by Jeanne M. Muscolino, NCIDQ #32346, LEED AP Associate

Despite uncertainties concerning the global economic and political climates, the U.S. lodging industry is enjoying its 87th consecutive month of positive revenue per available room (RevPAR) growth, and the outlook remains cautiously optimistic. The activity in the U.S. hotel market in recent years has been remarkable. A few highlights include the creation of the world’s largest hotel company as a result of the Marriott-Starwood merger, Anbang’s record-breaking purchase of the Waldorf Astoria for $1.95 billion, a perpetual influx of new brands into an already crowded landscape, and, of course, Airbnb’s disruption of business as usual.

Hotels are vying for the attention of an increasingly complex population. Consumers are better informed, armed with powerful tools at their fingertips, and more likely to share their experiences. This highly competitive and communicative environment has compelled hoteliers to redefine, design, and deliver the ultimate guest experience in hopes to land that coveted top ranking on TripAdvisor. Many shifts have occurred in this environment, including the following.

  • Localization is an essential and lasting movement. It goes deeper than sourcing local building materials, local beef, and hiring a local artist to create a locally relevant feature wall in the lobby. Authentic localization has a positive impact on the community while creating memories for travelers who seek to immerse themselves in local culture. In addition to partnering with local businesses to offer distinctive classes, events, and excursions, hotels are giving back by hosting nonprofit events for free, offering youth activities, and even hosting homeless pets. Hotels are reclaiming their roles as the cornerstones and economic engines within the community. Founded by “cultural curator,” Alex Calderwood, in 1999, Ace Hotel has mastered the creation of intentionally designed properties that reflect their roots while playing a transformative role within their neighborhoods.
  • Luxury is less fussy, and more accessible. There is still plenty of room and appreciation for luxury hotels like Baccarat, which dazzle guests with jaw-dropping, opulent design. Perceptions of luxury, however, are evolving. Many consumers are placing greater value on moments than materials. Ian Schrager’s latest project, Public Hotel in New York City, is a prime example of understated luxury, offering simple rooms, enticing food and beverage venues, and a multifaceted arts and entertainment space, all at an affordable rate.
  • The sharing economy is influencing shared spaces. Hostels are becoming more mainstream, attracting guests of all different ages and backgrounds. This option encourages guest interaction and makes group travel effortless. The Wayfarer in Santa Barbara and the Freehand Hotels of Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles are winning with their communal-style accommodations.
  • Food and beverage is better leveraged. Food and beverage venues, once viewed as a must-have, loss-leader in the hotel industry, are now treated as opportunities to raise the bar and capture additional market share. Hotels are catering not only to overnight travelers, but to their immediate neighbors and wider markets by creating F&B destinations. Many hoteliers are thinking outside of the box by teaming with celebrity chefs, local brands, and specialty coffee shops to lure traffic.
  • Spatial fusion can lead to sensational results. The 21c Museum Hotel founded in Louisville in 2006 offers guests the perfect blend of contemporary art, local culture, and hospitality. Launched as an urban renewal project, 21c has gained raving reviews and has recently boomed to eight locations. The synthesis of various building types is a trend that we’ve seen take off outside of the hospitality market as well. The JCJ Architecture team is working on several blended designs including a groundbreaking project called Lodgic Everyday Community, a mix of productivity-boosting workspace, childcare, and healthy dining, all in support of work-life balance, due to open in Champaign, Illinois, in 2018.
  • Modular construction is getting more attention. Marriott’s modular construction initiative is well underway, with up to 50 deals expected in 2017 which incorporate prefabricated guestrooms or bathrooms. Expect to see modular gain even more momentum, especially with select service hotels, as early adopters wrap up projects.
  • Technology-driven experiences could offer endless possibilities. The biggest names in food, fashion, automotive, and media are busy incorporating innovative technologies to create fun, memorable ways for consumers to interact with their brands. Pioneers like Breakfast, based in Brooklyn, have invented kinetic display systems, robotic signs, music democratizers, and hashtag printers that allow guests to create billboard-sized works of art in real time. Tech-inspired interaction has been widely untapped, and the possibilities for hotels are endless.

I am curious to see how the next few years will play out. Which brands will thrive and which will fizzle? What moves will giants Airbnb and Google make? Most of all, I am excited to see what can happen when we spend less time talking about Millennials, and more time sparking true innovation.