Hotels play a significant role in global real estate. While occupying significantly less space than offices and somewhat less space than retail, hotels have continued to grow and new hotels have been built as global travel for business and pleasure continues to increase. As this has occurred, hotels have had to renovate and build to suit the specific demands of different traveler types that have changed significantly over the last couple of decades. While hotel rooms must still fulfill the same basic functions as they have for the last hundred years, they have followed trends in apartment buildings that have seen rooms shrink and demands for amenities grow. New hotels tend to have more space for socializing. The lobby, once a transient zone reserved for checking in and out, has become a place to hang out, work, and take a meeting. A wider range of restaurants and bars are being offered and amenities such as game rooms, libraries, and fitness centers are becoming increasingly common. At the same time, rooms are becoming more interesting and highly designed as hoteliers compete to attract an increasingly style-conscious generation of business and leisure travelers (figs. 1-4).
As these transitions occur, the design of hotels could progress along the lines of evolution followed since the typology grew of out of the hybridization of the European palace, country estate, and urban apartment building (fig. 5-18). At the same time, it might be possible to analyze how the typology has been solidified and whether there is room to rethink how the various components relate, whether new components can be added, and whether there is room for formal, design, material, or generally atmospheric innovation guided by an architect or designer. This might create room to build on some of the more innovative hotels that have introduced a level of high design, blurred boundaries with other typologies such as the museum, and introduced digital support services to streamline the hotel experience, reduce space, and lower overhead. The result might, in turn, provide new tools for hoteliers to deploy in enhancing guest experience and distinguishing their brand from competitors.
As mentioned earlier, a hotel is essentially a combination of the following components: lobby, halls, rooms, restaurant and bars, libraries, ballrooms, game rooms, health club and perhaps pool, and public restrooms. These spaces can only function with a series of back-of-house spaces. These include the following: offices, kitchens, laundry rooms, loading docks, parking garages, hallways, storage rooms, staff dining rooms, and service elevators. These spaces were historically a collection of passageways that were hidden from view so as not to disturb the residents of the palace or manor house. When these estates were drawn by architects, the existence of these spaces often was not even explicitly drawn. Instead, they were just left as black poche defining thick walls. Within this interior, routes would be carved out during construction both to lighten the load of walls and to provide the necessary service functions. In contemporary architecture, these spaces are, of course, drawn explicitly in order to satisfy complex construction and code requirements.
In many ways, the relationship between front and back-of-house functions defines the overall form of a hotel. With this in mind, if we want to go beyond merely redecorating these spaces with the current design trend and actually achieve innovation in the hotel typology, we might look at this line and how it might evolve. This line is particularly important as digital technologies such as ride-sharing, food delivery, and concierge services reduce the demand for parking, cab hailing, room service, and guest assistance. In addition, as more special event and conference venues continue to be developed in cities, the demand for ballrooms and conference centers is reduced. This, of course, is also occurring within the context of ongoing use of AirBnB as an alternative to traditional hotels that, generally speaking, provide no on-site services at all.
To begin with, we might want to reflect on what leisure and consumption mean in the context of a new mandate for sustainability. The iconic grand hotels of the past charge elite travelers extraordinary prices for staying in their rooms. With these prices come a tremendous level of service that often includes devoted staff to attend to the specific needs. Sheets and towels are likely changed daily, considerable water and electricity is consumed, and luxurious meals are served. This lifestyle is often accompanied by a general habit of consumption. This habit often extends well into the context in which the hotel is sited as the guests seek to internalize the culture. This pattern of tourism contributes to the desire to visit different cultures and experience different value systems. Historically this desire led to an interest in archeology, ancient cultures, and exoticizing of African and Asian cultures. In order to access these cultures, a vast travel industry was created that has culminated with the current jet age (fig. 19-28).
While there is nothing inherently unsustainable about a luxury hotel, the fuel that is required to propel people from one location to another does have significant implications for the environment. Many luxury hotels have, in fact, taken significant steps to make the supply chains that serve their properties more sustainable while also integrating renewable sources of energy into properties to not only make them more sustainable, but reduce operational costs. This trend is in keeping with a broader ambition of elite members of society to advocate for sustainable strategies that can help slow the process of climate change. In many ways, it is these elite space that are leading the way. Still, these spaces remain populated by people who consume considerable energy by the nature of their lifestyle and ambition to live a global existence.
In this context, it might be beneficial to consider a few strategies that can help increase the ability of hotels to adapt to the changing climate and encourage sustainable practices. While we are unlikely to stop people from using fuel intensive means of traveling – and to do so would likely negatively impact the health of the global hospitality industry – we can think about ways of making hotels last longer and become more future-proof amidst changing habits. Returning to the question of the services supporting guests, we might consider ways that line between server and served could become more fluid and evolve. This could involve designing hotels that literally have flexible walls that can be moved to create more or less space on either side. It could also involve designing hospitality spaces that are adjacent to other programs that might serve them. This could involve adjacency to shops, tailors, cleaners, hair salons, restaurants, kitchens, light industry, and even farming. Even some of the traditional services of a hotel such as a fitness club could be accommodated in these rentable spaces. This would essentially be to plan a hotel as part of a much larger urban complex that serves people who are not guests of the hotel. While this has been implemented in many instances around the world, considering a less rigid division between the space of the hotel and these supporting services might be possible. Moreover, it might be possible to actively curate these spaces by charging different rents that are aligned with the profit margins of the diverse range of businesses that the hotelier would like to attract to serve their patrons. This would involve a subsidy to the renter that the hotelier could recoup through the higher price that they could charge for the room as a result of these services.
Another approach might be to consider a completely decentralized hospitality network building off of the idea of AirBnb. This might involve thinking about ways of a single owner buying real estate around a city that would be renovated with the same style and then accessed via a centralized booking platform. This centralized booking platform might also provide access to other amenities that would also be distributed throughout the city. The app might include concierge services that would help the guest navigate the city. It might even employ hosts that would meet the guest and help show them around. In this way, the guest would be given an experience that is more akin to that of a local resident while still retaining the services of staying in a hotel.
Still another approach might be to look at hospitality models that are not focused on either leisure or business travel. Some examples might include those focused on adventure tourism, backpacking, ecological tourism, archeological tourism, and mission driven or philanthropic work. In considering these other models, it might be possible to explore ways that hospitality spaces catered to these activities could be integrated into those typically associated with leisure and business. This might involve something akin to exploring ways that an urban hotel could take on the characteristics of an ecological resort. Doing so might involve creating urban spaces that reflect and are integrated into the local ecology. This might involve exploring the natural ecology before extensive urbanization. Such an approach might lend these urban settings a greater sense of place and allow guests to feel greater contact with the context. It also could involve actively programming experiences for guests that create adventures or access to local philanthropies that enliven the guest experience of a given locale.
In the end, the primary goal should be to build on the positive aspects of hotels while also incorporating new ways that people wish to live in a city and relate to its people, culture, and environment. This should involve exploring the ways in which the service industry has evolved in conjunction with trends in how people live in order to develop an evolved typology. This will required rethinking the specific ownership, collaborative, and profit structures of hospitality. The introduction of digital platforms will likely play a significant role in help to integrate these services, visualize them and make them accessible to the guest, and, perhaps, create access to capital sources to fund these innovations. The result will be a more dynamic, sustainable, and integrated hospitality experience with the capacity to evolve more fluidly as demand and desire changes over time.