Experience Based Design in Hospitality and Retail

by Paul Van Kauwenberg

Like it or not, Millennials are projected to take over the Baby Boomers as the largest living adult generation in 2019.  Millennials value experiences over everything and can’t wait to tell people about it –  sharing the good and unfortunately the bad!  In the hospitality and retail world, clearly the pressure is on to deliver a total overall experience and obtain the ever-so coveted positive TripAdvisor reviews. This trend continues to push design teams to keep evolving in order to help their clients meet these expectations.

Envoy Hotel – Lookout Rooftop / Brandon Barre

Starting with opening the front door, hotel lobbies are no longer a place to just “check-in”.  With the continued growth of kiosks and mobile check-in, guests are now able to bypass the front desk completely.  This is giving designers more flexibility in these spaces, reducing front desk needs while making these spaces more inviting.  The millennial guest is not one to work in the guestroom while ordering room service.  This guest typically having a cell phone and laptop, can work anywhere and would much rather sit in a comfortable, interactive space with others, all while enjoying a craft cocktail or a local microbrew.  Starting with an appealing interior design, it is key for design teams to integrate these spaces with heavy Wi-Fi coverage, USB power outlets, lighting and scene controls, and AV systems that provide the desired experience needed.

When it’s meal time, no longer does “the hotel restaurant” suffice.  For a long-time, these venues were loss leaders for owners.  Now, trends are being seen with all initial shell spaces in hospitality design being provided with provisions for food service tenants.  “Destination restaurants” are being provided for, not to only improve the hotel guest experience but also to attract locals as well.  In an age where eating out is becoming a way of life and healthier eating is coming more to the forefront, properties are offering higher quality restaurant venues with local, health-focused options, bringing additional traffic and increasing revenue.

Amenity wise, with health and wellness becoming more important, prominently located fitness rooms with upgraded equipment and AV are a must.  One of the fastest growing trends however, as can be seen all over Boston lately, is providing social venues that allow interaction with the outdoors. The buzz and experience they create can be invaluable.  These can be roof decks or patio bars, or full service restaurants with full opening exterior windows.  The recently expanded Lookout Rooftop bar at the Envoy or the new outdoor patio at Lolita’s, both with incredible views and customer bases, are great examples.

When it is time to retire for the night, the guestroom experience must deliver.  With technologies continuing to evolve, futureproofing infrastructure to the room by utilizing fiber can provide unlimited bandwidth for any potential use.  Strong Wi-Fi with access points in every room is standard now, and having multiple USB receptacles goes without saying.  Upgraded, larger screens that guests are used to at home that easily integrate with their mobile devices are key, with some facilities offering Apple TV or Netflix over them as well.  Ordering food, setting lighting levels, temperatures, and controlling shades over the TV is provided at some “smart hotel” properties now, and Hilton is debuting their “Connected Room” concept this year – allowing guests to adjust these same components from their smartphone, even setting favorite TV channels and room temperatures for future visits.  Hotel room phones, a thing of the past?  Some properties are testing removing them, with text messaging being used to communicate with guests!

With the millennial generation, the only constant is change – and hospitality and retail world will need to continue to evolve and develop flexible facilities that are able to adapt to the changing needs required to provide the experiences needed to lure tomorrow’s customer.


Paul Van Kauwenberg, PE, LEED AP BD+C is an Associate Principal at Vanderweil’s office in Boston.