295 | Doing Well: Coronavirus pandemic advances wellness design and programs in hotels

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OUTSIDE IN: Hotel of Tomorrow, a forum of more than 300 collaborators gathered by The Gettys Group of Chicago, identified biophilia as an emerging design trend in hospitality that integrates nature into buildings and shifts more activities outdoors. Hotel of Tomorrow participants believe the concept is going to exponentially grow because the coronavirus pandemic has caused pent-up people the world over to crave and appreciate the wide outdoors.

COVID-19 sharpens hospitality’s focus on mind, body and spirit

In a worldwide survey of travel consumers, the Wellness Tourism Association in July reported it found most respondents crave more “nature-based” experiences.

The association based in Denver, Colorado, surveyed 4,000 consumers from 48 countries from May through June. It found people’s top motivation in wellness travel is “to return to everyday life rejuvenated.”

A close runner-up is “to experience activities outdoors.”

The sharper focus on overall wellness in travel during the global coronavirus pandemic is causing hotel owners and operators to think beyond the now-normal COVID-19 clean-and-safe protocols. Hotels will start to deploy technology, programming and materials that build anti-COVID spaces where guests can live, work and sleep and come home feeling better than when they left, experts say.

Given that the coronavirus pandemic has driven many people toward outdoor activities, it’s no surprise that people want to breathe free and create their own safe spaces within a natural environment.

One company that’s leading thought on how to deliver what travel consumers crave these days is The Gettys Group.

The Chicago-based hospitality design company revived its Hotel of Tomorrow think tank in July to explore how to create solutions to challenges wrought by the pandemic.

The Gettys Group first established the forum in 2003 with about a hundred hospitality-related developers, designers, manufacturers, owners and operators from all over the world who put their minds together to imagine the future of hospitality and travel and how to respond.

It held workshops for a few years before the program went on hiatus in 2006, but out of that came Botlr, Savioke’s robotic butler first used by Aloft Hotels to deliver on guests’ requests for such things as towels, toiletries and items from the hotel retail center.

This year, Ron Swidler, chief innovation officer at The Gettys Group, said the forum drew ideas from 325 collaborators and came up with five top concepts, which it announced in September in its Trendline report.

At the top of the stack is the bed. But not just any bed. Bed XYZ is designed to deliver a night’s sleep so fulfilling it meets the traveler’s number-one desire to be rejuvenated during their stay.

SLEEPING WELL: Bed XYZ is the top idea to emerge from Hotel of Tomorrow, a global think tank The Gettys Group design firm formed to tackle challenges and capitalize on emerging trends in the hospitality industry. Episode 295 of Lodging Leaders podcast explores how the coronavirus pandemic is advancing wellness design and programs in hotels.

Simply sleeping is, of course, important but Bed XYZ offers so much more. It is a technology-enhanced system that controls the room’s environment and monitors guest’s sleeping patterns, much like an Apple Watch.

The bedding materials are antimicrobial and antibacterial, meaning they absorb and repel bad things, including viruses. Fabric technology also helps clear the air as particles are absorbed by materials that scrub out airborne toxins.

Even before guests hit the hay, technology can help them prepare to rest by providing low-impact exercise and meditation programs. The hotel can also provide in-room food and beverage items that enhance sleep.

“How do you know if you’ve had a good night’s sleep? We really don’t and yet there are new ways of measuring the quality of our sleep and they are becoming more available to us in products like the Apple Watch as one example,” Swidler said.

“We know that historically that the worst night’s sleep you’ll ever get will be the first night’s sleep at a new location.” By their very nature, hotels are part of that problem.

“If we could instead flip the script a little bit and try to reverse that tendency and allow for perhaps an even better sleep experience in hotels than we are getting at home it’s an interesting and an aspirational goal,” he said.

So aspirational that knowing a restful night and a stress-relieving experience awaits at a hotel would go a long way in incentivizing people to travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Also highlighted in the Trendline report is biophilic design that includes live greenery in lobbies, rooms and meeting spaces. The next-best thing could be outdoor simulation through technology.

Swidler points to the waterfall simulation in Salesforce’s office lobby at its headquarters in San Francisco as an example. It also changes the perception of the lobby space and makes people feel a certain way, Swidler said.

Other ideas are robots that deliver on F&B; wearable technology that programs guest preferences; and a self-driving recreational vehicle or “rover” that carries guests on daytime excursions or overnight stays in the great outdoors.

AFFORDABLE & COVID SAFE: A page from an e-book published by Kieffer Design Group shows elements hoteliers can add to rooms to improve guests’ sense of wellbeing and generate more revenue during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

‘Fanatic of Nature’

Judi Kieffer, owner of Kieffer Design Group in Boise, Idaho, is a lover of the outdoors and tries to include biophilic concepts in her projects.

Biophilia is a word used by Harvard naturalist Dr. Edward O. Wilson in the 1980s to describe people’s desire to be close to nature or life rather than inanimate objects. In his book, “Biophilia,” Wilson writes we are instinctively drawn to lifelike processes. “To the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place a greater value on them, and on ourselves.”

Though some wellness concepts might seem practicably unrealistic and financially unfeasible in such a time as the coronavirus pandemic, Kieffer encourages hotels to integrate products and programs that promote health and wellness because that’s what travelers seek now and in the future.

Kieffer works with developers and owners of limited-service properties so she understands the fiscal constraints in going beyond brand standards. But if the hotel is facing a PIP or is otherwise in need of refreshing, it’s a good time to think about what can be done to take the guest experience beyond face masks and hand sanitizer.

To that end, Kieffer published an e-book that advises on design as well as FF&E that can improve a property’s health and safety. The 14-page monograph suggests 30 affordable COVID-safe changes hoteliers can make to their property’s guest rooms that ultimately increase revenue.

OUTDOOR SPACE: The Hilton Garden Inn in Bellevue, Washington, is part of Kieffer Design Group’s portfolio. Judi Kieffer said adding outdoor elements and options in hotel design today will enable owners and operators to drive more revenue.

“I’m a real fanatic of nature and I realized how much nature and being out in the fresh air and all-natural environments has brought itself into my profession,” Kieffer said. “We’ve incorporated those elements and how to create best for a really healthy building and help people feel really good in them.”

The coronavirus pandemic can be a blessing, Kieffer said, if it leads hoteliers and other building owners to develop structures that are better for the world and for the people who inhabit those spaces.

Biophilia is not a concept to fear, Kieffer said. Hoteliers who “follow and understand it fully will understand where people are, their innate desire to connect with nature.”

Designing outdoor spaces is important today, but hoteliers can also bring inside plants and other natural elements that improve the wellbeing of everyone.

One critical component besides the bed is a guest room’s air filtration system. In her e-book, Kieffer outlines the types of filters and technology that can be used in PTACs or whole-building HVAC systems that clean the atmosphere and enable guests to feel and do well while staying at the hotel.

Biophilia practices that create a multisensory experience can be subtle. “The guest says, ‘I feel so good in here and I want to know why.’ It’s the air, lighting and greenery. The atmosphere feels fresh and safe.”

GREEN LEVEL: Blanche Garcia of B. Garcia Designs includes the Elita Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in her portfolio. The boutique hotel opened in July 2016. Garcia is a Green Design LEED professional and a WELL accredited professional who notes biophilic design is more meaningful than it’s ever been as travelers seek hotels that offer a promise of fresh air and open spaces amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Missing Piece

Blanche Garcia rose to fame as the lead designer on Hotel Impossible, a reality show on the Travel Channel that ran from 2012 through 2017 and featured Anthony Melchiorri who revived under-performing hotels throughout the country.

Garcia owns B. Garcia Designs in Montclair, New Jersey, and is a Green Design LEED professional and a WELL accredited professional.

She loves the building and design industry and saw early in her 25-year career how important it is that commercial construction in particular incorporates environmentally friendly techniques and products in projects, including hotels.

The International WELL Building Institute oversees the WELL program with a mission to improve human health and well-being in buildings.

Garcia calls WELL the missing piece in many building designs. “WELL design, Green design and wellness are more important now than ever,” she said.

People who live, visit or work in buildings designed with wellness in mind are happier people. There are things hotel developers, designers, owners and operators can do that go beyond just building a sustainable building, Garcia said. They can create structures that improve people in mind, body and spirit.

“And now, with the pandemic, people are honestly looking at not just safety, security and cleanliness but they’re thinking, ‘What does all this mean and how do I feel safer and more comfortable?’” Garcia said. “So this has just thrown everything on a loop and people are trying to catch up and figure it out. It’s a whole new world out there.”

“Being a WELL AP has really been very strategic. I think it’s something that hotels and designers and people in the industry can utilize to their benefit to be a little bit more ahead of the curve because it don’t think it’s caught up fully yet. It hasn’t hit its tipping point.”

While working on Hotel Impossible, Garcia would lead the redesign of a hotel or parts of a hotel in 72 hours.

She realizes that timing is extreme but she advises owners to think about taking steps rather than tackling whole projects to make their properties safe for guests and employees.

“You don’t have to do everything,” she said. “You don’t have to go for a WELL designation or a LEED designation to create a change within your own culture or whatever your brand is. You can pick your moments.”

Hoteliers should take some time to “review of what’s working for you and what you think people will pay for and what people will respond to,” Garcia advised.

“You can integrate small things and carry it through in your messaging.”

Small things such as adding to guest room toiletries essential oils that calm and revive, installing vitamin C shower heads; connecting guests to mobile apps that offer music or guided meditation; and adding different levels of lighting that help guests maintain their circadian rhythms.

Adding small exercise equipment to rooms such as a balancing ball, hand weights and exercise bands.

Garcia advises hotels to partner with other businesses to provide health and wellness amenities and programming for guests.

Let prospective guests know what you have going on in terms of health and wellness and how your hotel cares for the guest holistically will set your hotel apart from the competition and attract new business.

Despite the problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Garcia sees this time as “a really big opportunity for the hotel industry. As much as it’s stressful and as much as it’s painful, if you play your cards right it’s going to make you better.”

The awakening to health, safety and wellness is “a shift in a good direction if hotels can utilize it,” she said.

PRIVATE SPACE: A bungalow at The Breakers, the resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where the Global Wellness Institute held its 2020 Global Wellness Summit from Nov. 8 through 11. Adam Glickman, co-founder and principal of Parallax Hospitality and Wellness, was a panelist at the event that addressed trends and issues facing the $4.5 trillion global wellness industry amid the coronavirus pandemic. Glickman is vice chair of GWI’s Wellness Tourism Initiative.

Wellness and Brands

Another hospitality veteran who got out ahead in the wellness travel industry is Adam Glickman. He co-founded Parallax Wellness and Hospitality in 2017 after leading InterContinental Hotels Group’s launch of EVEN Hotels, its wellness brand.

Parallax is a consulting company that helps brands focus on health and wellness through design, amenities and programming.

Glickman also is vice chair of the Wellness Tourism Initiative by the Global Wellness Institute and an adviser to Three Sages, a technology company that creates virtual wellness programs for the travel industry.

Wellness travel was an emerging trend before the coronavirus pandemic and would probably had always been an afterthought for most of the lodging industry.

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, Glickman believes wellness has become the essence of the travel business today and in the years ahead.

“It has elevated the discussion around safety and wellbeing,” he said. “All brands will become wellness brands in that we can’t ignore it.”

Factors or attributes of wellness will be integrated into hotel brands though each will differ on how they deliver on the offer of health and safety to guests and employees, he said.

“How owners view the bottom line and the ROI of development will come back in one way, shape or form to the wellbeing of that business,” Glickman said. “And that touches all the constituents of that business, how healthy and safe they feel.

“At an overarching level, it’s not just about making sure something is clean or making sure we have a good gym. It’s how healthy is my business, and my business starts by thinking of the wellbeing of all the constituents who engage with my business.”

Travelers want safety and security. That goes for their physical and emotional wellbeing as well as their financial security.

“What developers and stake holders should be thinking about as they develop positioning and messaging is how they talk about their projects, whether it’s a hotel property or a destination or if it’s someone trying to sell travel to a destination or a hotel.”

Guests’ mental wellbeing is a serious consideration for hoteliers. People have been affected by having to be in quarantine or sheltering in place for a long time. We’re just beginning to learn how it’s impacted our day-to-day and hoteliers need to think about they can address and support the emotional needs of guests as they emerge from lockdown mindset.

The marketing message should be “how a stay experience can make me a better me,” Glickman said. “How it can make me feel healthier and be healthier so when I go home, I’m the best I can be and I’m more productive.

“So that aspect of mental wellbeing in travel is something I expect brands to talk more about,” he said.

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