With over 40% of Americans vaccinated, hotels are reopening their doors and welcoming an influx of travelers. Those who are planning a trip away are quickly learning that hotels aren’t what they used to be. There are a number of new protocols in place, from contactless check-ins to vending machine meals. If you want to exercise, you can get weights and yoga mats delivered to your hotel room door.
Michael Strohmer, the principal and architect at HKS, works with luxury hotel brands on their interior design and architecture.
“As we come out of the pandemic and return to a more normal way of doing things, we see an opportunity for an evolution of the traditional hotel model,” he said.
Here are six ways hotels are changing in 2021:
1. The Hotel Lobby Will Never Be the Same
Sad news for hotel guests who love getting a set of keys from the reception desk — everything will be digital check-in going forward. Many major U.S. chains and independent boutique hotels are using cloud-based apps for contactless check-in and check-out, like Hilton Hotels, which recently reopened in New York City with mobile check-in.
“Innovative technology is providing ways for guests to bypass the reception check-in process, but the core of a hospitality experience has always been to provide personalized service, which is one of the greatest attributes to the industry,” Strohmer said.
Replacing the lobby check-in desk, expect to see “ambassadors” who welcome guests in a hotel’s lobby. That’s not to say customer service is gone, however.
“We believe the face-to-face personalized service will remain an important element that provides a welcoming first impression that continues throughout each guest’s stay at the property,” he said. “This gets back to the idea of providing flexible options that allows the hotel guests to decide what level of service they prefer.”
2. Long Gone is the Hotel Breakfast Buffet
While each hotel has their own take on it, the breakfast buffet is too risky for guests to use at hotels, post-pandemic. It’s the shared utensils, the un-shielded food, the possibility of contamination that scares hoteliers. Now, food is either ordered on a hotel’s app and ordered directly to your room door or is ordered off an online menu and delivered to your table (likely, outdoor seating).
3. Expect Traditional Guestrooms and Furnished Apartments on the Same Floor
While some hotels are offering long-term affordable housing, other hotels are staying flexible. On one hand, hotel guests are welcome to stay for weekend trips, but those traveling from overseas may want to stay for a two-week stint or a month. Hotels are ready to accommodate both — and in competing with Airbnb, offer kitchenettes and laundry for longer-term guests.
“This new flexible hotel model accommodates traditional hotel guests and short-term renters all on the same floors,” Strohmer said. “Unlike traditional hotels that offer discounted rates for extended stays or separate residential buildings, rooms can seamlessly switch between the apartments and guest rooms. When not leased, apartments are released back into the hotel’s inventory.”
Imagine condo life but in a hotel, and you get the idea. Strohmer sees this move for major chains as a response to market trends, which are looking to disrupt the traditional hotel model. “Hotels will begin to intermix traditional guest rooms with furnished apartments that provide more flexibility and stability for the future,” he said.
There still are some grey areas, however. “For many people, a year-long apartment lease is too much of a commitment, but an individual hotel room will not do the trick either,” said Strohmer. “If hotels develop a more flexible model for shifting between short-term overnight guest rooms to full-service apartments, they can ensure higher occupancy rates and a more consistent revenue stream.”
He explains: “Apartment residents would benefit from upgraded levels of service, cleanliness, security, and highly desirable amenities and common spaces found within the hotel. As tenants move out, the units could be put into the guestroom inventory, improving accommodation options and upgrade opportunities for short-term guests.”
4. Hotels Will Offer Coworking and Meeting Spaces
The good old hotel boardroom will come to use post-pandemic. Meeting spaces in corporate hotels (typically used for conferences, work meetings and lectures) accommodate “co-working and collaboration areas that service local businesses looking for more options,” Strohmer said. This way, hotels will not depend on out-of-town business meetings and conferences.
“As many companies transition to a digital-remote workforce, several businesses will be looking for other options that do not require a long-term office lease commitment,” he explained. “Hotels have an opportunity to attract many of these groups that are looking for collaboration space to reconnect with their teams as needed to stay connected.”
5. Reinventing and Expanding Hotel Amenities
Most travelers who opt for a hotel stay are paying for the service. That includes amazing food, great staff and a variety of amenities. In the future, expect it to expand. Some hotels are even offering a Hotel Day Pass to attend the spa. Others, like boutique hotels in New York, are offering room rentals for working during the day through a service called Dayuse.
“Hotels in the future will look for ways to leverage and expand upon those strengths to become a new, innovative destination,” Strohmer predicted. “With diverse amenities for the community, local partnerships and thoughtful, flexible design, a hotel can become a more appealing place for everyone.”
6. Conference Rooms and Office Spaces Will Be Used for Coworking
Hotels are not just for travelers, of course. They’re quickly becoming multi-use spaces that are changing and expanding, especially with requests for long-term stays. Most hotels aren’t depending just on travelers, as they’re renting out their conference rooms to local businesses who are looking to avoid an office lease in a commercial building.
Will Hotels Fundamentally Change?
Before COVID, we thought of hotels primarily as buildings for tourists and travelers to stay. Now it’s possible that hospitality assets will shift to multi-use.
“As we have all seen the impact that fluctuations have had on the hotel industry, owners and operators are searching for ways to stabilize their businesses,” Strohmer said. “There will continue to be new ways to expand their services and amenities to accommodate more guests within their local communities, and even the local neighborhood.”