The hotel is dead; long live the hotel

The hotel is dead; long live the hotel

Recently, I attended a presentation about the architectural design of what was purported to be a hotel of the future. With the word “sustainable” uttered in every other sentence and a liberal scattering of references to “leading edge” technologies, the speaker sought to convince the audience that here was something significantly different from the hotels that we have today. Well, there are not too many positives about becoming older, but one is that you gain the experience that generates a more realistic response to such claims. In my experience, the precise details of a hotel’s design might change – a light switch becomes a lighting control panel, a card replaces a door key – ie technology improves, but the reality of it is that a hotel which is radically different from what we have today will almost certainly be a hotel that no one wants to stay in. Where is the opportunity for radical change to the basics?

I don’t think I am complacent about the desirability, and sometimes the need to renovate, to build new hotels and to embrace technological innovation. But the fact is, in my opinion, that the last truly significant development in hotel design was the move that began some 100 years ago to introduce en suite bathrooms – now virtually ubiquitous across all hotel categories. Most of the rest of what is called “design” is actually styling – color, texture, furniture, a five-fixture bathroom over a four, all of which may help to achieve a higher rate but, let’s face it, are hardly revolutions in design. This is just fine because hotel guests today want, as a priority, pretty much what they did several hundred years ago: a sense of security and comfort, a good night’s sleep and, probably, a good meal.

I do realize that comfort today involves the ability to use laptops, iPods and other electronic devices in the guestroom and that most hotels have been refurbished to ensure that this is possible. But then hotels were at the forefront of the introduction of electric light into buildings – surely as great a development in its day.

Hotels are not a crucible of revolution; at most they evolve but only to keep up with guests’ interpretation of their fundamental human needs, the essence of which does not change.

In the UK, we have a centuries old phrase when a monarch dies and is replaced by the next generation: “The king is dead; long live the king.” To borrow on this: “The hotel is dead; long live the hotel.”