Does the hospitality sector see a silver lining on the horizon? Although many are predicting that the economic slump will continue to plague struggling hotels, casinos, and resorts, there may be some good news for Building Teams in the offing.
“We do expect hotel transaction volume to increase over 2009 levels and new transactions could likely lead to new renovation projects,” reports David A. Black, managing director of hotel project and development services, Jones Lang LaSalle (www.joneslanglasalle.com), Chicago.
And while a recent survey by the National Business Travel Association revealed that 71% of U.S. corporate travel buyers plan to decrease nonessential travel this year, a recent United Nations World Tourism Organization report stated that leisure travel forecasts international arrivals to increase by a few percentage points and is expected to continue to outpace business travel. These changes portend new needs for hospitality buildings designed originally for the booming business market that may now need a more consumer-oriented profile.
Consequently, hoteliers are busy reshuffling the deck to fill the occupancies left by business travelers who now prefer e-mail and low-cost teleconferencing. Although financing is tight, Black's 27 years of hospitality and real estate development experience tell him that now is a good time to renovate. “There will be less new supply of hotels coming on line in the next several years, so if owners can afford to do it, they will be emerging with a newly renovated property when others will be just starting their renovations,” putting them in a better market-leading position,” he says.
Furthermore, says the JLL strategist, costs for construction, materials, and professional services are down approximately 20% from 2008 levels. Renovating now means less “displacement of business.”
REPOSITIONING AND REBRANDING
To take one example, Hilton's luxury brand recently invested in such renovations, based upon market demand, for its Conrad Indianapolis property. “We recognized a need based on client feedback that as much as they love our ballroom, it doesn't work with a group smaller than 100,” says Brad N. Lingle, the Conrad Indianapolis director of property operations, “So we took two smaller meeting rooms and made a larger room by removing the hard wall and replacing it with an operable wall to meet the needs of our clients wanting a larger space, but in a more intimate setting.”
Clay Markham, AIA, LEED AP, vice president of RTKL (www.rtkl.com) in their Los Angeles office, sees a new wave of redesigns among mid-level hotels attempting to reposition their look and create a more trendy image. Some of them, such as New York City's Surrey Hotel which just opened with new interiors by Houston's Rottet Studio for owner Denihan Hospitality Group, have jumped from sleeper bargains to top-tier regional hotels with signature décor and long waiting lists. That's one reason why Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based interior designer, Lorraine Knapp, LEED AP, predicts an increase in amenities, such as concierge services, for lesser-star hotels in an attempt to stay competitive.
As for marketing and branding, Andrew Chiu, principal and director of the Asia/Pacific region for DiLeonardo International (www.dileonardo.com), Warwick, R.I., an interiors firm specializing in the hospitality industry, reports that the driving force across the board from luxury to economy is “lifestyle.” Starwood Hotels' highly successful boutique brand perhaps deserves credit for setting the trend, but Chiu observes that W Hotels and Resorts introduced such innovations as their “Whatever/Whenever” concierge service, hotel lobbies transformed into large living rooms, “Wow” luxury suites, and the W “Munchie Box” mini-bar. These novel ideas in hoteling, says Chiu, have influenced hoteliers around the world.
For instance, DiLeonardo is currently working on a few InterContinental hotels in China, and despite the fact that the hotel's target population tends to be older and may prefer a more conservative color scheme, the operator is pushing for a fresher look in terms of room layouts and finishes. “This makes our job more challenging, but we're happy to take it on knowing that the end product is going to be much more appealing to today's traveler,” he says.
Of course, grand redesigns and rebranding efforts are certainly not the only way to bolster revenue. From a more practical perspective, hotels are improving customer service, reducing energy costs through energy-based upgrades, doing minor refresh work, and providing incentives such as a fourth night free, spa points, free parking, and food and beverage credits. “Instead of discounting on the room rate, leveraging the hotel's underutilized amenities and brand equity is a very successful way of maintaining cash flow,” confirms Chiu.
For example, some hotels located near airports are offering their parking structures for long-term parking at rates lower than at the airport. “Travelers are happier dropping their cars off at a hotel and arriving at the airport in a hotel shuttle, as opposed to the normal parking garage and van,” says Chiu.
Yet another trend is hoteliers partnering with recognized brands to tap into their reservations systems and brand-loyal customers. “The luxury independents are joining with the big hotel chains to become a part of Starwood's Luxury collection or Hilton's Waldorf Astoria name, for example,” notes Stacy Elliston, IIDA, LEED AP, principal of the Addison, Texas-based architecture and interiors firm RDH & Associates (www.rdhassociates.net).
INTERIORS: FLEXIBLE AND COMFORTABLE
“Flexibility, especially in public areas, is a huge trend that enables guests to customize their experience,” explains Gina Goodin, LEED AP, principal, RTKL (www.rtkl.com), Miami. “Whether alone or in a group, guests want public/lobby spaces that allow them to work, socialize, or relax all in one—and all with plug-in capabilities for power, wireless, and Internet. This also applies to food and beverage, as we're seeing a blurring of the line between F&B areas and public spaces. Consequently, multi-functional furniture and high-performance upholsteries are in great demand.”
Similarly, Brent Lynch, principal and executive vice president with hospitality architecture and interiors firm HFS Concepts 4 Long Beach, Calif. (www.hfsc4.com), observes that public areas are being designed to support impromptu meetings, and lounge areas are being used to serve grab-and-go breakfasts in the morning and become bars at night. “Cool, hip, and slightly edgy is becoming somewhat mainstream,” he notes.
RTKL's Markham also sees individualization of public areas as a trend. Whether it's providing private check-in, enclosed phone vestibules, or quiet corners for more intimate conversation, the aim is to create a more personalized environment.
Of course, accommodating guest mobile technology is another big component of today's hospitality design schemes. For their laptops, cell phones, PDAs, iPods, or other mobile devices, guests expect connectivity and outlets for recharging, both in public spaces and at their bedside.
As for the guestrooms, designers are cleaning up the clutter and infusing ancillary design elements to create a design signature, according to Jones Lang LaSalle's Black. “Integrating specific elements that are significant to the location of the property is one way to personalize a space for guests,” he says.
As a case in point, the Conrad Indianapolis chose “Heartland” colors of rose, peach, and wheat representing flowers, fruits, and grains for its guestrooms and public spaces. And playing off Indianapolis's nickname as the Circle City, circular medallions adorn the guestroom corridors, elevators doors have circular decorative motifs, and a marble medallion embedded in the lobby floor reflects a corresponding round light fixture above.
While marble is a common lobby choice for flooring, other hard surfaces such as wood or porcelain tile have become popular in public areas either to create a warm, residential feel or, in the case of the tiles, to offer a more colorful or patterned aesthetic, according to HFS Concepts 4's Lynch.
“We are starting to see clients more open to natural flooring,” says RDH & Associates' Elliston, a member of the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality. “Several years ago, we tried to propose a cork floor for a spa space and the client wouldn't hear of it. But now, it is somewhat expected that there be some naturalness to materials that are presented for consideration.”
More color is also showing up in ceilings. “I think the biggest thing is that we are considering ceilings part of our design now,” says Elliston. “It's simply not a plane of space that we pick a neutral paint color for, but we are now making them interesting and thought provoking.”
Perhaps even more dramatic has been the blurring of lines between the floor, walls, and ceiling. According to Fort Lauderdale-based Knapp, “It is becoming popular to curve a floor material up like a ribbon, so it becomes a wall, then have it serve as a furniture surface, then have it rise up again to become a ceiling. Whereas a room was traditionally conceived as a box, usually with right angles between the planes, we can now encounter totally organic spaces, with no angles at all, and with materials that wrap all the surfaces in a continuous surface.”
As a result of greater interest from guests, the variety and quality of green interior products now available on the market has also increased, making these options much more viable. “These products, across the board, have greatly improved from an aesthetic and design sense, so that it's easy for designers to use them now as a first choice, rather than trying to 'fit' them into a scheme,” states Robert Macaruso, IIDA, LEED AP, an associate with DiLeonardo. “For example, fabric, wall coverings, and carpet have integrated the same quality and aesthetic that designers and the hotel market have grown accustomed to, with environmentally friendly manufacturing and disposal techniques.”
With fabrics made from things like bamboo and recycled materials as well as renewable flooring, water-soluble finishes, water-based adhesives, and low-VOC paints, hoteliers are boosting their green portfolios.
But while sustainable design is definitely on the rise in the hospitality sector, designers point out that there is still a pretty steep learning curve for certain clients. “Some clients say that they want green design, but aren't quite sure what it means,” says Elliston. “So, it has really become more of a process than one immediate transition.”
Todd C. Lundgren AIA, LEED AP, vice president, RTKL, Dallas, whose firm's hospitality portfolio comprises four- and five-star flags, convention hotels, and boutique resorts, acknowledges that while brands are voicing greater interest in green design, “much of the focus is about 'appearing' to be sustainable, rather than rethinking hospitality design at its core.”
FIINANCE – AND FF&E
Fixtures, furnishings, and equipment (FF&E) take up a significant percentage of a hotel's annual budget, so it behooves hoteliers to stay up on the latest in design, quality, pricing, and procurement. For example, casegoods, the single largest FF&E line item, are shifting to lighter tones, while renewable and sustainably harvested products are growing in demand.
“The very sleek, minimalistic, dark wood rooms are starting to transition to lighter woods in the casegoods, and we can actually put some color on the bed now,” says Elliston. Medium tones are slowly replacing darker stains. “It's quite a nice change after being in a dark trend for almost five years now,” she says.
In terms of species, Elliston continues to see lots of maple, perhaps due to the fact that it is a very hard wood with relatively no grain and works well with sleek, one-step stains. In Goodin's opinion, walnut and oak are making a comeback, while cherry and mahogany are on the decline. “Across the board, owners are interested in cleaner, more modern lines rather than a traditional, more conservative look and feel,” she states.
Another fad, points out Macaruso, is the integration of sustainable and certified wood into upholstered furniture frames and exposed wood. For example, ipe, a rapidly renewable species, has made its way into furniture design and flooring. “It's a very hard wood that has a similar look to teak,” says Macaruso. “It's great to use in resort projects, spas, and outdoor furniture.”
Other examples of recycled materials include sawdust from post-industrial waste streams being used to manufacture fiberboard, and upholstery foam being made from 100% recycled content, notes Black.
On the design side, while pure crafted wood furnishings and millwork have their appeal, RTKL's Goodin has seen more mixing of materials, such as stone, wood, solid surfacing, and manufactured panel products. Consequently, this has required millwork fabricators to upgrade their know-how in working with multiple materials.
RDH's Elliston is seeing a greater willingness on the part of traditional hotels to embrace contemporary design. “But perhaps the biggest trend is that there is no one trend as lots of different looks are emerging simultaneously, allowing for a wide range of design creativity,” she says. Consequently, flexible designs and multifunctional products are in demand. In the case of lobby seating, for example, hotel owners are breaking away from heavy, fixed pieces, instead presenting more casual, comfortable environments to encourage spontaneous gatherings where patrons can move the seating around to accommodate their group.
Adding to the residential feel hoteliers are looking to create has been the use of artwork, as was recently done at the Conrad Indianapolis and the renewed Surrey Hotel in New York. “This has added an element to attract people to the guestrooms and meeting spaces,” says Lingle. In the case of the Surrey, Lauren Rottet, FAIA, principal of Rottet Studio, is well known for encouraging owners to employ works by significant artists to improve ambiance and cultural buzz.
Rottet recommends works by rising stars in the contemporary art world, as well as commissioning artisanry for “feature walls” and other areas of focus. Michele Evanger, a Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based interior designer, sees artwork as an easy and low-budget way to refresh a space and create interest.
Ft. Lauderdale-based Knapp foresees artisan-produced treatments and decorations as potentially gaining more traction this year. “Today's most innovative designers have introduced many intriguing objects and art pieces that could be produced in adapted form for guestrooms,” says Knapp. “This would create extra appeal for any hotel brand.”
The procurement maelstrom. Another key component of the FF&E equation is the purchasing and procurement process, which has become increasingly complicated to negotiate. As Alan Benjamin, president of Benjamin West, a hospitality purchasing firm based in Lafayette, Colo. (www.benjaminwest.com), puts it, the industry is in the midst a perfect storm of conflicting currents, with growing demand for FF&E, raw material shortages, cost increases, financial instability among vendors, and a rise in overseas purchasing.
While it is tempting for budget-conscious hotels to look to internal management to navigate this process, the Florida-based designer Evanger raises a few cautionary points. First, are hotel staff members capable of dealing with problems that often arise during ordering and installation? Are they knowledgeable about applicable state and local building codes? Does the hotel have its own established vendor relationships?
While some hotel employees may indeed be qualified, experts in the field recommend enlisting the services of an FF&E procurement firm. Hoteliers can then tap into longer-term vendor relationships, potentially better pricing, lower risk, greater resources, and often better quality. In addition, procurement groups can verify chain-of-custody documentation and other supplier details related to LEED ratings or environmental goals.
Furthermore, when the designers and procurement experts team up, this brings even greater value to the project. For example, if the procurement agent can start looking for products before the design specifications are completed, this saves valuable time and money. Similarly, if designers are on hand to inspect the goods during the production phase, potentially costly errors can be caught and corrected early on.
FF&E production and delivery. Another area where efficiencies can be captured is during the manufacturing and production process. For instance, advances in computer numerical control (CNC) technology used to marry CAD/CAM programming and robotic manufacturing have made furniture production more efficient and accurate. Similarly, increased demand for sustainable, locally manufactured products will ultimately lead to greater savings and efficiencies thanks to shorter shipping distances, according to Knapp.
For the construction of Chicago's th eWit Hotel, a boutique venue in the city's Theater District, a significant quantity and high quality of millwork was required, so the millwork fabricator looked to lean manufacturing processes to reduce costs and improve scheduling and quality. By restructuring the overall flow of production, stacking and sorting materials according to how they would be machined, and relocating equipment, the millworker successfully delivered kitchenettes, bathroom vanities, closet shelving, a lobby registration desk, shop display cases, drapery valances, and wall paneling for 270 guest rooms.
A few blocks away, at Chicago's Hyatt Regency, a complicated ballroom makeover project designed by Gensler required that 95% of the millwork fabrication be completed before the existing walls were demolished, and installation had to be finished within 20 days. Fortunately, the fabricator was given enough time to produce detailed, accurate drawings, although the company only found out where the underlying substructure was located when the walls were taken down, one day before installation began. Anticipating the fact that the location of existing electrical conduit would also only become known at this time, the company was ready to accommodate this unknown with extra removable panels to build into the custom wood walls.
One other interesting aspect of this job was the fabrication of Hyatt's Big Bar, claimed to be the world's largest bar. In order to put together the wood, stainless steel, and solid-surface material required for the bar, the millwork fabricator rented a large warehouse next to its plant so that all the different trades could see exactly how their components would ultimately be integrated and assembled.
LIGHTING UP EFFICIENCY
Trendy lighting may support the hotel and resort industry's focus on creating destination and luxury experiences, but operators and owners are giving equal attention to energy efficiency. Now that more and more codes and standards are requiring lower wattages or higher lumens per watt, designers find themselves turning to technologies such as compact fluorescents (CFLs), light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and novel control systems to achieve this.
Take the recent design of Chicago's theWit Hotel. By putting lighting exactly where it was needed and removing light from extraneous locations, the lighting designers managed to limit overall power consumption to 1.1 watts per square foot, according to Avraham Mor, IALD, LEED AP, IESNA, a lighting designer at Lightswitch Architectural (www.lightswitch.net), Chicago.
For example, in order to meet a 60-footcandle requirement for the bathroom counters, a remotely ballasted CFL system was rigged to provide 40 footcandles on the hotel guest's face and 20 footcandles on the counter. “This provides warm light and accurate color rendering where it was most needed, and ultimately reduced power use as well,” says Mor.
CFLs and white LED lamps are available as “drop-in” retrofit sources, immediately improving ambiance and efficiency. On the other hand, when laymen indiscriminately change out incandescents with CFLs without paying attention to light output, color quality, or warm-up time, this can easily torpedo lighting designs, cautions Mor.
“When using integral ballasted lamps, the teams has to deal with heat output, a larger glass surface, and color rendering issues,” says Mor. “There is also a massive range of options with CFLs, and even though the numbers on the box may be the same, the difference between manufacturers can actually change the color of finishes in a room. This can lead to disappointed owners, designers, operators, and brands.”
Another area where variance in quality and performance can be of concern is the LED market. Consequently, as with CFLs, qualified lighting designers, architects, and engineers can play a key role in helping hoteliers navigate these designs.
“There are a number of LED products on the market that have not been vetted, yet I see them being used,” says Mor. On the other hand, he says, “some lamps have been tested and have a warranty we know will be backed.” Goodin attributes the growing popularity of LED light sources to their long lamp life, output control, small size, cool burn, and greater efficiencies.
As for lighting controls, Lundgren sees an increase in popularity for keycard docking stations—already commonplace in Europe—to activate room lighting. With these systems, when guests exit, the lights shut off when the keycard is taken out of its dock by the door. Some hotels are also providing guestroom lighting and temperature control via the TV or phone. With these control schemes, frequent guests can have their settings saved, so that when they arrive, the room setting brings up their stored preference, says Mor.
Overall, Black sees greater interest in lighting control and energy-management systems as a result of successful business cases. “As data to support the ROI strengthen, more and more properties will explore the opportunity to integrate the systems into the guest room experience,” he predicts.
BATHROOMS AS SUITES
Another central aspect of hospitality design, the guest bathroom, is evolving into more of a suite and spa-like environment to better enhance the guest experience. “In some cases, the spa can take up nearly half the room, and we're even seeing designers turn the room module sideways in order to put windows and daylight into the bathrooms,” says RTKL's Markham.
Another spa-emulating technique is pulling the tub from the plans in order to put more bells and whistles into the shower experience. Or for a quick, low-cost refresh, hoteliers are changing the bathroom décor with simple shower trim replacements.
What's tricky here is striking a balance between luxury and water efficiency, says Goodin. “This is one of the greatest challenges we face, especially with the ever-growing emphasis on sustainable design,” she says. Goodin recommends that the industry put more weight behind educating guests on water consumption. For example, Building Teams are more commonly specifying dual-flush toilets, but if patrons are not aware of how to use them, then those savings are not being captured.
While low-flow and high-efficiency fixtures top the list of water-conserving products going into today's hospitality facilities, there has also been some interest in modular fixtures and instantaneous water heaters. At the same time, Markham claims that because hotel plumbing systems are generally centralized with high peak-hour demand, these systems are not necessarily the most efficient. “Instead, we're looking at ways to recapture heat and hot water—for example, solar heat or lost heat from air-conditioning systems,” he explains.
Other hoteliers are embracing instantaneous technology. “Our entire guestroom hot-water system is supplied by instantaneous steam water heaters, and they do a fantastic job of keeping recuperating time to a minimum,” says Conrad's Lingle. With this technology, there is no need to heat a large amount of water to put in a storage tank, he adds. In addition, the Conrad Indianapolis has retrofitted its plumbing systems with water-restricting devices and auto-flush systems.
Hotel bathrooms must also withstand heavy use and abuse, so product durability is crucial. Metals products such as stainless steel and solid brass are often specified. In addition, high-quality finishes are important, according to the Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based Plumbing Manufacturers Institute (www.pmihome.org), with multi-step finish processes commonly being applied to such products.
Barbara C. Higgens, PMI's executive director, also points out that the hospitality market has shown increased interest in the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system. In its latest 2009 version, Higgens notes, water conservation is more heavily emphasized. As of that version, all LEED projects are required to reduce water consumption by 20%, and with “water efficiency” criteria representing 10 of 100 total points (not counting credits for innovation and regional factors), it is anticipated that water-conserving plumbing products will ultimately play a greater role in LEED accreditation. “Water efficiency also supports energy efficiency, as large amounts of energy are used daily to treat and transport water,” adds Higgens.
FINETUNING THE FUTURE OF HOTELS
Whether it's branding, interiors, FF&E, lighting, or plumbing systems, the hospitality industry clearly is being spurred on by a greater consciousness of sustainability and social responsibility.
“Owners continue to focus more and more on energy efficiency, whether driven by more stringent local and state requirements, the desire to reduce operating costs, the opportunity to align with LEED requirements, a desire to be sustainable, or to generally respect the environment,” says Jones Lang LaSalle's Black.
RTKL's Gina Goodin also advises designers to tune in carefully to what their hospitality clients are seeking. “The bottom line is to understand your client's brand, program, budget, and other requirements, and design to those criteria, as opposed to designing based upon whatever is the trend of the moment,” Goodin contends. “That kind of design approach never goes out of style.”