Rosie Morley considers how COVID-19 could change hospitality design

11 May 2020
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Associate Director Rosie Morley’s approach to hotel design is based on industry insight, underpinned by the crafting of strong narratives and purpose. A sentiment that she recently shared in an interview with Luxury Travel magazine prior to the pandemic: “One of the big changes [in the hotel sector] is sensory engagement, of making sure we’re orchestrating an immersive experience that touches all of those senses because this is how environments resonate with us.”

As the environments we inhabit on a day to day basis have shrunk around us, bringing a memorable sensory experience to life through design will be more important than ever when venues, bars and restaurants open again. Rosie shares her thoughts on other ways that the hospitality sector could be forever changed.

Doot Doot Doot restaurant

How might the hospitality sector change post COVID-19?

Hotels will need to diversify quickly, and not just for the short term. With the repositioning of assets, we may well see an increase in even greater hybrid offers, which will engender new products being designed to leverage the new working world. We are already seeing hotels entertain the transition to longer-term business models, for example introducing kitchenettes and laundering, so they will likely be considering ways of providing longer term-stay agreements at lower rates.

In the short-term, it is about how to make environments safer, but the long-term goal is how to rebuild trust to return to hospitality venues. Until a vaccine is established, a level of restrictions will remain and therefore this is our new reality for the foreseeable future.

There needs to be a reinforcement of safety established, then communicating that to the guest. For instance, new housekeeping guidelines, non-porous materials, air filtration systems. It’s likely that there will be a general uptake in contactless technologies through the integration of online check-in/check-out, mobile room access and greater in-room dining experiences.

In addition, hotel lobbies, restaurants and eventing spaces will have to work harder as they accommodate the new-era workplace world. This time has proven to employers that remote working is possible. So that will no doubt have an impact on eventing and business hubs within hotels, especially as offices potentially look to downsize. Could it be possible for hotel rooms to be rented as private offices or suites, given they offer an enclosed environment? It is something that could be easily adapted as all the amenities like parking, free wi-fi and a minibar are all available.

In terms of travel itself, it seems international travel will be off the radar for 2020, possibly even for much of 2021. Off the back of this we may see a rise of visitors to rural destinations and even returning to some of the bushfire zones. If the focus comes back to local and rural areas perhaps it will spark the romance of old school road trips, just jumping in the car and going for a drive. This would bring a flood of local tourism, giving rural areas a needed bump. It also builds a case for statement, attention-drawing experiences like Jackalope, which follow the model of ‘build it and they will come’.

The United Places hotel in South Yarra, Melbourne sits like a rigorous concrete grid in its lush Botanic Gardens setting.

Why is design more important than ever in hospitality and hotel design?

As we await borders to unlock and aviation to open up, the rising sentiment is that people need external outlets and a sense of destination. I think this puts hospitality and public social spaces even more into the spotlight, especially as they are now being craved more than ever.

If there is any lesson in all of this, it is that we must be more prepared. Like all industries, we must build resilience and learn that now is the time to prepare for the anticipated upward spike. That is why design becomes central in the midst of COVID-19. On the surface it seems like an expendable endeavour, yet we recognise that great outcomes occur via perspective, ideation, exploration; exactly what the design process offers. This current state forces us to pursue creative exertion and solve problems for the future, particularly through this unique lens we all now hold. Much like the old proverb – necessity (truly) is the mother of invention.

In terms of design elements, it’s possible that there will be a reset of design aesthetics. Housekeeping and guestroom cleaning times will increase, therefore the need for ‘less to clean’ will become a focus. The balance will come in rethinking details, forms and materiality to further communicate cleanliness.

Resilience and adaptability, and the evaluation of these factors may increase. Major public venues will be assessed as to how agile they are in order to reform in times of crises. No doubt an emergency response analysis will be cast on hotels and their ability to shift into medical triage or refuge as future emergency scenarios arise.


Without travel, what other ways can hotels and venues entice people in?

One thing is incentivising future bookings, so start getting the collaborator list underway. For example leverage networks from artists, chefs, yoga studios. There has also been a rise in 3D virtual tours for new hotels, much like how the NGV is utilising this technology for current exhibitions.

Long term a shift towards community mindedness is critical. Hotels should evolve towards becoming a hub for activities and reposition themselves as destinations not just for stuffy conferences but as true local mainstays.


What will happen to the idea of the experience?

I think it will only build. We have learned that experience is King and it is actually everything this pandemic is depriving us of. Given experiences are the number one discretionary Millennial spend, we know this is something that will be here to stay.


We’ve been profiling the leadership team, read through some of their thinking here.