Not many industries have been impacted by the coronavirus lockdown as much as tourism and hospitality. The U.S. travel industry accounts for a one-third of all the jobs lost in the country, according to the latest data from the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics. The same organizations found that the hotel industry is experiencing a total impact from COVID-19 nine times greater than the 9/11 attacks.
Despite dramatic revenue losses across the industry, several hospitality projects are moving forward as designers hope “this dip won’t last too long.” With nearly two decades of industry experience, MatchLine Design Group’s Co-Founders & Principals Lesley Hughes Wyman and Tamara Ainsworth have been through a lot. Although some of their projects are now on hold, their spirits are still up. In an interview with Commercial Property Executive, the two specialists discuss hotel design trends and how they might change following the COVID-19 crisis.
How has hotel design changed over the past few years?
Hughes Wyman: We like to say that trends last up to two years. Construction of a hotel can take time, so we look for design elements that will hold up over time. Over the past few years, we’ve seen that many larger brands have been seeking to create spaces that feel like a boutique hotel. However, the design scheme still needs to fit within the overarching design ethos of that brand.
Pantone released its classic blue as its 2020 color of the year and Sherwin Williams announced naval as theirs. We’ve been using blue consistently for quite some time. Almost any shade of blue is classic and it’s typically a “safer” color to base a scheme on, according to many of our clients. While we’ve been using navy shades for a while now, the deeply hued naval has a sophistication to it.
Wellness continues to be a trend we’re seeing across the board. Sustainability is not far behind, especially in this sector, touching on hospitality and food and beverage spaces. In terms of aesthetics, the sector is looking to create more and more “wow” spaces, capturing the continued interest of guests.
What can you tell us about your company’s interest in sustainability?
Ainsworth: The concept of sustainability has broadened over the last few years. People today are more interested than ever in how their actions impact the world. We’ve had many clients looking to integrate sustainable design concepts into their projects. Sustainability emphasizes utilizing the resources readily available. Many of our designs incorporate recycled materials, products and locally sourced elements.
What makes your company stand out? Does MatchLine Design Group have an interior design signature?
Hughes Wyman: We stand out because we provide affordable luxury. Our company and team do an excellent job at providing the client with the biggest bang for their buck. With regards to a signature style, MatchLine is known for creating timeless designs—designs with staying power and longevity.
What are the main challenges when it comes to hotel redesign and redevelopment?
Hughes Wyman: It really comes down to two things: space and money, which are our biggest constraints. These can alter the design vision and eventual narrative told throughout a space. Most helpful to us in working through hotel redesign and development over the years is selecting partners, owners and developers that are honest about their budget. This ensures that we can align from the very start of a project and provide the best result.
What is your favorite hotel project and why?
Ainsworth: It’s always hard to choose, but we’re super excited about our Embassy Suites Kansas City project. The project is a historic restoration of the city’s old Federal Reserve building awash with art deco details. Being able to play upon the timeless and celebrated designs from that era is particularly exciting. We feel like we get to honor its history.
Tell us about the renovation of The DoubleTree by Hilton San Antonio Northwest. What was the inspiration behind the design of the hotel?
Ainsworth: Our inspiration came from the historic San Antonio Riverwalk and the surrounding Texas Hill Country. We transformed this space from dark and dated to light and lively. Each refreshed space now boasts modern features made unique with Texas-style decor, fixtures and finishes. For the color palette, we infused bright, energetic colors such as turquoise, aloe green limestone, antique bronze and fuchsia throughout, playing to the vibrant heritage of San Antonio.
To what extent has the coronavirus outbreak impacted your projects?
Hughes Wyman: Several of our renovation projects are looking to take a silver-lining opportunity and fast forward the renovation work, while the hotels remain empty or at low occupancy. Our new construction projects that were already funded are also still forging ahead. For the far future, it all remains to be seen, but we’re all hoping this dip won’t last too long.
Do you expect hospitality competitors like Airbnb to come out just as strong after this crisis?
Hughes Wyman: It will definitely be interesting to see how this all shakes out, but I’m sure once travel ramps back up, travelers’ preferences will quickly become evident. I would expect to see hotels growing stronger and faster than the Airbnb properties, moving forward. Some guests may feel more comfortable knowing that hotel brands and ownership groups are implementing best practices for cleaning standards, food prep and beyond, and making that crystal clear to the guests throughout their stay. There could be less confidence that an individual Airbnb host is truly using the new “gold standard” to ensure guests’ safety while staying there.
How will design trends change after the pandemic?
Hughes Wyman: In the post-pandemic future, we will most likely be utilizing fabrics with antimicrobial features even more than we do now. We will also be looking into products that can function with fewer touchpoints, such as automatic window treatments and lighting scenarios based on the guests’ location within the room. And as we all learn more about these scenarios and the best materials to limit the exposure times on surfaces, we’ll look to integrate more soft or hard surfaces. We may even be looking to integrate air filtration systems within the spaces and having that become part of the design itself.
We’ll continue to lay out open public spaces and incorporate even more zones for smaller group interactions. Information and education are key for this to work and for guests to feel at ease in future travel. Guests won’t know that we’re using these special materials or that we’re implementing best practices if they aren’t told, so I’m sure we’ll be creating interesting ways to somehow integrate tidbits of information within the room. In a recent webinar we participated in, one of the speakers stated “clean is the new green” and we definitely see that becoming the directive moving forward.