Chris Long, director, KKA

If the hotel landscape was already subject to steady, trend-driven change pre-2020, the pandemic has completely transformed it – rapidly and mercilessly.

Figures released in September 2021* revealed that banks have written off £99 million in loans to restaurants and hotels in the past year. This is up from £60 million a year earlier.

Hotel closures have not yet peaked according to analysts while a recent forecast from PwC** predicted that UK hotel occupancy rates could take until 2023 to return to pre-pandemic levels.

If this wasn’t challenging enough, the cost of development is increasing whilst demand and market certainty is decreasing.

This lack of certainty over the future of the hotel sector has led to ambiguity and heightened risk for private sector investors. And when we also consider that hotels are now competing against a very strong self-catering and long-stay market – airbnb and the like – it’s clear that the sector is experiencing severely testing times.

In response, operators are embracing an adapt to survive approach. The situation has created fertile ground for innovation – stimulating the invention of a new breed of hotels, one that focuses on the concept of ‘lifestyle hospitality’.

Increasingly, we are working with clients to bring this concept to life, so they can develop modern, agile and more resilient hotel schemes. When it comes to hotel design, this means rethinking the way buildings function. We want them to exceed the evolving expectations of today’s business and leisure travellers.

Creating environments that match current lifestyles is key. That’s why we apply a lifestyle hospitality philosophy to projects – we work with clients to shape places and spaces that people want to inhabit whilst combining work, health and leisure. This is, ultimately, a more sustainable and less segmented approach.

If we break this brief down, there are some basic elements that operators should be considering now, to remain competitive.

Wellness Boom

Health and wellbeing now permeate every part of our lives. Gyms, yoga studios and relaxation spaces are becoming commonplace in office and residential design, as is the use of green space – bringing the outside in, to create a general sense of wellbeing. This is a central component of modern hotel design too – as customers seek accommodation and resorts that support both their physical and mental health.

Office Nomads

The pandemic has launched a new generation of remote and freelance workers.

This means catering both to the short-term business traveller and those who go on ‘work-cations’, mixing leisure with work. Hotels will need to offer both the digital infrastructure to enable remote working and accommodation that adapts to deliver a variety of functions.

Rooms and communal spaces can no longer be solely designed for one purpose. They have to be multi-functional.

Hybrid Homes from Home

To compete successfully with the self-catering market, while still offering a point of difference in terms of high-quality facilities and service, a hybrid style of hotel is evolving.

For example, at La Grande Mare, a luxury golf resort in Guernsey, we have developed bespoke lodges and discarded a traditional hotel as part of the brief.

Elsewhere, we have worked with a core brand hotel to evolve one of their prototypical brand offerings, so that it caters for more long-term patrons. We can expect to see this trend taking hold, as operators seek to attract a broader swathe of the tourist market.

For an industry currently at the centre of a maelstrom, seeing a way ahead is challenging but, by exploring ways to evolve and adapt, progress is possible. We are seeing the emergence of some very exciting concepts that will, hopefully, stand the test of time.

*Research from Mazars