Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Trends in hotel design

It seems developers are back at flirting with hotel developments again. Since hotels are perceived as riskier investments than other commercial real estate (reflected in their pricing), a renewed appetite is good sign of positive investor expectations towards real estate. With an increasing number of projects on the design board, I thought to share some of my thinking regarding what could be the new trends in hotel design. Take this as loud thinking and by no means a crystallized trend analysis.

--In the remote past hotels were places of status, appeal and glamour. The Bristols’, the Continentals’, the Astorias’, the Savoys are all hotel names that resonate with luxury, white gloved butlers, massive chandeliers and huge rooms. Interestingly enough these names are not affiliated brands. They just exist as traditional hotel names used by local hoteliers. At the time there was little functionality involved in the design. It was all the exclusive look and feel that mattered.

--In the recent past, with the increase of mobility, hotel design was more about a combination of functionality and recreating the home feel.  Some used to argue though, that travelers are not looking for something that is ‘home away’ but for better or at least different. Right or wrong it seems that trend wise we have already put this behind.
--The most recent efforts were about combining the experience (how I feel while there?) and motivation (why am I there?) driven design, and the attempt to create the best of both. Think of the business hotels tailored to corporate traveler’s needs, or the kids friendly hotels, family resorts focused on an all including coherent experience.  Emergence of chic or hip hotel brands or collections like DesignHotels, W, Aloft, Andaz, MGallery, or Morgans, etc. all focused on the lifestyle and the wow feel of spaces, often (not always) compromising on the functionality. Then the fashion brands extensions came along with Armani, Bvlgari and Missoni hotels which I mainly see as mere branding exercises rather than any substantial change in the fundamentals of hotel design.

For the short term future I don’t think there is a whole new school of thought taking shape (if you know of any please share). What I see more is that there are increasing efforts in keeping up with the changes in life and consumption habits of people. Hotels are trying to become very high tech in their distribution, appearance and experience offered.  The lifestyle features (mainly interior design related) are reinvented and recreated in an ever changing brand and trend context but the basic fundamentals (like the bad, breakfast, bathroom etc.) have not been addressed. Here are a few thoughts that do suggest some concepts are being re-thought and we might see them spreading out in the hotel world:

//Living lobby – recreating the lobby as a living room, a multi-use space for casual talks, short informal meetings, logging into conf calls, or just work on your an ipad or notebook. Most of these activities all go beyond a couch and a coffee table. They require small bays, more intimate corners, visual barriers that segment the space, tables with varying height, sockets everywhere,  etc. and above all much personality, though design but also through service.

//Light on lighting – There is no traveler on earth that has not been annoyed by the light controls in a rooms. There is a typical case of less is more. Having 3-4 predefined lighting schemes (e.g. lounge/reading mode, office/desk mode, TV mode and full on/off) would just do a perfect job and spare you of playing piano on the light switchboard.

//Big Bed Small Room - Bed is an essential feature of hotels, but it takes up most of the space in the room, at least in the mid scale, economy hotels. We should find ways of using the space above the bed, during the day. Weather it's a temporary roll-in desk, pressing board, storage shelf, or other, I sense opportunities there. I have not seen solutions other than the folding bed that might be a compromise on the quality of the bed itself.

//Kitchen breakfast – Breakfast is essential part of the hotel experience, more than the fine dining that most luxury or upscale properties offer. But since the buffet concept, there hasn't been any revolutionary improvement on that front. The response on the need for business breakfasts was also quite slow, or non-existent.  Having more flexible breakfast areas with several smaller kitchen-islands, including a small bar stool and chairs could add a fresh feel and way people have breakfast. It would also make the process a bit more fun and interactive.

Day Dining – staying at the food subject, lobby bar food typically sucks.  The whole lobby bar space should be rethought moving away from the cocktail and coffee space clichés and make it more integrated with the lobby and it’s diversity and multifunctionality.

//Top to toe – There is always room to improve on the use of space from rooftop to basement of the hotels. There are quite some properties with rooftop bars or pools, but less so with extensions of executive lounges, or meeting rooms. Or even just a small garden for a newspaper or a coffee. Obviously sound considerations should apply. Basements can also do much more than just a bar, or a club. Parking coupled with value ad services like car cleaning, etc can offer a good yield as well.

//TapTrip – It is not strictly design related, but the tablet/smartphone experience of hotels is also swiftly changing. We are not far from the online check-in solutions (airlines have it for a decade now), and the touch your phone room key either. But that’s a whole other subject…

Monday, 11 March 2013

Wadi Shab Resort

New hotel supply on the horizon.  In fact, much closer than that as one can already book a room in the new Wadi Shab Resort, say for the coming week-end. It's a small, 34-room resort type hotel next to Tiwi just off Wadi Shab, hence the obvious name association.

I have not seen the hotel up and running yet, just did a bit of digging on the web. Having been in the area a few times, I was trying to get an initial feel of what the product could or should be.
Well the good news is the strong local entrepreneurial spirit triggering a new venture on tourism, in a rural area. It is still striking how few facilities are in the catchment of such a wonderful place like Wadi Shab and Tiwi. Now at least we have a nice hotel that can be used as a basis for some star day trips in the area or use it as a stopover for traveling further south. Or just to spend a couple of days on the beach away from the city and not having to compromise on your sleep.

The less good news is, that while the place is magnificent, the new hotel does not seem to show much originality, personality or unique touch. It does not seem to capture the feel and essence of the area: a blend of calm and pristine coastal and a wild, rough mountain feel. But then again, let’s stay positive. Maybe it’s a bit too early, maybe the photography on the web page can be improved a bit. A lot of the offering can also be shaped as we go.  Maybe the kitchen will be a main drawcard. As we know, in Oman a strong cuisine can make guest forget about many other issues and have them leave with a smile on their face. 

So I urge you to go and try it out, and maybe let us  know how did you find it. (Btw. they should also register the hotel on tripadvisor). In any ways I wish the owners good luck and success in their business. As it looks now they have quite good chances to do very well in the week-ends and will have to run for their money during week-days.

Side note:
Some say it’s bad that the tourism developments in Oman have not been undertaken at a bolder pace. This maintained a more pristine and traditional feel of the tourism landscape, as opposed to a shadow of the volume driven strategies of our neighbors. Some others are proud of this traditional feel and a bit underdeveloped status. Either way, the country is increasingly popular among international travelers and efforts are also being undertaken to finally encourage the domestic tourism. This coupled with the vacuum in quality offering, especially in the countryside, gives Oman the opportunity to leapfrog a trial and error type organic growth and focus on a smarter process. That is consciously controlling what is built in the context of a clear vision.  To have a strategy of what do we want and what we do not want. (They will always be more of the latter. Any strategy has more losers than winners in the short term.)  Entrepreneurial thinking is good for Oman, but leaving it all on it is not yet advisable.  Expressing a vision, encouraging, guiding and supporting entrepreneurs it is!  In one word to plan!  To master plan!  Tourism and land planning decision makers will never have the (relatively) clean sheet of paper they have now. Let's rehears the lessons learnt and plan. And If we think we already do plan, well that's good, then let's try to improve. There is always room for that.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Most popular Omani blogs

It's been a while since I posted. No excuses, just travel, work and lack of inspiration.

A fellow blogger and social media professional (if there is such a term) Maurizio, who is running the Omani Collective Intelligence blog on social media and PR issues in Oman, has recently posted an updated ranking of Omani blogs.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Omanly qualifying as 19th on the list of 46. Given that I usually cover a rather narrow set of topics and my posting intensity is more or less in line with the pace of life in the Sultanate, I am proud of this result.

Thanks all of you for your interest. In case you work in a tourism related area and find anything  relevant inhere, and more over, you perhaps can even use it in your work, well then I have certainly achieved my goal.

The season is soon over, with a bit of well deserved rest to come for everybody. Once this is done, let's shake up the brain cells and come up with fresh new things to make this country excel in originality and appeal of its tourism offering.