Fighting hospitality norms requires flexibility


CINCINNATI—With travelers’ needs and expectations changing, the hospitality industry must be more flexible to give them what they are looking for. 

That’s the message from Adrianne Korczynski, VP/creative director, hospitality, FRCH Design Worldwide. “Hospitality still takes itself too seriously,” she said “Hoteliers need to embrace travelers looking for unique experiences and take more risks. There’s an opportunity to reinvent hospitality and fight traditional hospitality norms.”

Korczynski leads a team that has created designs for clients like Tru by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton; she is a 15-year veteran of the industry. 

“The owners have to reinvent their thinking,” she said. “It does involve their pocketbook, so it is important to be totally respectful of doing things the way they have always been done. We are just trying to take baby steps with how they think about spending more money up front versus replacement costs throughout the life of the product.” This involves having the conversation, getting buy-in by showing them examples and taking them through the design process. 

One norm that business travelers have long been moving away from is where they do their work. “One of the technical norms is the desk—guestrooms with full desk spaces, more traditional desk chairs,” she said. “What our research showed was that guest really didn’t need desks; they can work anywhere and everywhere. Hoteliers need to make their public spaces a little bit more open or more flexible for working. Even if travelers are alone, they don’t want to be lonely.”

Of course, it’s not always easy. Korczynski pointed to the designs for Tru by Hilton. “Even though we have gotten a lot of feedback, especially from the well-seasoned traveler, the Diamond members in the Hilton organization are really holding onto that desk,” she said. “When we did start the Tru project, even the owners advisory group that we were working with felt like we could move forward without the desk, but we are in this weird transition where owners are somewhat ready, hotel brands are ready, but we need to bring the hotel guests along and teach them new ways of working anywhere.”

She set about making the public spaces work better for guests. “We have tried to infuse the public spaces with other office furniture,” she said. “Sound-absorbing hubs where you could take a private call, work on your laptop, feel completely comfortable and have a private area—but not be secluded or have to be in your room—is what we are seeing as one of the new experiences the guests are really looking for.”

While public spaces are becoming much bigger and more energetic, another norm Korczynski sees as ripe for change are large-size guestrooms. “We have had the minimum 12-ft. guestroom base for so long, that going to a smaller room—which is a more European model—has been a little bit of a challenge to get people on board,” she said. “Once you get in the room, you have everything you need. It is not lacking, even though it is technically lacking in space physically, but it is highly functioning. I think that is a better service to guests than just a lot of space that is unusable.”

She continued, “I think getting hoteliers on board with smaller rooms is a benefit to them: fewer construction costs, more opportunities for development, different parcels that they couldn’t have touched.” 

With construction costs so high, Korczynski thinks hotel builders should move away from traditional construction and labor to modular or pre-fabricated construction, which happens in Europe more readily. “It is an interesting conversation going on right now. The idea is making its way to the U.S.,” she said. “We have been doing quite a bit of research on it.” 

Modular construction could also be helpful in terms of sound dampening. “Sound is the number-one issue in terms of sleep, especially in focused-service hotels,” she said. “Modular construction could bring higher elevated sound transmission consistency, and that would be amazing.” 

Another norm that Korczynski has been moving away from is the use of carpet tiles, instead installing luxury vinyl tile (LVT). “We have gone fully into luxury vinyl tile, which is a huge change for this industry,” she said. “Hoteliers have just gotten really used to carpet tile, and now we are introducing that next step. There is the sustainable story through longevity of products, and then the cleanliness factor that the guests are looking for. I think the owners who are willing to embrace those types of things are just going to be that much further ahead.”

Guests are also looking away from the cookie-cutter model of sameness and more toward a local, or even residential, experience in their stays—something embraced by home-sharing companies. “The idea of local is very popular now,” she said. “It is very frustrating to me when you approach a team member at the front desk and they give you the Applebee’s answer, when I am really looking for something unique to this area.”

Adding some local touches to properties can make a big difference for guests. “Certainly, graphics are an easy and less-expensive way to infuse brand personality at any point in the hotel,” said Korczynski. “I think Hampton was the best at that. That started maybe 13 years ago when they did the ‘Make it Hampton’ program. That was not a time when they had capital dollars to invest in a lot of interior design and architecture, and the environmental graphics really spoke to the guest. I think that is a great way that brands can reinvent with less expense.” 

People are also traveling more in groups or blurring business travel with leisure. “The idea is that rooms could be more flexible,” said Korczynski. “Could you create room and semi-private public spaces by ganging rooms together, creating suites out of traditional rooms or the flexibility that those experiences offer when you are traveling with a bigger group, which is a lot more prevalent with newer generations of travelers?” she asked, noting that home rentals give guests this option. “I think that local, more residential casual experiences are what everybody is looking for.”

The biggest key for hoteliers who want to fight norms and reinvent themselves? Flexibility. “Creating overall flexibility, whatever the guests are looking for, is always the general answer; it is so true in terms of flexibility of space and flexibility of experience, but also in general flexibility of mindset,” she concluded. HB