Here's how the hotels would be retrofitting their spaces for the post-COVID contactless experience
Architects and designers suggest a blend of design tweaks and technology to deal with issues of hygiene and social distancing without putting in huge investment in a redesign for the immediate future and a gameplan for a longer run
While social distancing will be the new norm soon after the world opens its borders, and hotels and airlines gear up to fly and receive people, how we experience hotels and travel will change perhaps for a rather long time to come.
The immediate changes hotels will have to make is create an infrastructure to put in place social distancing norms and ramp up hygiene practices. For a while, the contactless experience will be the new normal. Hotels across the globe are altering their existing design layouts to implement the measures spatially.
Social distancing and space-saving measures
In the short term measure, hotels should focus on making some retrofits within existing layouts. Bobby Mukherji, Principal Architect, Bobby Mukherji & Associates (BM&A), suggests that the furniture in the lobby area should be placed at a certain distance, with chairs that display cross mark indicating that those have to be left empty to follow social distancing norms, for the short term.
Bobby Mukherji, Principal Architect, Bobby Mukherji & Associates (BM&A)
An optimistic Mukherji says that coronavirus will be a thing of past in a year or two, once a vaccine has been developed or a cure discovered, and hoteliers should focus on implementing temporary measures rather than considering a design overhaul of the hotel.
Decluttering hotels will be another measure for the immediate short-term. Vivek Singh Rathore, Design Principal, Salient Design Studio, says, “The only solution to overcome this conundrum is through decluttering of surfaces that obstruct natural light and air circulation, to avoid stagnation of microbial particles over contactable surfaces.”
He recommends that hotels must tweak some spaces to set up isolation zones, sanitization zones and spatial buffers between each activity to have low operational and maintenance costs to accommodate commercial immunity in fluctuating occupancies.
“The design of dining spaces, which are potential areas for germs to spread actively, should offer isolated and protected decontamination areas before each activity. Assurance of hygiene is the need of the hour for the hospitality industry to withstand the post-pandemic economic deflation,” explains Rathore. Creating spaces that allow for social distancing could lead to unnecessary wastage of space. So, it becomes essential for architects to zero down on a design that not only helps to maintain the required distance but also to utilize the spaces judiciously.
“One cannot envisage what the post-pandemic situation would look like, nor has the government come up with any specific guideline for the social distancing. When China reopened, they provided each desk at the schools with face guards, which are not viable in case of a hotel restaurant, an all-day diner or a coffee shop,” explains Chitalwala.
Even, installing screens between two tables may also not be a viable option as it may disintegrate the functional regime of hospitality space. “The solution to this problem,” says Chitalwala “is that we divide the foot traffic into different areas, like the banquet area and coffee shop, at the time of buffets to follow social distancing and using the spaces efficiently.”
Primarily, “the meals could be served in the rooms in a systematic and pre-packed manner depending upon the category of the hotel. All the existing spaces will go for a toss to incorporate social distancing in everyday life, as accommodating even 50% of the guests would not be possible for them,” he adds.
Since the virus spreads through surfaces, architects and designers are now weighing in on the importance of selecting the right building and finishing materials that can be easily sanitised.
Vivek Singh Rathore, Design Principal, Salient Design Studio
The choice of materials: Vivek Singh Rathore, Design Principal, Salient Design Studio, stressed on careful selection of material and design details. “Only those materials should be chosen that are easy to clean and promote low bacterial/fungal growth. A majority of the surfaces and finishes chosen should be resilient to frequent cleaning and housekeeping. The ideal way to make the design more cost-effective is by building less and reusing as many materials as possible.”
Hard surfaces: Bobby Mukherji, Principal Architect, Bobby Mukherji & Associates (BM&A) says that materials which are easily washable and artificial leathers that can be wiped with disinfectant liquids will prove to be an ideal option for hotels. Rathore emphasised on the use of factory- produced, pre-assembled, modular units. “More hoteliers will now prefer disposable components, and designer tissue linen bed sheets and pillow covers for guest rooms.”
Carpets: Mukherji contends that plush fabrics and use of carpets as a surface covering in rooms and corridors would be avoided. Instead, he recommends the use of hard surfaces vis-à-vis carpets. “If someone sneezes, there is a possibility that the droplets must have fallen on the carpet. If the guest who checks in next walks barefoot on the carpet, there are chances that he/she might pick the virus from the carpet.”
Chairs: Chairs without armrests will prove to be an ideal option, as they help to reduce contact with the surface. Besides, while choosing furniture and details within the room, hotels should pick objects that require the least amount of human contact by guests and ensure that housekeepers have fewer things to wipe down and disinfect.
Remote controls: Remote controls for television sets can prove to be another area of the problem; there are chances that a guest could get infected. Thus, “if a hotel decides to have remotes in the guest room, they should ensure that the covers are changed. A suitable alternative an app that can be easily installed in guest’s smartphone, through which various functions such as the lights, air-conditioning, curtain and TV channels can be operated,” adds Mukherji.
Reimagining the spaces
The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a sea change in hotel operations and will hugely impact the way various spaces in the hotel will be designed and imagined. Architects and interior designers have been called upon to introduce short term measures and new concepts for built spaces in hotels, in a bid to practice the new norm.
An industry that is already highly conscious about its hygiene practices and often measures its quality of services on sanitation levels will see a gradual shift towards adopting clinically hygiene standards. Several hospitality brands have incorporated certain SOPs that include maintaining considerable amounts of hygiene levels and social distancing. These SOPs and evident transformations will also result in amendments in design.
“The alteration will be manifested in habitual changes; sterilization may be subsumed as a part of the design itself and we may need to introduce pre-sanitisation areas in hotels. Also, the current air-conditioning systems, return air quality, indoor air quality and other technical aspects would need major attention to ensure that apt standards are maintained”, says Architect Khozema Chitalwala of Designers Group.
Architect Khozema Chitalwala of Designers Group
He suggests that it should be intelligently assimilated in the existing design and typology of the hotels, including in guest houses, budget hotels and luxury hotels, without jeopardising the aesthetics. “Designers should look at interior spaces with accommodation functionality or limited areas, where practising social distancing can be problematic. Spaces such as banquets, F&B outlets, meeting rooms, dining spaces, especially sections where buffets are served, bar areas and even the public areas with similar regime out of hospitality, should be looked at,” he adds.
However, if the virus continues to stay amidst humans and there is no cure found, it would enforce big changes in the overall planning of the hotel. In such a scenario states Mukherji, “Spaces such as restaurants and entrance lobbies will be designed in a much bigger manner as compared to existing layouts. Besides, the furniture in these spaces will be placed at a minimum gap of six feet.” Citing an example, he says, “For a 100-cover restaurant, earlier 2,000sq.ft of space was sufficient.
With social distancing norms to be followed, the same restaurant will now call for a 4,000sq.ft space.”
In the future, most new resorts that will be constructed will put nature at their centre. Rathore suggests that the design for resorts should consist of minimum technological influence, while the city-stacked hotels should be designed flexibly, keeping in mind the times of emergency. “The new design alterations in the hotel should ensure wellness and have low operational costs. Practices such as isolated modular units and open common area formats should be introduced.
The hotel design should be flexible so that in time of emergency, it can be effortlessly converted into quarantine facilities,” he adds.
The contactless experience
The ‘contactless’ experience will be a requisite for hotels opening up once the lockdown lifts. An industry which vouches by its ‘touch of hospitality and human interaction’ will now have to switch to an automated experience enabled by technology.
“I feel that avoiding human interaction/intervention in the hospitality sector is impossible as the experience of a hotel without hosts can never be the same. Although we can confer onto technology such as voice over (AI), mobile check-ins, e-menus including virtual voice assistance etc. to fight this global challenge to some extent, it will come at a huge cost,” opines Chitalwala. To mitigate some of the costs, mobile phones will be of great help and the key card, electrical switches and other functions in the room can be operated through apps or Bluetooth syncs in smartphones.
“Post-pandemic,” says Rathore, “technology will have to be incorporated for handling data and remote operations. Hotel design must generate a clear and consistent hygiene strategy through sustainable and eco-friendly maintenance, which can be made possible through automation— such as voice-activated elevators, hands-free light switches, and cell phone-controlled hotel room entry when rendered with sustainable applications.”
Technology is being incorporated at a large scale in hotels, a trend that gets a huge fillip in the post-COVID era. Mukherji contends that all new hotels he has been working on are planning to have sensor-based faucets in public washrooms. Besides, the flush system for WCs is being rendered contactless. “The doors that open two-way would soon be a trend. Besides, for the main entrance, the revolving doors or ones having motion detected sliding doors will help in defining contactless experience.”
Technology, hygiene and social distancing, then, will form the crux of design in the After COVID phase.