By Robert Nieminen
As someone who does his fair share of traveling, I have, by default, spent quite a few evenings in any number of different hotel rooms. I have to admit, I don't even remember most of them. That's probably because most hotel rooms offer the same basic amenities: a bed, a desk, perhaps a chair or loveseat, cable television and a bathroom with tiny bottles of shampoo and more towels than I personally need.
Still, every time I unlock the door to a different hotel, there's the brief moment of anticipation as I step in and turn on the light, and
I wonder, what will the room look like? Never mind that they are mostly variations of the same plan—bathroom next to the door, maybe a sink, a bed, a desk and a chair in the corner—I still hope
that once I'm inside, I feel greeted by a room that makes me feel comfortable or even special.
I will never forget the feeling I had the first time I stayed at the Hotel Sofitel in downtown Chicago during my first trip to NeoCon. First of all, the building's spectacular architecture, designed by French architect Jean-Paul Viguier, was impossible to miss—a giant, white triangular tower that stands in stark contrast to its neighboring buildings. The Sofitel had just opened, and as a relative newbie to business travel back then, I was shocked when I walked into my room. Surely the front desk had mixed my name up with someone who was staying in an upscale suite.
The contemporary European décor featured beechwood walls and chrome hardware, and the marble bathrooms with separate tub and shower were nothing short of luxurious. The large picture windows had great views of the city and kept the room from feeling cramped. The icing on the cake, as I recall, was the feather bed with a down comforter, complete with turn down service every evening.
Perhaps the Sofitel isn't your favorite hotel, and I'm not saying that it's mine either, but the point is that I remember the experience very clearly, and it's not a memory I'll soon forget. And it's precisely because of the design elements, coupled with good customer service, that made the experience so memorable.
In fact, both principals of the hospitality design firm, ForrestPerkins, the subject of this month's cover story, firmly believe that if guests have a better sense of where they are and where they've stayed, the result is a more pleasant memory. "If you create a warm feeling about that hotel, you also encourage brand loyalty," explains Stephen Perkins, AIA, principal of ForrestPerkins. "And if consumers can string together a chain of experiences that happen to be with the same brand, they can pretty readily say, 'I like that brand.'"
In my case, I can't say that I've stayed at the Sofitel enough to say that I am loyal to the brand, but my experience was positive enough to make me want to stay there again. Because to me, and I suspect to most any traveler, staying in a standard, impersonal hotel room is as unmemorable as eating at a fast-food restaurant—it's all the same, and it isn't very satisfying.
"The most important trend in luxury hotels is to create personal spaces within these fairly impersonal places," adds Deborah Lloyd Forrest, principal at ForrestPerkins. "Whatever we can do to help make their hotel room, lobby, spa or restaurant a little more personal is what people are looking for today."
I couldn't agree more.
Correction: On the cover of our March
issue, Richard Pollack's name was misspelled.
We regret the error.