The face of luxury travel is changing as guests abandon swim-up bars and beaches to seek more authentic experiences, from activities to hotel design. We discover how five-star properties are responding to the latest hospitality design trends
Not long ago, hospitality design was judged largely by attractive furniture, soothing wall colours and decadent bathroom amenities. Modern interiors in neutral tones were the order of the day. Then came the massive emerging Chinese and Indian travel markets and, suddenly, the idea of what constituted luxury hospitality changed.
"You can't make flashy statements any more. Travellers want honesty," explains Radha Arora, president of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. "When you have an astounding destination you have to be able to provide more. Travellers are more sophisticated today, and by that I mean in art, culture and heritage. You need to create a 'school', an education, that we can all learn from."
Also emerging as a disruptor in hotel design is the need to integrate social spaces. Concepts drifting over from the rise of the co-working space have led to increased tech requirements and demands for smart hotel rooms. Integrating social spaces has changed hotel lobbies and public spaces, manifesting in smaller reception areas, mobile check-in desks or alternatives such as lounges or casual pavilions, says Su Seam Teo, partner at hospitality design specialists LTW Designworks."These spaces have changed along with travel patterns, [customers] enjoy this flexibility and the concept of 'being part of something'. Many hotels have already started adapting these spaces. With the advancement in technology, more and more hotels are throwing away the traditional business model and are constantly evolving to fit the next generation," she says.
Environmentally conscious hospitality, which started gaining traction about a decade ago, is now standard, and supports and reinforces the current key driver in hospitality design: guest experience.
"We have noticed consumers nowadays prefer a more authentic experience that evokes a positive emotional response instead of staying in a trendy hotel," Teo says. "One of our core values when it comes to hotel design is to always have a sense of place, to bring the experience inward for guests."
That can trickle down to incorporating local vendors, artists, materials, and artefacts and accessories that avoid contrivance. An authentic experience is as crucial as room layout and goes hand-in-hand with more localised luxury unique to every location.
"It is incumbent upon us to create more checkable boxes. Driving through Bavaria in a 1950s Porsche Speedster is an experience younger generations want," Arora says. "We're dealing in nostalgia for some travellers as well as creating new experiences for others."
Arguably the most common box travellers want to check involves an authentic food experience, and the hospitality industry is getting creative with its options. The immersive cooking class is on the rise.
"[People] don't want to just lie on the beach and hit some bars, they want to learn something," says Nicolas Pillet, general manager of Amanoi, a luxury hotel in Vietnam's Ninh Thuận province. "We've seen demand for this kind of thing grow. They want to recreate this at home with friends and show off what they learned."
Amanoi's Rock Studio (pictured above) was created for just such a culinary experience. Facing a local fishing village, the kitchen features a natural wood and granite aesthetic that ref lects the local geography and Aman's contemporary wellness ethic."It's there to get people together for a cooking experience, a chef 's demo or private dinners, but it stays true to the DNA of Amanoi. It has the same contemporary architecture with a local Asian touch and in touch with nature," Pillet says.
And it's not alone. Anantara Hotels & Resorts has introduced a brand-wide cooking experience, Spice Spoons, where each property's chef takes guests out to a local market to shop before retreating to a dedicated kitchen for an interactive cooking demo. At the newly renovated Datai Langkawi, the most significant feature is the natural environment, which inspired not only its rainforest-first architecture but also its Malay, Thai and Indian culinary classes. These take place in The Dapur kitchen after a trip to the resort's permaculture garden for fresh local ingredients.
It is not just the activities on offer that are changing. Luxury hotel groups Rosewood and St. Regis both opened new properties in Hong Kong this year, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group renovated the 19th-century neoclassical Villa Roccabruna in Lake Como, Italy. One factor all three properties have in common is a vivid reflection of place. While not a new trend, this is more finely tuned than ever.
At Mandarin Oriental Lago di Como, Eric Egan combined Italian classicism with modern Asian elements to create lush spaces that reflect the area's history as a glitterati hotspot. The St Regis Hong Kong's interior designer André Fu employed the old-meets-new, East-meets-West duality that is a hallmark of Hong Kong in the residentially designed urban resort.Due to open in Kyoto in November, in a secret garden near the Golden Pavilion, Aman Kyoto will have individualised pavilions designed by Kerry Hill Architects to reflect the architecture of the city's contemporary ryokans ( Japanese guest houses). In Bangkok, Ray Chuang of Cheng Chung Design refurbished the Conrad with traditional teak, pagoda and temple motifs, accented by lighter oak and brushed metals for a modern effect that remains innately Thai.
And in South Africa, the luxurious 200sqm (2,100sqf) suites of &Beyond's safari resorts are designed to bleed seamlessly into the surrounding Sabi Sands game reserve through materials and references to the area's heritage, while designing and operating sustainably.Sustainability initiatives, features and practices – often required by blue-chip companies, prompting sustainably built office and commercial properties around the world – are increasingly demanded by business and leisure travellers.
The Datai Langkawi is among the emerging generation of sustainably built or retrofitted hotels. It is incorporating slow-energy and water-saving policies, eliminating single-use plastics, drawing on its self-sustaining permaculture garden and reducing food waste. Likewise, Alila Hotels & Resorts has implemented a zero-waste policy across its Bali properties with plans to roll out the policy across its other locations.And opened last December, Saadiyat Island Resort, in Abu Dhabi (pictured below), has been dubbed the Jumeirah group's first ‘eco-conscious’ resort, with plans to transcend simple conservation of the island's natural beauty. General manager Linda Griffin commented: "Our commitment to protecting the natural sand dunes and sea around this hotel means that we are also continuously trying to minimise the impact that guests have on this environment by bringing in our own environmentally friendly solutions and working with partners who are dedicated to employing sustainable, ethical practices in their businesses."