Coronavirus has changed travel in so many previously unimaginable ways.
There’s the visible, like having to wear masks on flights or needing to show a negative Covid test result before you’re allowed to enter a country. Then there’s the subtle, like destinations embracing technology and data to help with crowd control.
Arguably, some of the biggest changes have taken place in the hotel industry – though as a guest, you’ll probably only have noticed the disappearance of the breakfast buffet.
In the UK, for example, hotels are undergoing deeper cleans and some will even leave rooms to go fallow for a short stint between guests. Globally, the promise to ban single-use plastics has been delayed for many properties.
With such seismic shifts in guest attitudes, as well as logistics of operations in motion, there’s more change on the way.
Increased use of contactless technology
Contactless technology has long been a trend in the hotel industry, but because of Covid-19, hotels are ramping up their roll out.
Hilton, for example, launched Digital Key in 2015. The app allows its Hilton Honors members to check in, choose their rooms and unlock the doors using their phone. It’s not available at all properties yet, but the roll-out of the technology has accelerated according to Gordon Coles, senior vice president in Hilton’s EMEA Architecture, Design & Construction team, and is now in use in over 5,000 hotels worldwide.
Hilton also offers Connected Rooms, where everything from the lighting and temperature to what’s on TV can be controlled via the guests’ mobile devices. The chain is far from alone in this – similar technology is also being implemented to varying degrees at Virgin Hotels, Bloc Hotels and Citizen M hotels worldwide.
Smart materials will be incorporated into everyday designs
Hotel designer Jean-Michel Gathy, who works across a portfolio of high end hotels, sees a future where smart materials are seamlessly integrated into the design.
He told The Independent: “This involves things like anti-microbial surfacing for everything from lobbies, to side tables, to the restaurant back of house; self-check-in kiosks; and limits on how many people can ride in an elevator.
“There will be auto-cleaning metals in the bathrooms and special resins on the floors and walls that viruses cannot stick to and survive on, like lotus flowers.
“Special invisible plastics and removable films will cover TV remote controls, faucets, showerheads, and door handles. Air and water delivery systems will be filtered and purified.”
He added: “Within five years, I predict that all of these things will be standard in the hotel industry, especially at the highest end.”
More in-room facilities
In 2020, we saw more serviced apartments opening than ever, in part to cater to guests who want to minimise contact with others.
According to Mr Gathy, this trend will spread to hotel rooms too.
He said: “Basic rooms will give way to more studios and suites with kitchens and laundry to reduce housekeeping and room service interactions.”
Of course, in some ways that’s already been happening, albeit in a limited way.
All Staybridge Suites have kitchens, for example. At select Hilton hotels, guests can book Five Feet to Fitness rooms, which offer in-room gym equipment including bikes and TRX, so you don’t have to visit the hotel gym. And at Hard Rock Hotels, musically-inclined guests have always been able to borrow instruments for their room.
Making Covid safety measures more attractive
Hand sanitising stations and perspex dividers are something we’ll see for some time, but for some hotels, there’s now a push to make them more “attractive” and normalise them as part of the guest experience.
“Take hand sanitising stations as an example. Previously, you wouldn’t have seen them in a hotel lobby – but now they are a critical component of your stay,” according to Mr Coles.
“These stations will be here to stay for some time, so many hotels are looking for more subtle products that blend into the overall design of the hotel.
“The same goes for screening elements – we’re seeing designs emerge which incorporate joinery elements and planters to create elegant screening devices, or decorative screens, helping these cumbersome items merge more seamlessly with the surroundings.”
More visible hygiene measures
Hand sanitisers and perspex dividers aren’t the only Covid-secure measures being brought into the foreground – for Hilton properties, so are the cleaners.
Mr Coles said: “Previously, cleaning was something that we tried to do when few guests would be around to see it happen.
“Now, in a significant shift, guests find it reassuring to see our housekeeping teams around the hotel as they carry out our more rigorous cleaning regimes as part of Hilton CleanStay.
“As they now look for greater transparency, the lines between front and back of house are becoming blurred, which gives guests a greater sense of comfort.”
Expanding outdoor spaces
Many of us sought out open spaces as an antidote to the confinement of lockdown, and that desire has accelerated a trend that was already appearing in hotels according to Mr Coles. It’s helped by the fact that during England’s tiered approach to coronavirus restrictions, socialising between households was permitted in an outdoor hospitality environment.
Several of Hilton’s properties in London already offered rooftop spaces, which the properties made the most of while using them was permissible last year. Even properties without the luxury of a rooftop space have made adaptations to ensure plenty of outdoor space for guests.
DoubleTree by Hilton Harrogate Majestic Hotel & Spa, for example, created a terrace outside where it was able to host open air performances during the summer months. And now that winter is here, they’ve installed a teepee with a fire pit and socially distanced seating that will welcome guests once restrictions lift.
Bringing greenery indoors
Finally, we may expect to see more greenery indoors. Mr Coles explained: “Biophilic design, which focuses on nature and the natural world, is experiencing a resurgence.
“Discerning consumers are drawn to indoor locations which promise beautiful, light, greenery-filled surroundings and most importantly at the moment, cleaner air and a greater sense of wellness, merging inside and outside spaces within our hotels.”