As the tourism market steadies, hotel developers are turning to architects to exercise their creativity like never before.
Some of the most ambitious recent projects include an eco-resort in China embedded into an abandoned quarry, an underwater luxury hotel in the heart of Dubai’s coral reef and the yet-to-be-approved billion-dollar space hotel off the coast of Spain for guests who “wish they could travel to distant galaxies.”
Each of those projects offers a degree of escapism for travellers, offering more than just a bed to sleep in and turning the hotels into destinations of their own.
However, it takes more than a simulated visit to space to impress today’s guests according to Wade Little, principal of renowned architectural firm Woods Bagot.
“Travellers are looking for a tailor-made experience rather than a quirky concept," he said. “More information is readily available for travellers and hotels alike, therefore tailoring a holiday or a hotel to a niche market is easier. Great experience hotels generally leverage off location and the local energy of the place.”
There is a growing call for hotel designs to reflect their surrounding landscape by adopting colours, décor and fittings that echo the destination.
Hotel Indigo, InterContinental Hotels Group's boutique brand, prides itself on connecting hotel designs to the local neighbourhood with no two hotels looking the same.
Each hotel carefully reflects the community, character and history of the surrounding area art, photography, architecture and design to tell the story of its neighbourhood.
Little noted that connecting locally can even extend to the materials used to build the hotels.
“This depends on the location and on the drivers of the design – sometimes using local materials can be a way of responding to the hotel’s local context,” he said.
The recently unveiled I-Resort 9 Spa Hotel in Vietnam was built entirely by local artisans with the developers hiring 80 village masons, carpenters and craft persons to build the hotel in nine months.
Sustainability is also high on the list of priorities for many travellers.
Earlier this year, leading travel website TripAdvisor announced the launch of its GreenLeaders™ program, which allows travellers to select hotels based on their environmental credentials.
“TripAdvisor GreenLeaders uniquely details accommodations’ green practices complemented by feedback from the millions in the TripAdvisor traveler community,” said TripAdvisor director of responsible travel Jenny Rushmore. “The transparency of the program makes it easy for environmentally-conscious travelers to plan and book a greener trip.”
Thinking green could also translate to the installation of green walls, gardens and greenery sprawled across rooftops, with more hotels bringing nature to both their exteriors and interiors.
In Sydney, one of the most famous green walls is at the urban oasis known as “The Ivy” that is part of the Merivale Group.
“Greening facades is tricky, though something that has been done for a long time,” explained Little. “The Ivy in Sydney is a local example where guests to this inner city bar can access, sit and enjoy the landcape."
While many travellers enjoy the luxury experience associated with hotel resorts, there is another growing market of travellers who are seeking less fuss and more practicality from their accommodations.
Many hotels in the industry are adopting a back to basics approach in design where minimalist luxury is key.
“I think hotels are diversifying, but it all comes back to what the traveler is looking for and their budget,” Little said, referring to the design of hotel chain Aloft, a second tier brand for W Hotels.
“It’s youthful and energetic and organic – everything about the hotel represents the interests of their targeted guest from price to organic food. It’s a no frills approach to the younger market.”
Pod hotels, mobile and temporary hotels that offer affordable stays in airports or luxury destinations, take this minimalist luxury to an extreme.
Spaces are tight, with rooms generally only offering a bed, bathroom and minimal digital devices.
These hotels are intended for quick stays, fleeting business visits and for adventurous travellers who might like a mobile hotel to be erected in the middle of a rainforest.
It appears the guest experience will indeed reign in the future of hotel architecture, with Little predicting the future will be similar to that of the retail market.
“Following a trend in the retail industry towards customising experiences, hotels are now offering bespoke solutions through tailored design and services,” he said. "Automated services have become a standard feature, but are now gaining new relevance in terms of freedom of choice and customisation. This is a new driver in luxury and across all markets.”