With tourism on the rebound, the past two years have changed how hotels are utilizing the spaces they offer.
The mindset of guests and their needs have changed over the course of the pandemic. Increasingly their travels combine business with pleasure, driving a need for more versatile spaces that can serve both worlds.
Check-in and office services are blending into a more eclectic social setting, while dedicated spaces such as breakfast and boardrooms are doubling up to serve additional functions depending on time of day and audience.
Sustainability is at the forefront of every design decision, including case goods, seating, and artwork, along with a push to bring local flavour to even the most standardized templates.
“We’re seeing a lot of changes, some of which were driven by COVID, but also by technology preferences,” says Brian Leon, CEO, Choice Hotels Canada in Toronto, adding that renovations have been “coming out strong” since the pandemic.
A focus on public spaces
Hotel design is now very much focused on creating socially dynamic spaces in public areas, says Kristen Lien, principal architect with FRANK Architecture in Calgary. “Primarily that can be seen in the mixing of functions, and having workspaces that are much less formal. A lot of brands are getting rid of their business centres and creating communal spaces in their lobbies.”
Public spaces are seeing the biggest changes, confirms Leon. “Versatility is a big consideration. For example, our breakfast rooms are increasingly becoming part of the lobby space to provide more casual communal seating options to use all through the day or serve as a small bar area in the evening.”
The mixed-use concept ties closely into the emerging hybrid-work model, adds Leon. “A lot of people don’t want to sit in a room to do their work. They come to the public spaces to connect and get work done from there. We are seeing much more congregating space in both mid and upper mid scale properties than in the past.”
The sustainability factor
Sustainability remains top of mind in the hotel industry. “We always have an environmental lens when we are looking at a new design or re-design of hotels, from the choice to materials to energy efficiency to building-management systems,” says Leon. “We also ensure that the manufacturers we work with use environmentally conscious production processes.”
Andrew Horsfield, director of sales for Hyatt Place Ottawa West, a winner of the Hotel Association of Canada Green Key Award 2022, says the building (which opened in 2021) was designed with sustainability in mind from the ground up, including geothermal heating and solar-panel systems. The commitment to sustainability is also featured in the main lobby, where a wall-sized art piece depicting the Ottawa River overlays a topographical map.
All furniture has been built and made in Canada, to avoid shipping product in from overseas, and all millwork in the main lobby has been done by local companies. Two live-edge high-top group tables in the lobby are made from wood reclaimed from Ontario lakes.
A small but important feature is a water bottle refill station in the lobby. “That is a critical element these days,” says Horsfield.
The Local Scene
“Any destination needs to be integrated with the environment, the local flavour and the experience,” says Boris Mathias, partner at Chapi Chapo Design in Toronto. “The key is to capture the flavour of the region and establish a connection that resonates with guests.”
A standout example of that is the firm’s recent work on the St. Regis Kanai Resort, Riviera Maya located on a UNESCO land protected side. The design is strongly influenced by both Mayan and Spanish cultures, reflected in embossed Mayan patterns in the guestrooms and other carefully curated details throughout the property.
Eugénie Jason, general manager of the Muir Hotel in Halifax, says the ethos behind its design developed by Studio Munge is “born of this place.” All materials used are attached to a story, such as the Muntz metal (once used on ships) cladding with engravings of stories and images; the woven rugs reminiscent of local fishermen’s homes; and a bespoke Muir tartan blanket laid out for guests. “Many of the elements simply would not have made sense somewhere else. The design truly connects guests to the place and its people and is inspired in the roots of the region.”
Alessandro Munge, founder and design director, Studio Munge, notes that focusing on localism and commissioning local artisans and manufacturing partners, reduces environmental impact, while boosting local economies and job creation. “Muir, Autograph Collection in Halifax was a perfect example as we custom designed and procured an entire furniture, fixtures and equipment collection made in Canada that responded to the city’s vernacular.”
Less is more
In cases where hotels may not have the budget to grow rooms sizes in their renovations, designers are coming up with creative ideas to create more space by making case goods more efficient in size, notes Lien.
At Choice Hotels, a great deal of work is also going into opening space within guestrooms, says Leon. “We’re increasingly seeing a reduction in the amount of closet space and drawers. Thinner TVs also means we can replace 24-inch-deep credenzas and drawers with modular, lighter pieces that open up the room.”
Since COVID, there has also been a stronger push for outdoor space. “Through the pandemic, people were craving outdoor space,” says Leon. “Now we have been incorporating nice outdoor patio space that can be used nine to 12 months depending on the location. Spilling over of public space is less expensive than adding to the interior and the value is huge.”
Keeping it agile
COVID has changed the guest experience dramatically, says Mathias. “There is a great deal of blurring the lines between working and pleasure in both public spaces and rooms. Not everyone is looking for a desk, but they still want the ability to work during their travels.”
Agility in design is going to be key for all operators, says Jason. “We are seeing more and more bleisure guests looking for flexibility. They can have a great working space one day, and a lovely romantic dinner in the same area the following night. People have told us they don’t want to feel like they are in an office or corporate hotel. It’s no longer just about work or sleeping. It’s about living.”
BY DENISE DEVEAU