When Design Takes Over
As hotels become destinations themselves, design has become a key differentiator. The first step is to make their public spaces more engaging and aspirational
By Vinita Bhatia
Hotel chains often have a tough job on their hands. While striving to offer standardised guest experiences across their brands, they have to ensure that each of these hotels conform to the overarching design standards, but yet break the mould of sameness. Sounds complicated, doesnât it?
As more guests travel globally, their sense of aesthetics has appreciably heightened. They expect, and appreciate, local influences in terms of design elements placed throughout the property. At the same time, they want the public spaces to become less stodgy and more social.
To meet these expectations, architects, interior designers, hotel owners, and operators are constantly transforming public spaces into thoughtfully designed social hubs. This is especially the case in cities that are amongst the top leisure destinations, and witness heavy footfalls from domestic and international travellers. A fine balance has to be managed to ensure that international trends are borne in mind to fulfil guest requirements, while promoting sociability.
The newly-opened Radisson Blu Agra realised this while readying for its launch. Fortunately, its management had spent plenty of time explaining the hotelâs market segment to its architect, Anil Kumar Sharma, so that he could up with various design options for public spaces.
WELCOME CHANGE IN LOBBIES
One area where a noticeable shift is taking place is the lobby â a space that guests are increasingly using for their work. This calls for making some atypical changes, which goes beyond placing a few sofas and chairs with plug points for charging laptops and phones.
âOne needs to be careful about the guestâs arrival experience while designing the lobby and other public spaces. For an upscale property like Radisson Blu Agra, presenting vast spaces plays a major role in the hotelâs outlook. However, a decision needed to be taken about increasing the non-revenue generating areas,â recalled Sharma. What worked well is that lobby was connected to the Tea-lounge, making it convenient for guests to hop across for a quick bite.
Lobbies are evolving into hybrid-functional areas, where businesspeople, youngsters, families with or without children all wait, relax or work co-existentially. Going forth, a multi-functional lobby with diverse areas like lounge spaces, workspaces and coffee rooms are expected to become the norm. Sharma welcomed this shift and felt that this area should provide guests with a feeling of it being an extension of their guest rooms.
Many hotels are reducing the space devoted to lobbies, shrinking them to areas where check-in and check-out can be expedited. According to Sharma, a hotelâs lobby reflects the scale and quality of the entire property and its size is also dependent on the volume of guests coming in.
âFor big group check-ins, large lobbies are necessary. More than shrinking this area, it is important to maintain a balance between the revenue and non-revenue generating functions,â he opined.
FUTURE OF THE FRONT DESK
Some hotels are forging ahead with the concept of mobile and room check-in and check-out to create a sense of intimacy with their guests. Does this mean that the front desk will soon become obsolete or might transmute into more personalised stations?
Rajat Tuli, general manager of Radisson Blu Agra disagreed with this conjecture. âI donât think that the front desk will become obsolete since in our industry one still requires a bit of personal touch and interaction. However, the trend of mobile room check-in and checkout is definitely catching the attention of millennials and many hotel companies have adapted it,â he added.
Sharma felt that in the case of business hotels, though, automated check-in kiosks are the need of the hour and it can work very efficiently there. âReception areas should be created only to provide a personal touch and a human interface between the guest and the hotel,â he stated. He added that this concept is difficult to implement in hotels like Radisson Blu Agra, since the city is a tourist destination and the hotel witnesses group check-ins, which makes the idea unfeasible.
In overly populated tourist spots where guests have their pick of hotels with a radius of few kilometres, price is no longer the only variable that can clinch a deal. Other factors like F&B offerings, service as well as design play an equally important role. The latter especially helps brands to get noticed and drive footfalls and the first two then help in converting the guests into loyal customers.
As hotels increasingly emerge as destinations themselves, design has become a key differentiator when it comes to setting themselves apart from me-too brands. And the first step in this direction begins by making their public spaces more engaging and aspirational.