Consultant

WiC: Technology meets biophilia – the future of hospitality

Perkins+Will’s Diane Thorsen explains what the future of hotels could look like across the Middle East

To support the drive towards gender balance in the industry, Middle East Consultant and meconstructionnews.com are highlighting female consruction professionals in a series of profiles. By telling their stories and sharing their experiences on our print and digital platforms, we hope to inspire more women to join this vibrant industry. Here Perkins+Will’s Diane Thorsen explains what the future of hotels could look like across the Middle East.

With 99 hotels built in the UAE in 2017, the highest number in the region according to market research firm STR, the UAE hospitality market is experiencing fierce and ever-growing competition. With supply comes demand, driven by UAE initiatives to boost the travel and tourism sector.

With a projection of $19.9bn direct contribution from the travel and tourism sector to UAE GDP in 2018, developers and brands are on the look-out for ways to stay ahead of the curve, by anticipating what customers want now and in the future. For this reason, identifying trends has become crucial in an industry built upon being the best at making people feel happy and taken care of away from home.

The only constant in the hospitality space is that hotels are constantly changing. At Perkins+Will, we especially like this quote from Winston Churchill: We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us. The quote mirrors our ethos, as we always look at the end user and design for him or her. To this end, we carefully assess trends not only in design creativity but in human behaviour.

Generally speaking, it’s important when designing a hotel to look at creating transformative guest experiences. As architects, we are responsible for each guest touch point, from when they pull up to the building to how they experience the space.

The overall theme to focus on, in order to truly stand out in future years, is personalised experiences. Personalisation is causing a seismic shift across the landscape of consumer-facing brands. Brands that create personalised experiences by integrating advanced digital technologies and proprietary data for customers are seeing revenue increase by 6-10%, according to research by Boston Consulting Group in May last year.

That said, it’s also critical to capture the guest both physically and emotionally, to truly create a difference. A study published in January 2018 by Taylor & Francis investigates the psycho-physiological effects of direct and indirect nature experiences on human emotions. The results show exposure to real and virtual natural environment is beneficial to participants’ moods and feelings, with exposure to the real more beneficial. With these new and pre-existing behaviours understood, we suggest matching technology with biophilia to create the most impactful design experience.

With technology an increasingly used platform for communication, we want to look at integrating technology to facilitate an unparalleled personalised experience, through the ability to customise the guest experience to each individual.

Some smart hotels already provide voice-activated technology to control lighting, temperature, mood, even fragrance. You can program a tablet to control everything in your hotel rooms, from the television to the temperature. Guests love being able to customise their rooms with the touch of a button. Artificial intelligence allows hoteliers to respond in real time and provide heightened personalisation of guests’ stay through knowledge of past and stated preferences.

Keeping Pace

We live in an age where we struggle to keep up with technology, and hospitality is no different. The hospitality sector specialises in managing human interaction while trying to maintain the perfect balance of personalisation and technological accommodation for guests. Face recognition allows hoteliers to greet guests by name on arrival, and the provision of technology to manipulate your own environment enables more physical comfort than previously possible.

The second element is biophilia, literally a love of life or living things. ‘Philia’ stems from Greek and is the opposite of phobia. We have an intuitive and deeply engrained attraction to nature, and a biological need for contact with the natural world. This is where we can design for an emotional and sensory experience. If I ask you to imagine a place where you feel calm and relaxed, chances are you imagine a place in nature – researchers have found more than 90% of us imagine a natural setting to calm and ease stress.

This trend is more than hotels simply integrating some plants into their design. Hotels should look to the many benefits of biophilic design to enhance their brand and their guests’ overall experience, by tapping into the wellness and wellbeing properties associated with this design trend.

The natural and biophilic design concept is characterised by exposure to natural lighting, views of nature and a room with a view, natural architectural patterns, the use of sustainably sourced materials, living green walls and vertical gardens, and direct and indirect exposure to nature.

The immediate effects of the natural and biophilic trends occur as guests enter the hotel and are increasingly important for hotels in urban landscapes, due to the lack of nature in cityscapes. Guests sense this connection emotionally. It’s important to create seamless connections – connecting with one another, connecting buildings with nature and even connecting humans with nature.

By merging these two fundamental trends, you are left with not just a building but an experience.

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