10 HOTEL TRENDS FOR 2017

Judging from the quantity, and quality, of work in our hospitality design pipeline, we are confident that 2017 will be another strong year for hospitality growth and development. Expect a year of creativity, collaboration and innovation, with new types of resorts, more co-branded concepts in hospitality, and a continued evolution of just what “experiential travel” means to those of us in the business of creating those experiences. Here are 10 hotel trends I see for 2017.

Urban resorts.

The world is increasingly urban. Our lives are more connected than ever. Our lifestyle has become 24/7. As travelers, we long for an escape, but we want immersion as well. For decades, our firm has honed its skills in the design of destination resorts. Now, we’re taking those skills to the city, designing resorts that can be escapes and at the center of it all at the same time. It’s like being in the infield at the Indy 500. You’re at the center of something frantic, but you’re slightly elevated. You can go toward the action if you want, or you can escape and have a sense of retreat and privacy.

These are immersive experiences. Despite the urban setting, these properties prioritize a connection to nature, indoor/outdoor spaces, natural light and rooftop everything. Health, wellness and sustainability are paramount. Seamless service is a given. Large, luxurious spas, destination entertainment venues, dining that draws locals as well as visitors and lobbies that are cultural destinations in themselves are all part of the mix. The difference is that instead of stepping out onto a beach, guests are stepping out into a city adventure full of museums, restaurants and urban culture.

Hotels + lifestyle brands.

Baccarat. Equinox. Quiksilver. These are very different lifestyle brands, but they are all breaking new ground in hospitality. They all represent an unmistakable lifestyle experience, and a great sense of design. This is aspirational travel – each brand represents who we want to be, at least for a time. The connection between these lifestyle brands and hospitality makes sense. We are sure to see more of it.

Wine and food.

Nothing celebrates an authentic, immersive, yet glamorous lifestyle like a wine country resort. Wine tourism has been increasing around the world for the past decade. What is new is the wish to be fully immersed in the lifestyle – in the making of wine, the growing of wonderful food, and the preparation of meals. In a large and complex world, it is a micro-experience of place at its best. A great example of this celebration of food, wine and place is Babylonstoren Farm Hotel, an historic Cape Dutch farm, winery and resort in Cape Town, South Africa. The resort experience is built around an amazing 8-acre garden. It feeds the whole enterprise – both literally and figuratively.

Small batch everything.

What lies beyond farm-to-table? Anything is possible. Just like wineries, breweries and distilleries are expressions of their locations. Telluride Brewing in Colorado and Park City’s High West Distillary are great examples. And why not Shinola, a brand that has become synonymous with Detroit and with American-made? Hospitality experiences that grow from these locally-made brands link multiple trends: the local, authentic, hands-on experience of the maker movement, the immersiveness of experiential travel and the aspirational aspects of cross-branded hospitality.

Zen + adrenaline.

We’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg of resorts for enthusiasts. Mountain biking and surfing are the first things that come to mind, but they are by no means the end of the story. The key is that you can travel with a group of enthusiasts or make new connections, take your choice of adventure to its limits, then come back to spa treatments, meditation and yoga. It’s not only about wellness, it’s about well-being: health, comfort and happiness.

Transformative travel.

We want to come back from a vacation better off than we were when we left. I recently traveled to Schloss Elmau, in the Bavarian Alps. It combines a spa retreat with cultural offerings that create an enriching experience, with a bookshop, library, concert hall, workshops, sports camps and a host of outdoor activities. Mike Fuerstman, co-founder of Pendry Hotels and Bill Walshe, CEO of Viceroy Hotel Group have both pointed to inspired, bespoke design and cultural/arts programming as keys to success in luxury hospitality moving forward.

Traveling together.

Whether it’s millennials travelling in groups, empty nester couples traveling together or multi-generational family groups, we need to plan for group travel. Family-friendly suites at destination resorts have moved from an option to a necessity. Hostels, hugely popular with millennials, are starting to re-invent themselves, (nine out of ten now have private rooms). Some brands are looking at developing hostel-like properties to meet the demand. AccorHotels, which announced its new co-traveling-inspired brand, Jo&Joe last fall is a great example.

A new look for meetings.

Why travel across the country, or out of the country, for a corporate retreat and then spend most of your time in a ballroom with no windows? Why should spaces for business meetings be dull and boring? Ballrooms may start to go the way of the front desk: the function will be there, but they will look very different. Meeting spaces will be more flexible, connected to the surroundings, and transparent. We’ll design flexible spaces that can be used for a range of events – from cultural events to business meetings.

Marijuana resorts.

As strange as it may sound to some, this might be the next frontier. 26 states and the District of Columbia now have laws on the books making marijuana legal in some form, and six of those have approved it recreationally. As a resident of California, which just legalized marijuana for recreational use, I can’t ignore that this is a potential trend. It blends agriculture, leisure, maker, experiential, even medical travel. It will be interesting to see if it takes hold.

And what about Airb&b?

In 2016, we collectively worried  about the effect of Airb&b on the hospitality industry. After all, Airb&b offers just the kind of singular, immersive, experience of place that travelers are moving toward. Except for two things that turn out to be extremely important to today’s traveler: a sense of community and a sense of design. Staying at an Airb&b property can be immersive, but it might also be lonely. Where is the great room to gather with the old friends you came to visit, meet new friends or just people-watch? Where is great bar with a local musician performing on Friday night? Where is the cultural concierge steeped in local knowledge to craft your day’s urban adventure for you? This is a cue to all of us in hospitality design to continue to bring our A-game to the design of dynamic public spaces that are a central element of the hotel experience and of the community at large.

As for good design, it’s more important in defining the hospitality experience than ever. It is integrated in the very essence of the hotel brand’s persona – a persona that comes through loud and clear with today’s hyper-connected generation of guests. Social media has exposed a broad audience to outstanding design, and they expect to see if at all ends of the spectrum, from luxury to economy. It is simply a given in today’s world.

A final thought.

This fall, when I traveled to Dallas to speak at the Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting, I stayed at The Joule, which speaks to a lot of the trends I see for 2017. Created from a run-down 1920s landmark, it’s sustainable. With a rotating art collection and murals saved from a condemned downtown building, destination dining and retail, it’s a cultural destination. The Taschen library satisfies the curious, and it serves tea. With an 8,000-square-foot spa, wellness is a focus. But the thing that really got me was the bikes. Tim Headington, founder of The Joule, and I were scheduled to speak at the conference – on a panel on the rise of urban resorts – so I jumped on one of the hotel bikes to get there. Just by having the bikes available, here’s what the hotel did for me:

  • added to the hotel’s multiple touch points with the surrounding city
  • increased my exposure and immersion the urban fabric, giving me a perspective on the journey I couldn’t have gotten in an Uber
  • promoted wellness in a natural, integral way
  • provided an easy jumping-off point for an adventure
  • gave me an inherently sustainable experience

All of that, just by providing me a bike.