There was a time in the not-so-distant past when you could step into a major hotel or restaurant chain anywhere around the world, and it would be difficult to tell if you were in San Francisco or San Juan. Brand consistency expressed in the aesthetics of a property was once the norm because it worked, but times have changed—and so have the expectations of travelers, especially coming out of the pandemic.
After dealing with the hassles of air travel, does anyone really want to stay in a hotel that looks exactly like the last one? Hardly.
Designers are now incorporating local elements into everything from hotels to restaurants to spas, providing hospitality venues with an edge in a competitive market. Adding thoughtful touches of local flavor into the design of hospitality environments can showcase a location’s unique materials, cultures and traditions and provide visitors with a memorable experience.
Corporate branding of properties isn’t going way, mind you. It’s that large chains are seeking to create destinations where their guests want to spend time and to better connect with the communities in which they’re situated.
i+s spoke with Staci Patton, principal at DLR Group, on an episode of the I Hear Design podcast to better understand this lasting trend toward localization in hospitality design. Following is an excerpt of that conversation in which Patton shares her insights into this topic.
i+s: What are some of the drivers behind the localization trend in hospitality interiors?
Staci Patton: It’s been shifting well over five years or more now, where [guests are] craving something that feels as though it’s knitted into the locale and really reflects the ideology of that area, not only aesthetically, but just in a sense of service. And so, I think the Marriott's and Hilton's of the world have really understood that it is really a shift in human behavior. It’s been a shift in society of what we crave and long for in our travel experiences. Those years of having some standardization made a lot of sense in terms of economy and scale and the guest promise such that every hotel you went into had the touch points that mattered to that brand.
But now there’s really just such a great appetite for embracing a sense of unique quality and customization so that when guests come, they really get to feel more of that [local flavor] within their hotel stay. Prior, you’d have to really force yourself to get out into the community before you start started to feel that sense of place, and now the opportunity is the moment you step into the front door, you’re starting to really see and sense and feel the locale. And so I think it’s become over the years it was a trend, but now I think it’s really just a baseline designers really have to embrace that process.
i+s: Are you seeing it mostly in boutique properties or are the larger corporate chains embracing it as well?
SP: We see it definitely becoming much more prevalent. There are so many great reasons to, again, have more of a standardized approach to hotels in terms of mass and scale. But I think those major flags have really learned from the boutique and lifestyle environment and community, and they’ve seen the success from a revenue perspective as well. And so, they’ve started to roll out some soft-branded [properties] that allowed them to bring in that sense of locale and bring in that sense of customization, but really on the backbone of the promise that these major flags bring for their guests in terms of service and amenities and just a sense of quality. But yeah, we’re definitely seeing a few brands—obviously, like Autograph and Tribute by Marriott, Canopy by Hilton—all embrace a very bespoke approach to the design.
i+s: How do you go about capturing a local community’s essence in an authentic way so that the design doesn’t feel contrived?
SP: We really start these projects by spending literal time in the communities—going there, meeting people, stay more than just a couple days and really explore the neighborhood as if you were a guest. And it takes time to do that. So you’ve got to build in some time to have just impromptu destinations that you explore. Also, we’re big on stepping into small little boutiques and really meeting the owners, talking to the individuals that work there and try to understand more about what they love about their community, what they feel is very iconic of their community. And sometimes it can be very big things or small things, the subtleties. I think through those conversations and just that time on the ground exploring and learning is really one fantastic place to start.
From there though there’s a lot of synthesis of that information. You’ve explored it, you’ve lived it, you’ve collected those conversations. We then need to take that to a level where we map it out. So it’s kind of pin up, if you will, to say, ‘These are the pictures that we took from our own personal perspective. These are those great artifacts that we picked up along the way,’ and just try to memorialize it because it’s so easy to get off track. If we can make that synthesis be part of our conceptual development, it’ll allow us to stay honest to that community and stay honest to those conversations. […]
i+s: Are you seeing clients request more outdoor spaces as a result of the pandemic?
SP: I think definitely the pandemic has affected at least our American viewpoint of outdoor dining. I think probably some of the most lovely experiences that travelers have in al fresco dining could be abroad. But I definitely see just an explosion of need to provide outdoor spaces for dining as well as just socialization. […]
And if we can do that in a way that’s conducive to our business and leisure needs, I really think the sky’s the limit on what we can do to embrace outdoor for a variety of reasons.
To hear the episode in its entirety, click here.