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Is the “Design Hotel” Dead?

Design hotels are dead. Long live design.

Last week at LE Miami, hundreds of hotels, tour operators, travel agents, and other travel professionals came together to talk about the changing face of luxury hospitality, including so-called design hotels. While we were dazzled looking at overviews of the individual properties and meeting the brilliant brains behind them, we were most moved by the overarching question of the event: How do you cater to the rising creative class?

The creative class is the relatively new group of consumers who value ideas, aesthetics, and technology. A good-looking room is more important to them than a bazillion amenities. Getting to know their destination’s culture is imperative. They look for great food. In fact, the creative class sounds pretty much like AFAR’s readers. But with a huge group of consumers who demand good design, what constitutes good design in hotels these days?

The State of Contemporary Hotel Design: The Decline of “Design Hotels”
“There is no ‘design hotel’ anymore,” says Mari Balestrazzi, Vice President of Design for Hyatt. “If I’m going to a hotel, it better be well designed.” Balestrazzi, along with Kevin O’Shea, designer of the new Salt Hotels, was speaking on a LE Miami panel about the future of hotel design. O’Shea agreed. “When people go to a hotel, they are now expecting perspective. The old concept of design for design’s sake falls flat. When you create an experience through design, it resonates with travelers.”

While there’s a rising demand for excellent design, consumers aren’t looking for one particular type of hotel, either. Hyatt and other larger hotel chains like Marriott know this, and they’re developing multiple sub-brands within their overall brand to cater to different lifestyles. “We try to tailor and localize our hotels, but also include the caliber that a Hyatt customer would want,” says Balestrazzi. “It’s a fine line, but we infuse the hotel with the Hyatt brand.”

design hotel bedroom

Who’s Doing the Contemporary Hotel Design Right?
Second cities,” Balestrazzi says. “They’re differentiating themselves by creating a more localized product. There’s untapped local interests that the guest wouldn’t know exist, and they can celebrate those unique things in a way that you can’t in a place like NYC.” But the most surprising thing that contributes to these smaller cities’ hospitality successes? A much more restrictive budget. “A smaller budget pushes creativity,” explains O’Shea. “With a $40 million budget, you can just pull out all the stops. But with a smaller budget, you have to get creative to create an exceptional consumer experience.”

The Hotel Room Furnishings That Are Becoming Obsolete
“The desk is where you can see whats happening next in design,” says Balestrazzi. “People work differently now. Sometimes they even lie in bed with their laptops. Hyatt is experimenting with not doing desks—or maybe subbing a table that can double as a desk.” You might also want to say goodbye to that big flat-screen T.V. “I don’t know if a television will be in the hotel room in 5 or 10 years,” predicts O’Shea. “In airlines, they’re getting rid of screens and just streaming everything to your personal device. The way people interact with technology in the hotel room is going to change, too.”

The Most Important Things Hotels Should Get Right
“Fast, free internet, plugs in the right places, good lighting, and a hotel design that doesn’t feel aggressive,” says Balestrazzi. We couldn’t agree more. “We want to create spaces that feel residential and comfortable. Travelers are not looking for a design environment that is simply beautiful—it needs to function and add to the experience. It can’t just be a gallery.”

Header photo courtesy Salt Hotels.

For an opulent take on design hotels, check out 10 of the Most Extravagant Hotel Lobbies in the World.