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Hospitable Me

03/27/2013 By Robert Nieminen

I don’t envy hospitality designers. Maybe that’s because only in a hospitality setting can an end-user have so much control over the success or failure of a space in the long run. Hotel guests or restaurant patrons who are unsatisfied with their experiences can not only take their business elsewhere, but are free to badmouth those said establishments on websites like TripAdvisor, OpenTable and UrbanSpoon, or via smartphone apps like Yelp or LocalEats.

I suppose the same can be said for retail outlets, but the last time I checked, there was no “app for that” to rate your least favorite office, hospital, school or government agency. (Although I may have just stumbled on a million-dollar idea.)

The difference between the hospitality market and others really comes down to one thing: choice.

“First impressions are critical. Why? Because choice is a qualifying condition that differentiates entertainment and hospitality projects from those in other industries,” writes James Williamson, IIDA, LEED AP, in this month’s IIDA column. “Entertainment spaces have to create the condition in which consumers will actively make the decision to spend their time and money in that establishment.”

Williamson goes on to write that within each unique venue, “designers have to create spaces that welcome, convey ideas, invite participation and celebrate the end-user’s experience, all without saying a word. At their best, these spaces entice patrons to return again and again to enfold themselves in the environment.”

If you’re a whisky connoisseur, one environment you’ll wish you could return to again and again is the Johnnie Walker House in Beijing. But don’t forget your wallet. If you’ve got $128,000 to spare, you can work with a master blender to create your own personalized whisky blend, or perhaps pick up a bottle of their Epic Dates Collection, which retails for $3,659.

This exclusive and successful “whisky embassy,” designed by Asylum and LOVE, is open to the public but caters to a very high-end clientele—with an exclusive VIP club limited to just 200 who enjoy perks such as members-only whisky vaults, private “whisky-inspired” dining from the brand’s in-house chef and a personal concierge ready to immerse these elites in all things Johnnie Walker. (Good luck walking out of this place after an extended visit.)

Creating that one-of-a-kind experience isn’t just limited to interiors, either. Designers are being challenged to create memorable outdoor spaces as well, as more and more consumers expect their favorite restaurants, bars and hotels to offer luxurious and inviting outdoor features. In this month’s Trends article, “The Great Outdoors," we spoke with three innovative designers who have taken the concept of creating outside “rooms” to a whole new level, and steal a few tips for creating a patio paradise.

Speaking of the outdoors, “consumers increasingly value experiences over possessions—particularly those that deliver benefits for society and the environment,” says Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC, in this month’s ASID column. The hospitality industry has responded to this demand for more sustainable lodging options and is on the brink of receiving its very own LEED rating system.

As sustainability expert Penny Bonda reports in this issue’s Green Notes column, “Suite Dreams," the fact that it has taken the industry so long to adopt a formal rating system is somewhat puzzling. According to the USGBC, hotels represent more than 5 billion square feet of space, nearly 5 million guest rooms and close to $4 billion in annual energy use—and that’s just in the United States. In the industry’s defense, however, hotels are unique buildings, unlike other commercial or residential structures, and with their own specific water and energy demands. That required some adaptations in the current LEED framework—changes which can be found in the upcoming release of LEED v4.

Clearly, hospitality designers have their work cut out for them, but the good news is that the industry forecast is strong. At the Wallcoverings Association’s annual meeting in January, Bruce Ford of Lodging Econometrics predicted that by next year, 244,474 new hotel rooms will open in the United States—and nearly 800,000 globally. He also said that New York City alone will see 140 hotel construction projects this year, with 90 more in Washington, D.C. and another 40 in Los Angeles.

It may not always be easy, but right now, it’s good to be in hospitality.