Hotels in a Post Pandemic World

We know that people have questions about how hotels will change in a post-pandemic world. The hospitality industry will be forever transformed by the fallout of this outbreak. Former perceptions and ideas about what makes for a desirable hospitality experience are now being re-examined.

Now is the time for the hospitality industry to undertake a paradigm shift. As hotel designers, CambridgeSeven is obligated to think past the obvious, explore the unknown and find solutions that are fresh and innovative.

Solutions may already exist within other cultures, centuries’ old human rituals, and other building typologies. In a series of office-wide zoom meetings, we explored some of these historical precedents and uncovered lessons and opportunities that can be directed toward transforming hospitality venues. Following is a synopsis from those discussions:

Q:  What can we learn from ancient cultural influences to help to inform and create a new post-pandemic hotel experience?

In Japan, Shinto shrines are sacred places of harmony for people. The practice of purification using water as a renewing force were essential to Shinto shrines. This concept of washing as a ritual for spiritual cleansing remains as important today as in did 500+ years ago.

shinto shrine

Figure 1: Yahiko Shrine: Chozuya, Credit: JPellegen

Approaching a Shinto shrine complex, a visitor first arrives at a chōzuya (or temizuya), which translates as hand-water-house. This is a structure where the purification ritual takes place prior to approaching the shrine itself. Visitors purify themselves by washing their hands with a specific technique before entering, just as they did centuries ago.

shinto shrine 2

 Figure 2: "Tokyo - Santuario Meiji" by *maya* is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Hotels could adopt this practice by creating a purification fountain.  Upon entering the hotel, guests immediately partake in a ritualization of cleansing one’s hands.  It is as an integral part of the welcoming experience to the hotel and an affirmation on the importance of cleanliness. It is a spa-like experience, a welcoming gesture combined with social awareness.

Q: How will “hospitality” or the business of servicing guests change?

There will be fewer points of physical contact: all check-ins and check-outs are prearranged and will be touchless. Much like using the famed “Star Trek” teleporter, guests can essentially be “beamed up” and into their room with a simple cell phone app.  Check in, registration, the call for the elevator and the guest room key will be a simple click away and all available through new technologies.  Smartphones will become integral to the post-pandemic hotel experience for ordering room service, valet services or spa visits, retrieving cars from the valet, paying for parking and, of course, settling a room account without ever touching a hotel phone or keys.

Q:  How will the hotel dining experience change?

The days of uncovered trays and plates will be a thing of the past. If we look at another Japanese tradition of a Bento Box, meals are presented to the guest in a re-imagined, but thoroughly modern container.  Not only does this form of food presentation provide safety from airborne viruses, it doubles as an insulator for keeping food warm and fresh from the kitchen. Importantly, the Bento Box is often painted with elaborate decoration—a potential branding opportunity for establishments–elegance combined with practical solutions from other cultures past.

Bars may offer drinks and cocktails presented with stylish removable coverings to protect the precious liquid contents.  A simple embellishment that transforms the ordinary to an experience.

Tightly spaced tables in restaurants may not necessarily follow the current six-foot social distancing rule, but seating will nonetheless be spaced to give additional room between patrons and servers. Restaurants may even utilize “eating pods,” individualized “rooms,” and outdoor cabanas, reminiscent of Arabian tents, which are considered a welcoming sign of the gracious hospitality offered within.  Historically, seeing an Arabian tent across the desert was akin to seeing an oasis. Perhaps our pods, although smaller than a tent, will be thought about similarly.

Q:  How can design help hotels re-imagine themselves for this post-pandemic era?

Looking to history, we find how design has been used to react to global crises and then altering the expected experience by creating an entirely new one.

After the influenza pandemic of 1918 and the continued persistence of tuberculosis and other contagious diseases, the roots of modernism in architecture and design begin to take form.  In part, this movement of simplifying of buildings and paring the built elements to their essence, while expressing the building as machine-like with exposed structure and clean simplified, but sculptural, interior spaces, came about as a response to these threats.

Hotels, post-pandemic, may now be reimagined and designed in a similar vein. Clean, crisp and clutter-free.  While we understand that the virus does not live long on surfaces, it is still imperative to the guest’s perception that hotels feel clean and sanitized for their users. Instead of evoking a feeling of the traditional “home,” along with decorative touches, hotel design will evolve to create a brand-new kind of luxurious space based on purity and simplicity.

mies chair

Figure 3: “I’m a Barcelona” by Pablo Zarate is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Modernist movement developed an architectural style that stripped spaces of decorative elements, thereby reducing clutter of furniture and carpets so that the floors and walls became pristine, unadorned elements that defined space without pretext to bygone styles.  Architect Le Corbusier said of his work at the time: “Everything is shown as it is. There is inner cleanness.”

Furniture design evolved during this period with a similar streamlined approach.  Designer Michael Thonet developed light, bentwood and cane furniture that could be easily moved for cleaning.  Breuer and Van de Rohe used tubular steel, leather, and wood in their furniture to create furniture of lightness.   

Q: How is CambridgeSeven adapting its hotel clients to this new era?

CambridgeSeven was central to the mid-century, clean-line aesthetic, having been formed in the early 1960s.  Our design ideas then and now still resonate with simple as the best approach to design. We believe the premise behind all of these design approaches for the hospitality industry are the right thing to do in today’s world.

As hotel designers, we re-imagine the hospitality experience by keeping it memorable and luxurious through a clean, contemporary aesthetic.  Post pandemic realities are a reason for creative change and imaginative thinking.  There is great opportunity here.  The hotel we envision may not mirror a traditional style, but it will be deliberately and meticulously designed to feel safe, secure, sophisticated, beautiful and welcoming.  Hotels should be enlightened by the current crisis but not overruled by it. Simplicity and hospitality are welcome and compatible partners.

Hotels in this post-pandemic environment have many challenges to lure guests back but they also have a responsibility to learn and adapt from ancient cultures, respected rituals and modern design aesthetics to create a new sense of hospitality to welcome travelers.

Contributor Bio

cambridgseven

CambridgeSeven is a world-renowned architecture and design firm located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The firm provides high-quality, fresh design solutions to complex challenges and specializes in the following categories: academic, aquariums, civic, commercial, exhibits, hospitality, and museums. Cambridge Seven has received numerous awards, including the National AIA Firm award, and has practiced throughout North America and in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

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