Recent cultural and lifestyle changes have accelerated the need for hotels to innovate, particularly in how they use space. A decrease in business travel paired with an increase in flexible working has prompted hotels to adapt in two key ways. Firstly, the traditional hotel room has transformed into a multi-purpose room with dedicated spaces to log on. Secondly, co-working spaces have become a key feature of hotel lobbies, as many hoteliers seek to ensure that they offer fast Wi-Fi, a range of desks for private or communal working, and even meeting pods. The option for workers to use a hotel’s spa and gym facilities certainly gives hotels the edge over the traditional office at a time when people have gained the flexibility required to integrate well-being into their working days.
The diversification of hotel space extends further than the lobby, and it is becoming increasingly normal for hotels to let spaces to pop-up shops and yoga studios. This can generate additional revenue in rental income from the operators of these ancillary functions and attract increased footfall to a hotel’s traditional functions by satisfying the ever-increasing demand for something different.
However, the innovation that will be required by hotels to adapt to the changing requirements of their consumers is not limited to how they use space. Embracing technology and attracting customers with new and sustainable developments are also key to the industry’s survival.
Key players in the hotel industry have launched subscription models enabled by app technology. We can now get our coffees, dinners and pet food on subscription – so why not hotels? Selina, a boutique hotel chain, launched a subscription service in August 2020 whereby subscribers pay a monthly fee giving them unlimited access to stays at all Selina hotels and unrestricted access to hotel amenities (including flexible working spaces). This benefits both travelers and local customers who can use the flexible working spaces as offices when they do not feel like working from home. Focusing on creating an exclusive and long-term community for guests, instead of fleeting one-off stays, could transform hotels into a more productive asset class with a constant stream of business from a variety of functions rather than being limited by their traditional offerings.
A growing number of developers are revitalizing existing buildings to provide modern hotels rather than constructing new spaces in which to do so. While some aspects of an existing building cannot be easily changed, such as location and surroundings, it is proving entirely possible to re-invent a charming, historic building in order to offer guests a more interesting experience with hints of the past, present and future. Heritage buildings are a prime example of interesting spaces that can be given a new lease of life while being well placed to satisfy the desire for an interesting experience. In Kent, in the UK, the Grade II listed Bromley Old Town Hall has undergone a major refurbishment and now includes a boutique hotel, workspaces, and a restaurant and bar. This is one example of a vision for the future being incorporated into a space that has seen a lot of history but has even more left to offer its community.
While it is clear that the hotel industry and the uses of hotel spaces are rapidly changing in many ways, it remains to be seen which of the emerging themes may entrench themselves as part of the new normal for this industry and which may fade away in time along with the idea that hotels are only for those in need of a place to stay.