Lobby/Lounge Area inside Hotel
Photo Credit: Brandon Barre

By Danielle Schalk

As travel continues to recover and new patterns take root, we’re seeing the lines between business and leisure travel blur and evolve in new ways. And, these shifts in behaviour are inevitably influencing approaches to hotel design. “The changing work and travel landscape has prompted hotels to adapt their design strategies,” explains Steven Gilbert, director, Procurement, Choice Hotels Canada.

“We continue to hear from our guests that they are blending their trip purpose — for example, adding days pre- and post-conference, looking for ways to include family and friends before or after a meeting, or simply extending their business travel to include a few days of leisure,” agrees Karyn Faryna, senior Interior Design manager, Global Design, U.S. & Canada, for Marriott International. “This impacts the way our hotels think about their physical spaces, amenities and programming as the guest makes that transition from the business trip to the leisure trip.”

And many of these shifts are focused on better leveraging public spaces. “As the desires of our guests shift, we’re now taking full advantage of every space the hotel has to offer,” says Faryna. “We’re seeing this shift of the public space being re-activated — people want to meet, they want to get together and collaborate, and we’re seeing these spaces come alive again.”

At the heart of this new approach are flexible spaces that don’t rigidly dictate a use case — becoming whatever the guest is seeking. “Traditional lobbies are being transformed into multi-functional areas that can serve as co-working spaces and relaxation areas,” Gilbert adds.

“We look at spaces differently than we did five years ago. In the past, a lobby was just a lobby, a lounge was just a lounge, and now we are seeing these spaces blend and shift to cater to travellers’ flexible needs while creating new opportunities for our hotel owners,” explains Faryna.

As an example, she points to the lobby of Delta Hotels Calgary Airport In-Terminal, which completed renovations in December 2022. Adele Rankin, principal and global design lead, CHIL Interior Design — the design firm that completed the renovation, explains that the space is designed in such a way that you discover different layers of functionality depending on the lens you view it with.

“There’s something really great about a communal table for large parties, for social gatherings and for dining with your family, but at the same time, it is also such a conducive space for perching by yourself with your laptop,” she offers as an example. “If we looked at it from an F&B perspective, you’re designing these tables with purse hooks. And, at the same time, you’re designing these tables with outlets, charging stations and the appropriate lighting to ensure it offers the right working environment.”

And, as Kate Allen, founding principal of Calgary-based FRANK Architecture & Interiors, explains, guests are being drawn to spaces that can do it all. “Guests are looking for comfortable, flexible spaces where they can plug away at their work or take a virtual meeting,” she explains. “Serviced lobby bars, lounges and cafés are very popular for the working traveller, because they can multi-task; drink their espresso and tackle their inbox at the same time. Rather than being isolated in a private workspace, travellers want to feel connected to their surroundings while they work and are seeking spaces that are welcoming, warm and hip.” Rankin notes that brands, such as Delta Hotels, that count business travellers among their key demographics/psychographics, are among those most influenced by guests’ desire for spaces that flex to fit their mutable needs.

And, the Delta brand has been shifting to meet this demand. “There has been some evolution there on accommodating that [desire for] flexibility,” Rankin observes, pointing to another recent renovation done at Delta Hotels Saskatoon Downtown. “The lobby and coffee shop, and the positioning of the restaurant is very transparent — very much [communicating], ‘whatever you need, it’s here for you.’” This was achieved using “space planning and screening, [utilizing] a lot of millwork screens that were put in to give a sense of privacy, but also [maintain] a quite a clear sense of transparency,” Rankin shares.

This idea of creating a variety of zones and semi-private nooks within a larger open space can also be seen in Sheraton Hotels & Resorts’ new brand identity. Newly renovated Sheraton properties — including Sheraton Gateway Hotel at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, and Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel — now feature signature design elements such as communal tables, tech-enabled studios and soundproofed booths.

As Allen notes, this strategy can also be leveraged to create moments of discovery for travellers. “We try to include zones within our hotels, which may be unexpected and evoke a sense of delight when stumbled upon. These areas may include libraries, lounges, and intimate seating areas,” she explains. “We see these zones used for solitude, a quiet space for a phone call/virtual meeting, or for small groupings of corporate travellers in need of a collaborative space to meet or strategize.” When it comes to the guestrooms, Rankin notes “You don’t want to dictate to people how they should use the room.”

However, there is a limit to the degree of flexibility you can accommodate within the constraints of these spaces. “But you absolutely can prioritize technology,” she explains. “We’ve [also] been doing a lot of work with the brands, as well as with our furniture manufacturers, to ensure that the old-fashioned idea of ‘the desk’ now becomes a completely flexible zone…The challenge of that [is ensuring] we’re really working with the right shapes; the right kind of chairs and ergonomics that support that; and of course, the right aesthetic.” This furniture is also being made lighter and more movable to allow guests greater flexibility. “Guests get turned off when a space is dictated towards them…so we can’t make that furniture too clunky that they can’t move it around,” says Rankin.

As an example, she points to the King Rooms at The Dorian, an Autograph Collection hotel in Calgary. “We decided to forego a chair and actually did an L-shaped sofa that curves around the [small] dining table,” Rankin explains. “We did so many studies on how heavy that dining table should be, because we knew that it was going to be moving the length of the sofa. Sometimes you’re going to need it in front of you sometimes you want to get it out of your way.”

On the technology front, Allen notes, “With more guests taking virtual meetings, we need to consider the technology provided in the rooms. The guestroom is now often being used for virtual meetings, and as designers we are considering the site lines, the backdrop and how our guests are being framed by their surroundings on virtual meetings.”

“Some hotels are also providing in-room amenities like whiteboards, video conferencing equipment and smart-technology interfaces to enhance productivity,” adds Gilbert.

“Each hotel is such an individual challenge to take on, because you’re taking into consideration what’s around it, who’s visiting and what the psychographic are for that traveller,” Rankin says. “But intuitive design is probably what we’re trying our very best to create for each space because, ultimately, if the guest feels that they don’t have to work hard to massage the space to [suit] their purposes, then [there’s] a level of comfort achieved that equates to the level of luxury.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.