The coronavirus pandemic will encourage designers to “rethink what hospitality is and what it means to travel,” says BAR Studio architect and communications director Rowena Hockin.
Hockin tells ADR the industry has been focused on “the death of the buffet” when it could be looking at how it can increase the “depth of engagement” felt by people when they travel.
Melbourne-based BAR Studio has designed hotel environments throughout Australia, the Asia Pacific region and Europe, including the recent Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, which has been shortlisted for the IDEA 2020 International category.
Hockin says while the studio has always sought to design with a “connection to what is outside”, it is going further in future projects to engage with local communities.
“We’re increasingly investigating the possibility of creating connections between a hotel property and, say, the city or even the surrounding area,” she says.
“And we’re now seeing that there is a receptiveness to really deepening that relationship with the local on the part of owners and operators.”
Hockin clarifies this shift isn’t about studios just pitching local art in lobbies, but rather going further to facilitate connections with local organisations or businesses.
“We might be able to create a linkage between the hotel and, say, this restaurant or this farm that’s out in the hinterland or forest,” she says.
“In other words, bringing those experiences from the city or countryside and putting them into the hotel.”
An example of this, says Hockin, would be to provide an opportunity for guests to stay on the farm that supplies the produce served at the hotel’s organic restaurant.
Another would be to connect with local communities through the services on offer within the hotel.
It’s this, according to the Melbourne architect, that Australians will be looking for when travel bans are lifted in 2021.
“I predict people will be looking to go somewhere for two weeks and just stay there and really experience it, as opposed to the kind of hopping type of travel where you just land in a place and then leave again.
“We’re seeing a real enthusiasm for that mining of the local experience.”
From a design perspective, Hockin says hotels can build on this thirst for an immersive experience with a material palette that is “specific to place”.
The choice of furniture, fabrics and colours should all work together, she says, to “deepen that relationship with the local” post-COVID-19.
“So with (one of our) projects in Beijing, the palette is really dark; that kind of really deep brown black kind of timber, quite rich and unlike the colours (on another of our projects) in Perth, which is beachy, light and sandy.”
Beyond this, Hockin projects a lot of optimism for the industry. Aside from the disappearance of the throw pillow on beds – something she says she’s not sad to see go – and changes in cleaning protocols, she’s quietly confident.
“(BAR Studio) is still seeing projects out there that it’s putting bids on. And we’re seeing a lot of activity in China at the moment,” she says.
“So I think China is reflective of a sense of optimism and reasonable market buoyancy.
“We’re keeping an eye out in terms of whether there will be a bit of a downturn in six months or a year, but at the moment, everybody we’re working with is still moving ahead with their hospitality project.”
Lead photo: The Westin Perth. Photography supplied.
Many other designers have been predicting how the coronavirus will impact the hospitality industry with Carr associate director Rosie Morley predicting an increased appetite for escapist experiences and Rothelowman design consultant Jackie Johnston saying the pandemic will separate the cookie cutters from the good designers.