hotels,” she said.
Meanwhile, Susan Boatright, vp, partner, Focus Design Interiors, talked about the movement toward exterior corridor hotels and outdoor spaces in general.
“We’re seeing definitely that our clients are asking for more exterior experiences and more exterior spaces. We’re even being asked to do more garage doors or doors that open so that even the interior spaces can feel like outdoor spaces. That’s something that’s come up a lot lately,” she commented.
Brand standards are another issue that comes up a lot when it comes to hotel projects with many owners often pushing back against costly PIPs [product improvement programs] and renovations.
Brenda Wheatley, senior project manager, GS Associates, Inc., maintained she has seen a more flexible approach in light of the current economic environment.
“I think the brands are giving them a little bit more leniency. If someone had something due at this end of the year, I’m seeing things extended until the next year. Especially next year I’m already doing a few PIPs for some other hotels and the timelines are kind of in limbo right now. I think hotel owners are trying to concentrate on their staff right now and keeping their hotels running and servicing guests. I think coming second is renovations and I think brands are realizing that,” she commented.
Shalls reinforced the point. “I’m finding that they [brands] are being flexible with their standards and when I say flexible that’s not to ease them, but to adjust them to be flexible in terms of what is the best thing for us right now in the current times and as we evolve and this becomes a new normal for us. They’ve seen things changing and they’re not being as strict; we know that we have to adjust and evolve and be agile,” she asserted.
Hilton’s Landestoy, meanwhile, provided the brand perspective on the matter.
“We’re working very hard with our owners and we’re sensitive about it. It’s a situation where we’re all in it together and I think that’s something that we take to heart. So from the top to the bottom all of us in all different disciplines we’re working with our owners and giving them as many tools that we can to have them bring back their team members and really open their doors,” she said.
In looking ahead to 2021, several of the panelists expressed a degree of optimism acknowledging some of the benefits of discovering new ways to work, particularly when it comes to being remote.
“We relied on face-to-face all the time and I think we’ve learned that we can work as a team even though we’re apart and sometimes be even more productive. So I think it’s made me excited about moving forward and giving people the flexibility of meetings with clients even though we’re not face-to-face. I think that’s been a really neat development this year,” said Boatright.
Wheatley agreed while hoping for a “new normal for 2021.” She added, “I’m hoping to see some of my teammates. I’ve enjoyed working with them remotely and actually I think we’ve gotten a better relationship working remotely.”
Landestoy further emphasized the importance of adapting to the challenges.
“These are challenging times that have been putting us to the test. I think that we have to adapt and just understand and continue. We’re going to get through this in the next 12 to 18 months, hopefully sooner, but it’s really a matter of adapting and just learning through daily experiences as well as being thoughtful about all our colleagues and everybody in all different industries,” she noted.
Shalls, meanwhile, is bullish heading into next year as she sees plenty of opportunity ahead, particularly with some new construction projects.
“We’re excited about that and picking up projects that we had started to design and were moving pretty fast on before they came to an ultimate halt. So I do think there’s still a handful of projects out there like that that will get picked up and new construction will start in 2021 so we’re looking forward to some of those projects,” she said.