• Belinda O'Kelly

The Lasting Imprint of a Pandemic on Hotel Design

Digital Kiosks, Easy-To-Clean Guest Room Finishes Are Here to Stay.

By Belinda O'Kelly and David Kasprak

Originally published by CoStar

As we optimistically look forward to a return to normal, the lingering effects of the pandemic will leave an impression.


We may not go back to some of the things we once did; we might forever think twice about getting into a crowded elevator. Through this new critical lens, it is interesting to consider the lasting effects on hotel design. Though we all look forward to a day when some of the restrictions and practices become unnecessary, some proclivities will remain to inform the next generation of hotels.


As we picture the hotel of the future, we are aware of a few notable shifts. Upon entry, the overall impression is more comforting — a bit more like home in scale and finish, a bit more spacious, and there is a greater level of privacy and intimacy.

At check-in, the digital kiosk is here to stay, but hopefully supplemented by a friendly human making you feel welcome. We will complete the shift to guest room access though our phones — no more cards to lose. The lobby of the hotel may be laid out so that clustering in line at the desk is discouraged, and a roaming concierge with a tablet will come to you.


The bar has not changed much — back to the social energy that we enjoy. The restaurant seats are more spaced out, reservations encouraged, and you can order or make requests through your phone. As you walk to your room, the corridors feel wider and there is more space by the elevator.


In the guestroom, finishes that are easily sanitized or even have a cleaner appearance will prevail. This endorses floor finishes like luxury vinyl tile or porcelain tile over carpet. We will see a preference for white or light finishes in the bathroom for the wall tile, fixtures and countertops.


Furniture on high legs eliminates the wonder of what is underneath. Any unnecessary clutter like physical cardboard menus, television channel listings and the card telling you about a happy hour in the lobby will be removed and replaced with its digital counterpart.


On the technology side, the capability to control the lighting, temperature and television with a guest’s personal phone is affirmed. Lighting should be able to dimmed by demand. Anything that is set to remain in the room without being laundered will be suspect. Do we need drapery? Or can we make a cleanable shade more attractive?


There's evolution on the service side as well. Food-and-beverage service is seamless and available anywhere using your phone. Room service is more prevalent, and the hours have been expanded. Perhaps there is an option for whether the hotel staff enters your room on a multi night stay. There may be fewer workouts in the fitness center and more sanitized equipment being brought to your room.


If we do this correctly as an industry, these changes will not feel alien, but will make our experience feel curated and hospitable. It will be fascinating to watch each brand personality take on the challenge of adapting elements into their culture. Some of these trends were already in motion, and the pandemic simply accelerated the process. Others are causing a bit of a pivot in how we think. Our collective pandemic experience will be one more layer upon the other generational factors changing the future of the hotel industry, and it will be exciting to watch.