How Hospitality Design Will Evolve Post-Pandemic
An exclusive Q&A with Ron Swidler, Chief Innovation Officer of the Gettys Group
The pandemic has shown the world that safety and sanitisation must be placed at the top of design priorities, potentially leading to innovation around architectural and design flexibility, the adoption of new systems and materials, and an overhaul in service protocol. Advancing thought leadership in this space is Ron Swidler, Chief Innovation Officer of The Gettys Group, who founded the firm’s global think tank, The Hotel of Tomorrow Project in 2004 – a resource that has been widely quoted in the press for its findings on the future of hotel design.
With 325 hospitality industry executives in its ranks, and partners including Cornell University, Hilton, Marriott, and more, their research spans six major areas of change: safety/sanitization, automation/service, health/wellness, artificial intelligence/machine learning, design/material innovation, and sustainability.
We talk to Ron about the latest trends in the hospitality world, and his forecast of what’s to come.
Can you share a finding that you feel will be especially game-changing and impactful in the next few years?
It would be difficult to select a single area of innovation that would likely see the greatest change in the next few years. I believe we will see significant steps forward in all areas, resulting in inventions that will be a combination of advancements in many of them.
For example, the BedXYZ concept that we shared at Knowledge of Design Week 2021 is a hospitality sleep solution which is designed to be more restorative than sleeping at home. Why? Because research has shown that guests do not typically sleep well during their first night in a hotel. Our proposed solution relies upon advancements in many of the focus areas, including air-scrubbing textiles, automated digital assistance, brain-activity or sleep monitoring, multi-sensory environmental controls, and more. The importance of sleep and our understanding of what contributes to the quality of our sleep continues to rise as technology exposes the previously unseen and unknown. We are focusing on how to use this new knowledge.
Which specific area of hospitality design do you think will require more attention in the years to come? What challenges come with this?
We hope that hospitality can be a leader in a future pandemic in how the buildings are used, how service is delivered and the level of safety and security provided. Designing more robust systems, incorporating new, safer materials, new service protocols and more flexibility will inherently be more expensive to deliver. These additional costs, if born solely by the developers and operators would be irreconcilably prohibitive. If, however, government support might be available for the integration of these changes, perhaps hospitality could serve as a complimentary, alternative source of lodging to healthcare in a future pandemic.
In transforming the guest experience, what technologies should we be paying attention to?
Technology is an ephemeral source of innovation – constantly changing and evolving to suit quickly-changing consumer demands. There are numerous areas of tech that will affect the future guest experiences, including: touchless (voice-activated and motion-activated), robotics and automation in the front and back of house to selectively support or replace human service, artificial intelligence and machine learning – with smart buildings data collection leading to more personalised services and optimisation of operations – and virtual, augmented, or mixed reality, where the layering of digital information and experiences on top of physical ones enrich the guest experience.
Have you received any interesting, surprising, or new requests from hospitality clients in terms of design?
We have recently been asked to integrate several robots into the designs of our hotels, including delivery bots and cleaning bots. This new layer of technology integration is new to many designers and operators. We are also now building entire hotel projects in virtual reality in order to test their design prior to building the actual hotels and restaurants. And, we are incorporating more biophilic design, aided by lighting, air systems and moisture management technology.
How would you describe the ideal hospitality experience in 2022—and beyond?
Ultimately, our think tank does not want to lose the feeling of great hospitality, which has historically been delivered by people who care about how they make their guests feel. Any integration of futuristic solutions must carefully consider the implications on the guest satisfaction prior to integration.
We still have the same basic, human needs, but perhaps with a slightly higher expectation of exceeded expectations. Of course, time and money can ultimately be saved by striking the appropriate balance between new ideas and proven ideas. The process of evolving hospitality experiences deserves constant consideration, testing and refinement.