By Brendon Granger, Technology 4 Hotels

Hotel design has long had a strong influence on a hotel’s aesthetic appeal, but as the needs of the traveller have evolved over the years, so too has the design that draws in guests. As technology rapidly improves and develops, it starts to have more and more influence on the needs of hotel guests, thus impacting hotel design. In many ways it is the evolution of technology that is most influencing the evolution of hotel design.

Hotel lobbies vs communal spaces

The design of a hotel lobby is vital in giving a strong and positive first impression. And since the impression that hotels want to give has evolved over the years, it stands to reason that the design of the hotel lobby needs to evolve alongside it. The importance of marble, grand stair cases and designer chandeliers is decreasing as millennial travellers (Millennials – also known as Generation Y – are the generation born between 1980 and 1995) increasingly become the most influential market. Since millennial travellers value experiences over products and services, hotel lobbies are being designed to act more as a communal space in keeping with the local culture, rather than a place to make a grand Hollywood-style entrance.

Millennial travellers, as born collaborators, place a strong importance on being highly interactive. It falls upon hotel designers to provide these millennial travellers with interactive and social environments, communal areas in which they can get the full experience, whether this is social networking (in real life and online) or working away from the office.

“Millennials aren’t so interested in staying in their room, but congregating in compelling spaces with great design, music and a unique point of view,” says Jason Pomeranc, CEO of SIXTY Hotels, a lifestyle brand that recently opened a property in Miami.

In the UK, Laslett hotel, a new entry onto the London boutique hotel scene, capitalises perfectly on the rich culture of its Notting Hill setting. So much so that it has become something of a neighbourhood hangout, rather than the traditional style hotel lobby. There is a curated British library, local art on the walls, and shops and restaurants selling and serving celebrated local products.

And it’s not just high-end boutique hotels adjusting their design motifs. The low-budget hotels and hostel chains are also changing their image in-line with millennial expectations. The European hostel brand Generation Hostels have created a series of ‘poshtels’ which incorporate lavish communal areas with bars, cinema rooms and even areas to take a yoga class. “We’re trying to capture people who are curious and people who want to experience design and want to experience something local,” said Josh White, Chief Strategic Officer for the chain.

The most recent example of this change in design is the launch of the new edgy midscale brand by Hilton called Tru.

“We are incredibly excited to be launching Tru by Hilton, which will serve the largest segment of the hotel market, but a segment where no brand is meeting guests’ current needs,” says Christopher J. Nassetta, President and CEO, Hilton Worldwide.

“Tru will provide guests with a high-quality, contemporary, consistent and fresh experience at a great value for customers, while at the same time delivering strong returns to our owners,” he says.

The brand will appeal to a broad range of travellers who span generations but think alike; they are united by a millennial mindset – a youthful energy, a zest for life and a desire for human connection.  Tru by Hilton is “more than just a place to sleep, it’s a true travel experience designed to deliver a strong value proposition for owners and guests”.

Tru by Hilton’s features include:

-The Hive, a first floor experience that’s more than a lobby – 2,770 square-feet of open space with unique ways for guests to engage with others or spend time alone – in one of four distinct zones for lounging, working, eating or playing;

-The Play Zone, filled with table games, a large-screen TV (offering guests more than 150 channels), and tiered, stadium-inspired seating;

-A centrally located Command Centre – a re-envisioned front desk – featuring a social media wall with real-time content to foster engagement among guests, and a 24/7 market offering fun snacks and refreshments, single-serve wine and beer, healthy light meal options and sundries for purchase;

-A complimentary ‘Build Your Own’ breakfast bar

-A technology-forward mentality featuring segment-leading complimentary WiFi bandwidth allowing guests to download and stream content on their devices, plentiful power sources, and mobile check-in, room selection and Digital Key available through the Hilton HHonors mobile app;

Vital amenities aka technology

Millennials have grown up with technology, often viewing their smartphone as an extension of themselves that they would not dare part with. As digital natives, they are the most avid users of technology, and use it to communicate almost exclusively, either via emails, texts or on social media. Nine out of 10 millennial adults across the world get dressed, brush their teeth and check their smartphones as part of their morning routine, according to the Connected World Technology Report.

Since technology is so much a part of their lives, it has quickly become a prerequisite rather than a luxury. As such, hotel design has begun adapting to meet their needs. Where once large bed throws were the mark of a luxurious hotel room, it’s now far more imperative to have a good sized TV (46” plus) that allows guests to view their own content i.e. Netflix, easily and seamlessly as they do at home.

Access to WiFi is mandatory. If a millennial were unable to check their smartphones, two out of five reported in the Connected World Technology Report that they “would feel anxious, like a part of me was missing.” WiFi that is unreliable or expensive (i.e. not free) is an easy way for hotels to score a black mark against their names in online reviews and on social media (and trust me, they’ll find a way to get online and tell the world about it). Excellent quality Internet and making it easy for guest to connect, charge and use all their various devices is crucial to total customer satisfaction. Additional outlets and USB charging points are beginning to appear in most hotel room designs, becoming as important as in-room coffee – if not more so, with your average guest travelling with at least three devices that require charging.

Hilton’s new Tru brand will offer smart and efficiently designed guest rooms full of the things that matter most – all-white comfortable platform beds, 55-inch TVs, eight-foot wide windows, access to power everywhere, and surprisingly spacious bathrooms.

The growing popularity of keyless room entry has shown how willing guests are to incorporate their mobile technology in the way they interact with hotels. This is allowing hotels to adopt new mobile technology – such as hotel apps/loyalty programs – to connect better with and serve their guests.  No one likes waiting in-line. Banks have been giving us technology based alternatives for years; it’s only natural that hotels do the same.

Energy Efficiency

Reducing energy use is also becoming an important part of hotel room design.  Electricity usage is one of the highest operating expenses a hotel incurs and on average, 90% of wasted electricity usage comes from the guestroom, which can be a hotel’s most unmanaged resource. Guestroom’s Air Conditioning/Heating (HVAC) system can represent 70% – 90% of that wasted electricity. Fully automated solutions are now available which can detect whether or not a guestroom is occupied and either turn off the HVAC or set the temperature to one pre-determined by hotel management.  Thereby allowing control over electricity usage while still maintaining maximum guestroom comfort levels.

Authenticity is the key

Erin Green, vice president of development Americas of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has said that “Authenticity is the new definition of luxury.” In other words the perceived value of a hotel visit is now greater when authentic and unique experiences are involved. Creating a hotel experience that reflects the surrounding culture and community is a trend that is quickly spreading around the world, one that is highly encouraged by millennial travellers.

“Authenticity is more important than room size, finishes, and brick and mortar. It’s about feeling like you’re in place,” said Russell Urban, executive VP, business development and acquisitions, of Destination Hotels.

Those hotels that incorporate a local influence – whether it be art, history or architecture – into their hotel design are now more likely to be perceived as providing the real travel experience that millennial guests respond so well to.

The growing influence of millennial mindset

Hospitality properties of all shapes and sizes are beginning to redesign their properties to introduce new technologies and grow their brand appeal to this generation, and it’s easy to see why. There are currently 83.5 million millennials – more than one quarter of the population – in the US alone. And this number is only going to grow as Generation X ages, travels less and has less income to spend on hospitality.

As the future of the travel market grows and develops new needs, it’s only going to become more important for hotel design to adapt to meet them.