HB Exclusive: Grounded by Design Event Talks Wellness Post COVID-19

NEW YORK—During the inaugural Grounded by Design virtual event, “Designing for the Wellbeing of Travelers Post COVID-19,” hosted by NEXT Events in partnership with Hotel Business, InspireDesign and Parallax Wellness + Hospitality, and sponsored by Decolav Hospitality, industry professionals gathered to discuss the state of hospitality design. The session brought together industry thought leaders who are all navigating the pandemic, and who provided insight into what the future of hotel design and operations may look like.

Moderated by Adam Glickman, principal, Parallax Wellness + Hospitality, he began the session by asking: How will design change to fit this new normal? Although no one can predict the future, Glickman acknowledged that the industry can look at different scenarios and try to say how we can best manage businesses and give the best advice to help each other during this time.

“This is the time to be very open-minded, to have discussions, to ask questions and collaborate,” said Maxwell Luthy, director of trends & insights of TrendWatching’s North America office. “I think what’s going to be really important is the airlock feeling of stepping into a safe and secure space. Whether designers convey that with temperature, with sound, with light, with smell, it’s beyond the systems that actually keep a hotel or resort clean and clear. I think around the perimeter it needs to have that feeling of when you do step inside, this is safer and cleaner than what’s outside these doors.”

Luthy mentioned that for hotels, specifically sustainability-focused hotels, it’s far more eco-conscious to adapt spaces to meet these needs post-pandemic, rather than building out new infrastructure.

According to Jay Mueller, VP of hospitality—North America, Technogym, projects already in the pipeline aren’t really being impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, just adjusted.

“For those [projects]in the near term, we’re not having any discussions about changing anything. These things are fully baked, electrical has already been planned, special planning has already been set. One of the things we are talking about with prospects and customers is asking for more [fitness]space,” Mueller said.

Mueller said that he fully expects guests to want to workout in the privacy of their own guestrooms, but also have ample space to practice social distancing should they choose to use the hotel’s fitness facility.

This could also mean workout walls with QR codes, contactless motion-activated sensors to avoid door handles and other hands-free features.  “I think technology will be leading the charge,” Mueller said.

Others shared this sentiment, and even believe that guests will welcome these types of changes.

“Research has showed that consumers don’t mind biometrics when it helped with their security,” Luthy said.

Roger Bloss, CEO of Alternative Hospitality, a division of MJ Holdings Inc., also believed hotels will adopt this kind of technology along with social-distancing practices.

“We have artificial intelligence, we have facial recognition so they don’t have to touch these machines and they’ll see that they can disperse these on a much wider scale without a lot of labor, and people would be very comfortable with that throughout. It also gives you that 24-hour option within your facility,” Bloss said.

As for social distancing, Bloss believes that pool design will change, offering other options like lazy rivers for natural separation. He also said hotel leaders may welcome ideas of having smaller food and beverage stations throughout a public space so while still maintaining spacing concerns, it doesn’t necessarily make people feel isolated.

According to the survey, “Wellness in a Post-COVID World,” commissioned by Vital Vio (creators of antimicrobial LED technology), when COVID fades away and the travel industry encourages consumers to come back, 40% of Americans say they will only go to public spaces when necessary. This, however, could have other implications.

“There’s a lot more research in the last few years from sites that have proven that loneliness is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes per day,” said Daniel Poulin, director, spa & fitness, North & Central America, Accor. “So are we going to start building larger facilities, which nobody has the money to do, that are all somewhat divided into small areas where people are almost alone, participating in a wellness program that normally they would do as a group? And, what is the impact of this isolation and loneliness to the overall health of the community?”

Poulin believes that however hotels decide to tackle these concerns, they can’t lose that sense of community. Connection to location and culture are major draws for a property, so hotels may need to find ways to creatively engage while also staying safe.

Colletta Conner, studio leader of ForrestPerkins’ Dallas office, said that other options are available with more behind the scenes work. This includes ensuring HVAC systems are functioning properly, offering new product lines from designers with antimicrobial features and making sure that staff are trained on proper cleaning materials and solutions.

According to the survey, more than half (56%) of Americans are willing to pay more for a travel service that incorporates enhanced cleaning tools to regularly disinfect spaces. And, 82% of consumers are also now more aware of/concerned with cleaning tools and protocol in public spaces.

“Brands should engage the experts in order to get the right product and the right processes in place,” Conner said.

She also mentioned that hotels can engage guests as well with complimentary self-cleaning supplies like hand sanitizers. Most of those surveyed expect to see physical changes in areas like the public availability of hand sanitizer (92%), increased cleaning staff (78%) to protect consumers and an investment in cleaning technology (61%) such as disinfecting lights and cleaning robots.

“A huge part of what we’re talking about here moving forward is giving a sense of wellbeing—not just physical wellbeing but mental wellbeing,” Conner said. “Some of those things are the first line of defense that we can offer to guests to see that they have the ability to take care of themselves in any way that they choose.”