Going up?

Going up?

Perhaps you are the type of person who goes to casinos. You buy a bunch of chips when you go in, set your limits and proceed to have fun.

Perhaps gambling is not your thing, and your biggest roll occurs in a fancy clothing shop. You try everything on, look in the mirror, maybe get input from your friend so you know exactly how a garment looks and feels before you decide to buy.

Perhaps you check in to a hotel. This is a hotel column, after all. How many times have you checked in, gone up to the room, and then immediately come back down, cancelled and left? Never, I assume. It is not done.

But look at what checking in commits you to. You know you will have a place to sleep for the proscribed number of nights, and you probably know the nominal rate you booked. But with all the “hidden” fees and taxes, and with the potential add-ons of meals, drinks, parking, spa, etc., you don’t know your final reckoning until check out. You have more of an upper limit when you buy casino chips. And you have more awareness of what you are purchasing with the clothing you tried on than with a hotel room you haven’t seen yet.

There is an  implicit level of trust extended by the customer checking into a hotel. Internet previews notwithstanding, the guest pays first, looks second. I assume you don’t buy your clothes that way, or probably anything else. Okay, a restaurant meal is ordered before tasting, but, aside from the occasional instance where it is so bad you do send it back, at least at the conclusion of your meal you can express your pleasure or displeasure with the tip amount. Maybe we should learn from our sister sector and add a tip line to our hotel bills and suggest at least 15% extra for our staff.

What is in the mind of the guest who offers a credit card for an open amount to be determined at check out? More specifically, what transpires in the head of a hotel guest from the moment he leaves reception to the moment he enters his room?

Lobby image fresh in his mind (see prior narrative episode, “Meet you in the lobby”), and hopefully made to feel welcome at reception, our guest waits for the elevator. And waits. And waits. The wait is too long. Perhaps you are thinking of a particular hotel and saying to yourself, ‘Gene doesn’t know how long the wait is here, how can he write that the wait is too long, as if this is the case at every hotel?’ Perhaps you are right, as my viewpoint is informed by designing dozens of high rise hotels, where vertical transportation is a struggle between ideal elevator count and necessary key count, and where each additional elevator displaces five to 10 keys, dropping up to $5.5 million per elevator from the bottom line (at $500,000 market value per key and another $500,000 for the cost of one elevator).

But I still have the perception that waiting for the elevator is not a good thing. Our vertical transportation consultants, and our brand standards, tell us that 45 seconds is a tolerable maximum wait. Personally, I am not that patient. Especially when paying a lot of money and eager to reach a safe haven after being on the road, I want to drop my things and see what I paid for. Anyone who knows the science of elevator traffic studies, or anyone who has worked in or stayed at a hotel and tried to get an elevator at peak times, say five minutes before Sunday check out time, knows that assumptions of 1.6 guests per room at four random trips per day times 80% occupancy with no volumetric penalty for baggage or societal norms of comfortable physical distance from others, well… maybe you get my point. Maybe we should think about “smart” elevators, larger and faster cabs, nicely designed cabs (maybe with good music and video), elevator call buttons at reception that call the elevator down to the lobby sooner, or BMS systems that call the elevator to your floor when your room door signals you have left the room.

Moving on, rather than up and down, and saving the elevator column to someone and somewhere else, imagine the moment of arrival at the corridor of your floor. Perhaps you were thinking that sentence would end “at your room.” That is the goal. But unfortunately, unless you booked a full floor penthouse presidential suite (mental note: sell car, pay hotel bill), you step out of a very confined elevator cab into a long and narrow hallway. If this is a big hotel, it is also a very long hallway. I recall staying at a hotel in Las Vegas where the hallway went on so long I couldn’t see the end of it, even though there were no turns. I suggest considering this from three vantage points: psychology, interior design and ergonomics, in that order.

Maybe it is occurring to you that the process of checking in to the hotel is a microcosm of the trip itself, that the transportation process of car to airport, airline check-in, security, boarding, flying, deplaning, collecting luggage, maybe passport control and customs, taxi line, taxi, hotel arrival, is repeated in mini-steps upon arrival: getting out of, and getting your bags out of, the cab, bellman, reception, lobby, elevator, hallway, room. Maybe you are thinking “ordeal,” maybe “delayed gratification.” I think both are relevant and psychologically powerful components of the process of both travel in general and hotel arrival in particular. My point here is, as the penultimate moment and space before the d?nouement, room arrival itself, the corridor is an important transitional space, both “almost there” and setting up the finale.

So let us picture a very long and narrow space, with many identical doors, stretching in both directions. (Probably with low ceilings, since the architect probably successfully coordinated running the sprinklers, electrical, cabling, etc. above the ceiling that was lowered to fit all that stuff). Maybe you have no issue with a demonstrably democratic deployment, identical room entrances as far as the eye can see; maybe you like the long walk that gets you away  from the elevators and means fewer noisy neighbors walking past your door; or maybe the short walk makes you feel better because you don’t have the long walk of the people in the last clause of this very long explanatory sentence; or maybe you are having a less positive reaction to one of the above (I don’t remember being asked if I wanted a long or short walk at reception). Maybe you are at a well thought out brand with doubly paired room doors (left and right hand on each side of the corridor, two doors facing two) set back into symmetrical alcoves with accent lighting, feature strip carpeting and custom room number signage. Or maybe you are at an edgy boutique with very dark hallways punctuated by brightly lit room numerals set into the floor. Perhaps the last of these comes closest to the psychological realm, evoking womb and tomb, perhaps successfully, or perhaps not. Or maybe all the access doors, life safety devices and other paraphernalia have so mucked up the hall walls, you don’t even notice the design itself.

So having passed from psychology to design, but still in the hall, has the design challenge of a space badly proportioned by definition been met with sufficient thought and effort, or has it been  left to languish as the better-forgotten so leave-it-alone distance between elevator cab and room entrance, thought of as so many seconds between here and there, the horizontal dimension as a continuation of the vertical transportation. (seen this way, have our customers been relegated to a storage array filed into three dimensions, gridded both horizontally as well as vertically? Actually, yes they have, or your RevPAR would not be high enough for you to take the time to be reading this). Our options are limited, and our concept will become one of the many countless corridors our guests will traverse on their travels and in their lives.

Do we make the best of an ordinary situation, within ordinary parameters and budget? Do we plan our hotel so well, and is our site so regular, that the room doors pair and line up on both sides as listed above? Do we transform our corridor like the edgy example? Do we take a geometric approach, bending or turning the corridor, shifting widths or heights, adding angles or curves? Or do we attempt some other design transformation, such as en fillade, the French motif of aligning column framed opening to heighten, rather than diminish, the perceptual depth of perspective organization?

Ergonomically, there is no ideal solution to walking a very long way, but if we are to have long corridors, or, since most of our urban hi-rise hotels have many floors with short corridors, if we are to have corridors of any type that respond to how they are used, let us rethink widths, recessed entries, wall and floor treatment.
Notwithstanding some recent “upscale” design-conscious hotel corridors, which have hard floor surfaces and attendant acoustic difficulties, does the proverbial carpet and carpet installation respond sufficiently to wheeled luggage, in  terms of acoustics, wear and ease of pulling heavy pieces (and is there a chair rail to minimize damage of luggage pulled astray)? I recently had some acoustic feedback at a 5-star property that interjected stone cross strips to separate carpet with borders on all four sides, so pulling a bag in the hall was a succession of whirr-clunk-whirrrr-clunk-whirrr, presumably audible in multiple rooms and certainly in the rooms adjacent to the stone accents.

So, let us now assume that we have safely and successfully navigated to our room door in a positive frame of mind, or perhaps let us also imagine that our mindset is not so elevated, and think about what is experience of opening the door?

Let us first think about the door itself, its width, its height, the material, the finish, the hardware, how it feels as it opens, if we use a card key, and if we swipe or wave at the proximity reader. Then let us think about what we want to greet a guest when the door opens as the first impression of their home-away-from-home greets them.

In residential condominium design, we know that people like privacy at their front door, so the delivery boy doesn’t see beyond the foyer. But we also know not to design this feature into the project because the decision to buy or not to buy a condo is made within seconds of opening the door, and if the buyer does not immediately see a long expanse from front door across the living room and out the large window to some wonderful view, she (all buyers are women, unless there are no women involved) will not buy. So condos are designed for the first five seconds, not the next 10 years. So what about a hotel room, which will be used merely for a few days, not years? What do we want to say in those first five seconds? Like any good television show, you will need to tune in to the next episode.