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Design That Differentiates

BITAC® Panel Examines Key Ways For Properties To Stand Out

Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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In discussing how to create significant points of distinction for hotels design professionals emphasized the ongoing movement away from traditional brand standards, the impact of public spaces and exploiting social media as three key areas of focus.

The panel discussion--entitled “Design That Differentiates: Helping Hotels Stand Out In A Crowded Marketplace”--took place during last week’s BITAC® Purchasing & Design West at the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, CA.

The designers acknowledged balancing the needs of the brand and the owner can be challenging but also indicated that the brands have become a bit more design friendly in recent years.

“The fortunate thing with the brands is that they are now creating boutique/lifestyle tiers within their portfolios. These [soft] brands give you the opportunity to create unique and authentic types of properties. I think they’re recognizing the need to break away from traditional brand concepts,” said Brenda Geoghagan, director of hospitality design, Smith Gee Studio.

Buddy McDowell, president, Design Directions International, reinforced the point.
“Sometimes I feel like the ping pong ball stuck between the owner and the brand. Owners want independence and uniqueness, and brands say ‘you’ve got to do it this way.’ So you’ve got to be a little bit of an arbitrator, but I think the brands have raised the standard as far as the quality level and I think that’s a good thing. I do believe that every hotel shouldn’t be a cookie cutter,” he said.

Robyn Artis, principal/founder, Robyn Artis Design Associates, confirmed a similar experience. “A lot of times we are in the middle of them going back and forth and it is kind of picking and choosing really what elements you want to stand out,” she stated.

A couple of designers, meanwhile, pointed to projects where the brands have actually shown quite a bit of flexibility. For example, Sarah Pickard, president, Pickard Design Studio, acknowledged “you have to pick and choose your battles” as she detailed a Hilton Garden Inn in New Orleans the firm worked on.

“We went into it hearing ‘the brand is not going to let you do anything but the brand standard’ and we ended up doing quite a bit of custom work. We’ve worked with that brand before and they know we do a really good job with custom because it’s kind of in our wheelhouse,” said Pickard, who noted some of the changes included different finishes on the case goods, custom artwork and a new registration desk. She added, “when you walk in it doesn’t feel like same old Hilton Garden Inn.”

Brenda Amsberry, principal, Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative (OLC), pointed out she had a similar experience with Hilton’s DoubleTree brand.
“They’ve actually been really great about letting us do some more creative things in the guestroom and giving it more of a boutique feel than they ever have before. Going through their whole review process they’ve been much more open about not just regionalizing [the hotel] but just making it a unique guest experience. They’re more interested I think in the guest experience, not necessarily their brand standards,” she noted.

Geoghagan further commented on the brands. “I think they’re willing to work with you, they’re a little bit more receptive,” she noted.

Not surprisingly, the designers collectively agreed that an integral part of differentiating a property and making it stand out is creating unique looks and designs in the lobbies and public spaces.

“That first visual impression obviously is very important when you walk into a hotel. We’re opening spaces up trying to create more interactive spaces and get people out of their guestrooms and back into the public areas, which are hopefully producing revenue,” said McDowell.

Amsberry underscored the point.“The most important aspect is energizing the lobby. When you walk into a hotel and there’s no activity it just feels dead. So we’ve been centralizing the lobby bar so that’s one of first things you see when you walk into the hotel, which gets guests to be excited about coming back into the public space and spending money,” she noted.

Geoghagan further emphasized the impact of food & beverage within the space.
“The f&B is playing such a huge role with us. We’re bringing the bar out in the middle of the space. Where it used to be tucked away now it’s the focus. There’s a lot of variety and opportunity for guests, not just one restaurant that opens at one time. It’s like the Starbucks concept basically living inside your hotel,” she noted.

Amsberry further amplified the point, “one of our properties put in a pizza oven so that when you first walk in you see the pizza oven in the distance. They have that open 24 hours for in-room pizza delivery.”

The importance of creating design that can be fully leveraged on social media is critical in today’s world and designers acknowledged that it’s become a major consideration.

“Clients are willing to spend money for a focal point that will be an Instagram moment, [maybe] an expensive per-square-foot type of material that is unique,” said McDowell.

Pickard confirmed that’s been her experience as well. “The biggest topic we had during a presentation recently was what is the Instagram moment? We had a long corridor at this particular property and the Instagram moment [they had] wasn’t enough, they wanted like an over-the-top Instagram moment,” she noted.

Geoghagan also noted, “we’re building it into the rooms too so it self markets their property,” she noted.

Artis provided some perspective on the movement. “A couple of years ago yes we had Instagram, but [now] we start even in our programming phase. We start pinpointing where those moments might be throughout the property and then we start designing around that and we didn’t do that two years ago. Now it’s a must have,” she concluded.
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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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