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RLI Leisure Insight – Holly Hallam – DesignLSM

The Transformation of Space

RLI Leisure Insight - Holly Hallam - DesignLSM 1

Public spaces in hotels have undergone a profound transformation in recent years, evolving from mere functional areas to flexible social hubs. This evolution reflects changes in how people travel and live, blurring the lines between work, leisure and socialising. The importance of a hotel’s front of house offering in today’s world is crucial, enhancing the guest experience whilst delivering extensive commercial opportunities.

Historically, public areas in hotels served a transient purpose: places where guests checked in and moved through to their rooms. However, this concept has shifted dramatically. In the last few years, particularly, we’ve seen hotel designs radically revolutionise the front of house offering, enabling the floor plan to flex harder, creating multiple-use, vibrant propositions. This transformation aligns with the contemporary lifestyle, particularly pertinent in the age of remote working and see’s brands catering to the fluid needs of guests whose professional and personal lives are increasingly intertwined.

In the fiercely competitive hospitality industry, the positioning of a hotel brand is crucial, with many businesses moving away from traditional models to stand out in the market.

Hotels of today are now doing the unthinkable – making rooms smaller to allow for larger communal areas, encouraging people to step out of their private spaces to connect and engage with one another. Designers are being tasked, now more than ever, to create captivating hotel front of house concepts that can effectively transition from day through to evening to capture a wider pool of customers.
Heythrop Park Hotel, which underwent a vast re-design in 2023, saw a monumental transformation of the front of house which saw the creation of distinct and compelling F&B, relaxation and entertainment spaces that specifically met the needs of their guests throughout the day. From light, bright and refreshing lounges to enjoy a coffee in the morning such as Brasserie32, to The Late Lounge offering a space to let loose on the dance floor or watch live music in the evening, the hotel presents a range of offerings throughout the day that encourages a journey of discovery for guests.

We’re increasingly seeing the integration of cafes, bars, co-working spaces, restaurants and retail areas, serving not just as amenities but as key components of an elevated lifestyle offering. Culinary experiences have also evolved. Restaurants in hotels are no longer just catering for the breakfast service or a convenient evening meal for guests. They are becoming gastronomic destinations in their own right, whether operated in-house or by third parties. This transition reflects a broader trend in which food and drink experiences are central to the holiday experience, often being one of the primary draws for travelling.

Botanica – the elegantly designed atrium within 100 Queen’s Gate Hotel (Kensington, London) is a great example of this. The refreshing interior transformation delivered an eye-catching dining destination offering an exquisite afternoon tea which has since become a big Instagram hit with both guests, as well as tourists visiting the City and local London residents.

Community engagement is a key strategy of activating modern hotel public spaces which are serving as community hubs, hosting local events and workshops and becoming social destinations. This approach helps hotels forge a connection with their neighbourhoods, extending their customer base beyond the guests staying in their rooms.

The multifunctionality of these spaces has, in some cases, led to operational efficiencies for hotel managers. Employing a multi-skilled team capable of handling various tasks – from managing the front desk to serving food and beverages – can optimise staffing and enhance guest service. The roles of hotel employees have also evolved as we see a growing demand in guests wanting a swifter and fuss-free service with innovations such as self-check-in-systems being integrated into public spaces, reflecting the industry’s adaptation to modern preferences and expectations.

Adding to this evolution, is the trend of bringing the outdoors in, which has become increasingly significant in hotel design. Access to outdoor amenities is now a key preference among guests, with studies showing that visitors desire a connection with nature. This trend is especially potent in post-pandemic times, where green spaces symbolise safety and sanctuary.

As a multi-disciplined creative studio with over 36 years of delivering of award-winning destinations, DesignLSM’s strategic approach to designing hotels is crucial. Understanding the core DNA of the hotel brand, the desired guest experience, customer desires and commercial objectives is essential to delivering a proposition that meets both business and guest needs. This comprehensive thinking ensures that the design and functionality of hotel public spaces align with the overall brand strategy and market positioning.

The utilisation of public spaces significantly depends on the hotel’s location and intended guest experience and consequently the entire guest journey needs to be considered from the moment they arrive, to their actions throughout their stay. For a spa or wellness resort, for example, we would look at how we can deliver a more relaxed journey through its public spaces, with ample space between touch points to foster a sense of tranquillity and trust. Conversely, a city hotel might focus on creating an atmosphere of exploration and intrigue, with bold design statements and varied zones that encourage discovery.

In conclusion, the evolution of public spaces in hotels reflects a broader shift in how both people and businesses are operating. As guests increasingly seek authentic and elevated travel experiences that can be personalised to suit their own needs and daily routines, hotels must adapt their public spaces to meet these changing demands. By doing so, they can create more engaging, efficient and profitable environments that appeal to a wider audience of both staying guests and the general public.