Meaningful Value – HIX Event Conversation

Design Insider is delighted to be running a series of articles to promote conversations on the seminar topics that will be presented at the Hotel Interiors Experience – HIX – at the Business Design Centre, London on 18/19th November 2021. The topics will discuss six social shifts that are taking place in our post-pandemic world as all we all move towards opportunity, the light, somewhere better.

Find out more about HIX here

The first subject we are discussing is for the seminar, sponsored by BCFA member Grohe, is entitled ‘Meaningful Value’ – Widespread financial anxiety and the imminent question ‘is this trip worth it?’, how can hotels (re)create and communicate their value proposition, in an economic sense as well as something more meaningful?

Joel Butler, a Director of the HIX event, gave us his view.

“We’re emerging from a time when hotels became hospitals and places of quarantine. Now as we re-design our lives, people are redefining their interpretation of ‘meaningful value’, and hospitality providers need to understand, anticipate and reflect this societal shift in outlook. The real value of ‘taking that trip’ is likely to be scrutinised more than ever. Tech is now a universal and viable alternative to some of the business trips that we’d have considered a ‘no-brainer’ before the pandemic. The blurring of business and pleasure will likely continue as we design a work/life balance with environmental responsibility at the front of our minds. Also in a business sense, the value of a hotel as an asset can be maximised by a multi-functional approach to a property, as hotels converge with workplace, retail and residential.”

We asked Ron Swidler, Chief Innovation Officer of The Gettys Group in the USA for his thoughts. With a passion for pioneering innovative approaches to hospitality design, a collaborative and an innovative thinker, Ron has shaped hundreds of hotels, resorts and brand initiatives over more than three decades.

Is there widespread financial anxiety within the hotel sector?
I wouldn’t characterize it quite that way. There has been widespread pain in our industry, yes. Gratefully, however, there are numerous positive indicators that the worst is likely behind us. Marriott reported their reassuring Q2 2021 numbers last week, “Second quarter reported net income totalled $422 million, compared to reported net loss of $234 million in the year‐ago quarter.” With that, and similar reports, I think that there is optimism for the recovery. As a friend Jane Levere of The New York Times recently reported “Business Travel Resumes, hesitantly… Convention centres are reopening. Hotels and airlines report an uptick in bookings. But the rise in virus cases has tempered forecasts for a major recovery.

What are the values that a hotel may wish to communicate to their customers?
Let’s face it, while the pandemic resulted in a deeper understanding of our shared world and challenges, values are highly individualistic and are likely different depending on markets. For example, at a brand level, the franchisors would like to reinforce their commitment to cleanliness, team-member and community support and, at some lower-level, global issues like sustainability and wellness. What we are finding at a property level is often a diluted version of those values at properties have struggled to remain open, maintain service levels and attract their share of the traveling public. The reality is that service expectations are being redefined.

Do you have any specific examples?
I have travelled throughout the pandemic, staying at full-service and limited service hotels in the US and Europe. In most cases, there has been no housekeeping services and very limited food and beverage amenities with most outlets closed and menus quite limited. The entire travel experience (ride sharing/taxis, airlines, trains, food & beverage, retail) is a shadow of its former self. This results in questioning the entire value proposition…What is acceptable, now? How long will it last?

In what ways do hotels communicate these values?
If cleanliness and safety have risen to the top of the values expectations, then you would expect that hotels would have clear policies, regularly updated and mandated by the brands and followed at a property level. What we have seen in the US, however, are differences in adherence to standards by market (leniency in some locations and strict policy following in major city-centres and government buildings). And, remember, that the publicly-traded hotel companies were themselves gutted during the pandemic, reducing employee levels dramatically, resulting in less policing of policies. The result, in many instances, is good intentions and mixed results.

What do future hotels’ values look like?
Well, let’s hope that future values more closely align with the changing value-expectations of the travelling public: adherence to stricter health and safety protocols, uncompromised and caring service, cultural diversity and fairness, local community support and sustainable practices. Of course, this will be an expectation of consumers, brands and for team-members at the property levels who will likely be more selective as to where they choose to work.

Are values being communicated in new ways following the hospitality sectors experiences of the last 18 months?
Yes! Social media has become a more active channel for brands to share their values. There is a small, luxury hotel near my home (The Deerpath Inn, Lake Forest), who has showcased their optimism, team support, humour and commitment to service through their Instagram account. I believe that this leads to enhanced brand value and trust.

We also took the opportunity to speak with seminar sponsor Grohe about this interesting topic.  Ebru Bircan, Leader, Marketing Activation UK, LIXIL EMENA, told us:

‘As a brand, meaningful value for us means working with hoteliers to provide solutions for those areas we know guests will have become increasingly concerned about since perhaps their last business or leisure trip. In particular, this will focus around hygiene and sustainability. In an already fragile world that hasn’t travelled for 18 months, how can guests travel sustainably, and what are hotels doing to provide a more environmentally conscious experience? It’s not just about the hotels that shout the loudest but those that follow through with a tangible commitment to providing better sustainability practises that can be seen and experienced by guests. At GROHE, we are supporting hotels to really integrate sustainability touchpoints throughout their properties, exploring solutions and offering considerations that may not have been previously thought of. We believe a truly well-considered and integrated approach to sustainability can help bring that sense of meaningful value to a hotel in a way that can be understood, experienced, and appreciated by guests.

Plus, whilst we’ve begun to adapt to a COVID-present world, brands and hoteliers need to continue to work closely and collaboratively to create a guest experience that is both safe and welcoming, yet not sterile in ambience. Guests will be seeking a feeling of normality from their visit but wanting to be reassured that their visit will be a safe and compliant one. Mastering the fine balance of these two things requires even more creativity and innovation when it comes to the design of hotel spaces.’

The BCFA are a co-founding partner of Hotel Interiors Experience – HIX