Hospitality Design in a Post-Pandemic World

By Tobias Strohe

COVID-19 has upended the hospitality industry across the globe. As many hotels start to reopen with new health and safety measures in place, there is a need and opportunity to rethink designs that can adapt in order to meet long-term hygienic and social-distancing requirements.

While uncertainty surrounding the duration of this pandemic remains, there is a good chance that these health-related provisions will continue beyond COVID-19, and even become required code. Now is the time to address these issues, as properties remain underutilized with a limited number of guests. A trusted architect and contractor should be able to help expedite approvals and select vendors who can get goods on site in a timely and reliable fashion.

While many provisions have been made quickly under time pressures, it is important to look at some of those decisions and see what can be done to ensure solutions that will fit cohesively within a hospitality environment.

Rethink Partitions
A common solution to create distance and physical barriers within hotels has been the incorporation of plexiglass partitions at key places within the lobby such as front desks and concierge stations. While these partitions meet the functional need for protecting workers and guests from the spread of disease, very few have been installed in an aesthetically pleasing way that enhances—or at the very least does not detract from—the guest experience.

As these become more permanent, it is worthwhile to look at higher-quality materials and design opportunities: for example, glass with etched or printed surfaces, hardware mounting, integration with millwork and casework pieces—think historic bank tellers with ornate metal surrounds. Further, financial and order transaction should be looked at closely to understand processes (including touchless pay options and point-of-sale devices), in order to create a minimally intrusive and much more intuitive guest experience. This process will involve operational considerations, such as cleaning and maintenance procedures.

Create New Common Area Experiences
Similar to the change in food offerings over the last decade to meet changing consumer preferences (vegan, gluten-free and other dietary-specific options), there may be some new conventions surrounding dining settings within hotels that will become just as commonly accepted and second nature to guests.

Takeout, food delivery and room service options might play a bigger role, but also the ability to have better physical separation within interior seating areas in ways that feel intentional and subtle. The key is to integrate these new features without inconveniencing the patron.

Instead of traditional bar configurations, consider creating “fingers” to allow for separate interaction spaces for small groups, with incorporated technology like a touchscreen for drink and food selection. In lieu of large breakfast buffets, implement grab-and-go offerings that promote quickly getting in and out of a common area.  

Rather than using latex/rubber gloves in food preparation and service, which feel clinical in nature, consider introducing lined cotton gloves and provide UV or additional laundry options for disinfection. Behind the scenes, there will be additional distancing requirements in the food prep area to stage food, and completely separate dirty dishes/dish washing. Operators must also take into account the increased time that additional disinfection and food preparation and handling procedures will add to various processes and determine how to best manage expectations.

Leverage the Outdoors
While largely dependent on the market, many hotels have an opportunity to take advantage of outdoor spaces at some point during the year. Incorporating more outdoor seating opportunities that complement limited indoor seating is one of the most logical options for accommodating guests. There is also opportunity to stretch the season of those environments with warming devices, misters and shade solutions.

Creating pockets for smaller groups and individuals allows more people to use the space. For example, consider multiple small fire pits instead of one large one. Put an emphasis on greater attention to air quality and cleanliness, including incorporating more plants in public spaces.

Programming opportunities can also encourage use of outdoor spaces, like outdoor fitness classes, socially distanced yoga, running guides and bicycles on demand.

Cleaning and Maintenance Procedures
There are a variety of ways to limit the hands that use or touch products within hotels by incorporating touch-free and touchless experiences from the moment a guest walks through the doors.

One solution is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, which allows guests to unlock doors and call elevators by holding up their phones to the device reader. Hotels can limit access based on programming the guest’s specific key.

 Within the guestroom, consider ways to limit the number of surfaces guests have to touch by using voice command technology for things like lights, faucets and TV remotes. Standards and integration into universal applications will be important to make all of these new processes intuitive and easy to use.

Regarding cleaning, there are also solutions to support operational changes to housekeeping services. Remove accent pillows and bed scarves that are not regularly washed. Instead of single-use toiletries, consider using smaller cartridge dispensers that can be disinfected and refilled between guests. Repurpose ice and vending machine spaces into more storage and disposal spaces on guest levels for dedicated housekeeping carts and laundry operations.

At the end of the day, the goal is to reposition these properties for long-term success—not just short-term fixes. Hotel owners and operators have the opportunity to get ahead of their competitors by proactively implementing new design and experience solutions.

Tobias Strohe is a partner of Denver-based architecture and interior design firm Johnson Nathan Strohe (JNS).

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.