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Driving Guest Comfort and Enjoyment Through the Psychology of Design

By Paul Bubny

As COVID-19 vaccines reach wider distribution in 2021, many people will be making travel plans for the first time in a year. Making hotel guests feel welcome will entail more than providing assurance that the property is fully compliant with safety protocols, and the role that design can play is more critical than ever. Connect Commercial Real Estate asked Michele Espeland, principal and executive director – strategy at Cuningham Group to provide insights.

Q: What key role does psychology play in the strategic design of hospitality spaces?

Michele Espeland

A: Understanding the psychological impacts of the built environment on occupants is key to success in hospitality design. This is because emotional responses drive action in our day-to-day lives.

For example, in a recent study looking at purchase decisions, up to 95% were found to be made subconsciously.

Due to this, strong, impactful design must be subconsciously felt before it is consciously visualized. The endgame in design should not be to achieve a certain “look.” Instead, designers and stakeholders will ideally ask themselves:
“What should this space feel like? What is the intended optimal experience?”

By focusing on evoking intent, feeling, and human experience, design drives the ultimate goal of hospitality architects and designers: satisfied guests who will return and recommend our clients’ destinations to their family, friends, and wider audiences through channels like review sites and travel blogs.

Q: How can developers and owners optimize guest comfort and enjoyment through design?

A: Hospitality developers and owners should strive to speak to and engage with a guest’s humanity and need for relaxation, focus, and/or adventure throughout their entire stay. That said, the experience will ideally evolve as they move through the areas of a hotel or resort and at different stages of their visit.

Whether guests plan ahead or commit at the last minute, the first impression drive up to a hotel should whet the appetite and set the tone of the stay. Strong and intentional landscape architecture greatly influences this instant moment of attraction.
The approach is what guests experience while walking up to a hotel – the architecture, the glimpses of the interior visible through glass doors or windows. These heighten the promise for a great experience. Capturing the guest in this critical moment of anticipation can build excitement that will influence whether the stay ultimately meets or exceeds their expectations.

Throughout check-in and their stay, impactful design should feature moments of enhancement created by a hierarchy of “wow” factors. The main lobby, the elevator lobby, the hallway, the room – the guest should remain engaged to varying degrees throughout their journey. For example, the first step through the front doors is a “ta-dah” moment of excitement whereas, in contrast, the walk down the hallway should be calming. The moment of opening the guestroom door and seeing the welcoming detail and comforts will then ramp up guests’ excitement again.

Q: What has COVID shown us about the psychology of design? How might this experience impact projects going forward?

A: An intentional, feelings-first design approach is even more critical now, in light of the pandemic. In addition to creating the desired experience for a particular hotel or resort destination, several other considerations come into play.

Many people will be venturing out and traveling for the first time in a year or longer. Stakeholders must ask themselves how they can calm guests’ direct fears of getting sick, as well as respond to an increase in anxiety overall – while also serving a heightened desire to get back into socialization and feel ‘normal’ again.

In addition to implementing best practices for cleaning and hygiene, design and its influence on psychology will naturally play a key role in this.

While the exact solution will vary by destination, it will still be important for the psyche to feel engaged and explorative. Socialization is not going away and, when facilitated strategically, can both be safe and mitigate adverse effects of anxiety.
For example, prior to the pandemic, many hospitality stakeholders wanted large, grand spaces to mingle at hotels. That said, this type of space may not be the best for the psyche, especially in a post-COVID world.

Some owners and developers might consider a move back towards the trend of compartmentalization. Common areas of varying sizes and styles allow guests to socialize per individual comfort levels and also keep the senses more engaged with varying visuals and acoustics that a single open space does not allow.

Pictured: The Hyatt Place in Pasadena, CA illustrates a lobby compartmentalized without obstructing views/the experience. Photo credit: Peter Malinowski.

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Inside The Story

Connect With Cuningham’s Espeland

About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

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