Over some three decades of designing hotels and resorts, I have seen, and been privileged to be part of, a significant evolution in what luxury means in hospitality. The concept of luxury has now gone well beyond issues of personal taste, styling and ornamentation for its own sake, largely driven by consumers who desire conscientious, rather than conspicuous, consumption. Space, time, the natural world, opportunities to repair mind, body and soul and to learn something new are now the priorities for the majority of leisure travellers and, indeed, for the growing number of “workation” travellers as well. The shock of the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the pace of change, but the trend was well underway before any of us had heard of Covid-19. The good news for owners and operators is, I believe, that these developments are here to stay as the subject of climate change and environmental degradation will remain at the top of our news for a long time to come. Opportunity and financial return is there for those who want to make a difference.
A Booking.com survey earlier this year revealed that 53% of the global travellers questioned wanted to travel more sustainably in the future and 69% expected the hospitality and travel industry to offer more environmentally friendly options, including the chance to stay in less crowded destinations. Two-thirds of respondents indicated that they wanted their travel choices to support regeneration of the destination and more than half wished to see some of their money going back into the local community.
So, what about hotel design? I would be the first to say that I don’t think great hospitality experiences are about design per se, but instead it’s about how we create our designs to support the experiential. There are many different ingredients that we draw on to achieve this but, ultimately, we have to kindle a chemistry between guests and their environment. To do this, the design needs to have content and personality and the stories we tell must speak to both guests and clients. A sense of luxury revolves around us as individuals – who we are and our particular needs – so, as designers, we have to consider this in creating special and meaningful spaces. Just a few years ago, this would not have included much concern about things eco, especially at the luxury end of the market. However, doing our part to conserve the planet and its ecosystems and a desire to put back as least as much as we take out has become a mission of choice amongst many hotel guests. It is the new luxury experience and can be a hotel’s differentiator, every bit as powerful as the thread count of the bed linen.
In certain respects, luxury hospitality and sustainability have never been at odds. In fact, they are perfectly aligned. Luxury items, such as exclusive Swiss watches, have long been regarded as things to be handed down through family generations. They are cared for, serviced and, over time, familial memories grow around them. The same can be said for great hotels – often, but not always, with a much-storied history, respectfully refurbished from time-to-time and as relevant for the fourth generation as they were for the first. Both are handcrafted, of premium quality and of lasting value. Longevity is a very good example of sustainability.
In my opinion, luxury resort and hotel design does not shout. It is a good neighbour, celebrates the location in which it is rooted and inspires its guests to engage with local communities. True luxury whispers.
Maria Vafiadis, Founder & Managing Director of MKV Design, is part of Hospitality Insights' Inner Circle, a group of industry leaders and innovators we have brought together to help us contribute to debate in the sector.