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From Global to Mobile

The rise of international travel and the arrival of the smartphone are driving new trends in hospitality design; here’s how you can keep up

By Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC

The rise of international travel and the arrival of the smartphone are driving new trends in hospitality design; here’s how you can keep up.

Today’s fast-paced, global market demands much of travelers, as work/life balance often hinges on a satisfying experience. Whether traveling for business or pleasure, a consumer’s perception of the experience can run the gamut from exciting and exhilarating to agonizing and downright exhausting. And while it can be invigorating to experience different places and cultures, it also can be uniquely challenging for travelers, making the design of hospitality environments all the more important.

This fact hasn’t been missed by the booming hospitality industry, which is being influenced to a large extent by international business, global trends, technology and cross-cultural indicators. Positioning in this industry is largely based upon satisfying experiences and initiatives that build brand loyalty. These are issues that force designers to think beyond our own expectations, as spaces and facilities now need to be designed for people from all cultural, social and global backgrounds.

The specialized knowledge base and talent required for the design of hospitality spaces incorporates a sophisticated view of the world and an understanding of culture without boundaries. Interior designers are inherently attuned to the abstract thinking and problem-solving that this requires, and play an essential role in the design of hospitality spaces, through the understanding of human scale and relationships, social interactions, lighting, acoustics and materiality. Working in this specialized area also requires an understanding of the impact of the global economy, shifts in consumer preferences, travel experiences and how technology impacts nearly every aspect of the built environment.

Becoming an expert in all of those areas may seem daunting, but in today’s global economy, competition is fierce (for both design work and overnight guests) and any edge you can achieve is a valuable one.

Hotel brands in particular understand this, and foster loyalty with various types of experiences designed to elevate their customers’ engagement with the brand. Luxury and boutique hotels provide unique experiences and incorporate opportunities for personal enrichment that range from yoga, cooking classes and aromatherapy, to specialized (and exclusive!) spa functions, handmade soaps and local food delicacies. PageBreak

And while the idea of the creating an “experience” is not new to designers, it is becoming embedded into daily life at a rapid pace. The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) recently published its annual Environmental Scanning Report, citing several trends that are defining the new experience economy. Perhaps the most relevant is the rise of personal consumerism—a movement in which consumers are taking direct control of their experiences through technology, instant data sharing and social causes. Apps such as OpenTable, Trip Advisor and Yelp provide direct consumer ratings and customer feedback that greatly affect industry bookings.

At the same time—and perhaps because of being constantly connected—consumers are seeking opportunities to unplug. Marriott and Renaissance Caribbean and Mexico Resorts have noted the negative effect that the excessive use of technology has on leisure time and have instituted “braincation” zones. Citing a survey that reported 50 percent of respondents check email/voicemails multiple times daily during vacation and 85 percent have been annoyed on vacation by someone talking loudly into a cellphone, the group has created tech-free zones at all of its properties in the region.

These emerging trends indicate that the most sought-after experiences are those that also focus on personalizing the guest experience, position the hotel lobby as a social hub and create a conscious culture. Consumers are demanding personalization, and even the ability to participate in the creation of their hospitality experiences; they tend to focus on the emotional value of their experience and place more emphasis on the “overall” experience. In this new mindset, consumers increasingly value experiences over possessions—particularly those that deliver benefits for society and the environment.

Cultivating this perspective requires that we, as designers, practice a well-rounded approach to design. Whether it’s across the world or on someone’s mobile device, our challenge is to continue the tradition of creating fresh, innovative environments through design. Thanks to shifts in business and consumer habits, the hospitality sector represents an exciting area of opportunity for designers to apply creativity to not only traditional hotel spaces like guestrooms and lobbies, but also to spas, restaurants and entertainment areas—each unique to its location, customer base and genre.

As design, technology and innovation continue to evolve, there has never been a better time in the world for designers to create the ultimate consumer experience. What will you dream up?


Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC, is the national president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and owner/principal of Marini Interiors Inc., a commercial interior design and consulting firm in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the web at