Paul Morissette: Social distancing together

Paul Morissette, CHIL Design.

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

VANCOUVER — The industry has and will face a massive disruption with not only a decline in tourism but also business travel as our new remote workforce learns the value of virtual meetings. Paul Morissette, who is a principal of CHIL Design, the hospitality studio of B+H Architects, along with Adele Rankin, spoke to Canadian Lodging News about how hotels will be designed differently post COVID.

A touchless guest experience is possible

The whole guest experience is almost scripted, Morissette told CLN. The guest arrives, goes through the door, is greeted, proceeds to the front desk, exchanges cards and then goes to the room. This whole process will be exploded following COVID-19 for two reasons, he said.

First, technology such as a smartphone or other device, means the guest can choose not to interact with anyone. There will be no touch — people won’t exchange cards or paper, or sign things. They will make arrangements beforehand, electronically. “The front desk person will be more of a concierge, welcoming guests personally in a direct way,” Morissette said.

Many hotels already have an automatic revolving door, or a swing door that can minimize touch. There will be card access to the elevators and guest rooms. This means the guest can get to their room without any physical connection with other humans.

The check out can be paperless, but if people need to use the front desk, times for check-in and check out should be staggered. “At a Delta or a Fairmont, the bill that comes under the door could now be an email.”

Some hotels already have a remote concierge, where guests are welcomed on their cell phone three hours before they check in, and given a number to call with requests. Hotels have experimented with this, but now it will become crystallized out of necessity.

Opportunities to ‘social distance together’

Delta Calgary Downtown (above) is recently-renovated hotel that works for social distancing, as there’s a long banquette where people can sit two metres apart.

Second, over the past 12-15 years, hotel public spaces have stopped being divided into distinct areas. There’s no distinct bar; the boundaries between lobbies and restaurants have dissolved. In older hotels, where there is too much public space, hotels have been making it more lively and engaging, offering drinks, snacks, a meal or a meeting space. Post-COVID, this will continue, with people wanting to choose a corner spot in that wide open space. There will be a banquette, but people will not be sitting within eight inches of each other. People will want to interact with other people, but at a distance. For some of these older hotels, more public space may be an advantage.

“I was thinking of the image for the Delta Calgary Downtown with the seating options and the spaced furniture opposite the banquette,” Morissette told CLN. “I thought of a riff on the ‘alone/together’ concept that we all experience in coffee shops. We need to provide the opportunity for guests to ‘social distance together’.

“The use of loose and fluid shared spaces is accelerating,” Morissette said.

When possible, hotel activities will move outside. Vancouver is working hard to accommodating restaurants that want to move outside, as fresh air is the first level of comfort for guests post-COVID.

No carpets or decorative window coverings

As designers plan for the future, carpets are disappearing completely, said Morissette. People need to be able to see how clean the surfaces are, like a white porcelain floor, for example. “Cleanliness is becoming more important. Before, hotels hid the staff and cleaned at night. Now, there will be hygiene concierges making sure the right methods are used for cleaning. People will be cleaning continuously in full view of the guests.” The need to be seen to be clean will translate into use of certain materials and perhaps the hiring of professionals to check on cleaning methods.

Big, decorative window coverings will be a thing of the past. “The guest rooms will be very clean, and more simple to give a level of comfort. There should be communication of that — either a light that indicates the room is fully cleaned and sanitized, or a door hanger with the same message.”

Rooms won’t get bigger, but will lose the clutter

A clean, uncluttered guest room at the Novotel Toronto Centre.

“The saddest thing to me about staying in a hotel is never leaving the room. On the first night, you order a movie and room service, but that gets old fast. We have worked so hard for hotels to reflect the experience of the neighbourhood, by fully opening up the lobby spaces and onto restaurants.”

Rooms won’t get bigger but a clean, uncluttered appearance is paramount, Morissette noted.

One of the challenges is that guest rooms are getting smaller and bathrooms are becoming bigger and more luxurious. Morissette doesn’t see rooms getting bigger — but more carefully furnished and cleaned. Light finishes and materials are already a trend. Do people want to have meals served in their rooms? If so, the rooms should be comfortable.

Bathroom at the newly renovated Novotel Toronto Centre.

Bathrooms will reflect this clean, uncluttered look.

Social distancing works without the ‘high altar’ front desk

The recent trend toward smaller “pod-type” front desks was meant to make the experience more personal, rather than having the “high altar of the front desk,” Morissette noted. The pod-style front desks still work, he said.

“The challenge is to avoid all tactile things. Guests can walk up to the desk and be as close or as far away as they want. There’s a challenge — you can’t have 20 people lined up at the front desk. There will be a need to manage access to the [front desk] concierge through messaging.”

Other challenges include the remote control in the guest room, and elevators. In Hong Kong, where there are small elevators, they are already managing the number of people in the elevator and communicating clearly that this elevator is completely wiped down and sanitized every few hours.