Changing guest demographics, the increased role of social media, and the impact of the ongoing labor crisis were among the key topics discussed by a trio of veteran designers during a recent panel discussing luxury hotels.
The discussion—which was entitled “Redefining Luxury: Top-Tier Segment Evolves Following Pandemic”—took place at BITAC Luxury Live and also called attention to some of the top trends within the segment.
“You’re seeing a lot of the hotel brands, such as Marriott and Hilton, starting to expand their luxury all-inclusive business and really developing that to enhance it,” said Heather Maloney, principal, New York-based Definition Design, LLC, a turn-key design firm focused on hospitality and multi-family housing.
Kat Blue, interior designer and founder, Atlanta-based Blue Lantern Studios, LLC—a hospitality interior design firm specializing in restaurants and public area design— noted that “integrated data” has been the biggest change she’s seen from an F&B perspective.
“We’re focused on that indoor and outdoor connection even in environments that have different climates that are more challenging,” she added.
Blue acknowledged the difficulty of designing restaurants around social distancing requirements. “I think that the challenge is integrating a sense of separation, but still that connectedness,” she said, further adding the importance of guests not feeling “isolated.”
Maloney also emphasized the importance of connecting as she elaborated on some of the changes in demographics that have taken place.
“The luxury guest is getting younger. I think that they are definitely more experienced based. They want to have genuine authentic experiences where they are staying and they want to be able to also have that connection with the staff as opposed to this kind of separation,” she said, adding that a focus on wellness and sustainability are also key priorities.
Micah Tipler, founder/principal, The Woodlands, TX-based Monarch & Maker—a turn-key design firm with expertise in residential, commercial and hospitality projects—reinforced the point.
“I know that we worked on luxury projects before where they thought that the target demographic was initially a good 15 or 20 years older than what they actually ended up being. It’s a lot more young families carving out those experiences and that time with the family. So it is always interesting to see who the target is when we start and then who it ends up being,” she noted.
Blue emphasized the experiential aspect of today’s luxury guest.
“More people are looking for a unique experience. So they’re going into that luxury sector and feeling like if they’re going to spend the money they want to see the value out of the experience there and the service that they’re getting,” she noted.
However, when it comes to service—a critical component of the luxury sector—the industry’s ongoing labor shortage continues to have an impact. Blue cited an example of a client who was forced to wait some two months to re-open a 50-seat restaurant as a result of staffing issues.
“So many people got out of the industry and you’re having to pay a lot more for staff and it’s harder to get. I don’t know what the solution to that is, I know that is a huge challenge in the industry,” commented Blue.
Tipler noted the company is seeing a similar issue within its construction division.
“We’re seeing this in subcontractors. You just can’t get them and the new generation isn’t being trained. So I think in probably 15 years that sector of the industry is going to really be in trouble,” she noted.
Meanwhile, the designers touched on some of the changes that have taken place within luxury guestrooms, such as bringing fitness into the room, including yoga programs and spa experiences.
“I think those are really great elements, especially if don’t feel comfortable going down to the fitness facility in your hotel. Now you have that availability to do that in your guestroom,” said Maloney.
Blue also touted the importance of bringing wellness and fitness into the room, while driving home some key aspects of technology.
“It’s important to keep the controls simple enough, but provide the ability to dim all your lighting. You should have lighting under the bed and for going into the bathroom in the evening. It’s fully automated, but keep it simple enough that you can still touch a button and turn off your light in your room and it’s not all controlled from one area,” she said.
Finally, the panelists addressed the role of social media within luxury hotels.
“I think a lot of it is about that constant awareness to both our audience and who we are trying to engage as clients. But we are also working on behalf of our manufacturers and having them get the shout-out for whatever the material happens to be. It is really a full-time job,” said Tipler.
Maloney agreed, noting “I always like to make sure any collaboration with my vendors are posted.”
However, she emphasized that the luxury sector is a little different when it comes to social media.
“From a design standpoint I think the luxury end of the industry is not so focused on having those Instagrammable moments in their lobbies, as say a lifestyle or boutique hotel is. I think it’s very much a generational thing and there are definitely more Instagrammable moments programmed into F&B areas and your entry moments into hotels. I think it’s a much more subtle experience when it’s a high-end, luxury hotel because that’s not really what their guests are looking to do,” she said.
“I think today the Instagrammable moments are more about the experience versus the design element. I think that’s what’s kind of changing too about luxury design. It’s making sure that we all talk about moments incorporated into hospitality, but I think it’s going beyond that and creating unique experiences for the guest,” Blue concluded.