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Our Insights

Future Proofing Hotel Design

Professional Consulting Series

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted virtually every aspect of life. In the Hotel and Lodging industry, owners, operators and guests are pondering what a re-envisioned hotel space may look like in a post-COVID-19 world. Unlike other sectors, the Hotel industry is unique in that it serves the accommodation needs of a constant transient population for very short periods of time. As the industry shoulders a high operational burden, many successful hotel brands have spent years developing and perfecting their operational strategies and protocols, which will need to be adapted for the current scenario, with a longer-term view of resiliency.

Previous means of catering to guest needs through quality amenities will now shift to how hotels can best manage guests’ expectations for health and safety. Working closely with our Hospitality clients of all types and brands, for some of whom we have completed prototype designs, we are helping them recover as efficiently as possible when restrictions on travel are lifted. The first step is to analyze their revised operational model, followed by the design of new features, elements and programs that will continue to embody their brand and maintain a positive guest experience.

People Change Management

Hotels cater to a diverse clientele of business clients and vacationers. The current usage pattern for most guests is as follows: upon entry, check in at the host station, take the elevator to their rooms, settle down for the duration of their stay, use the hotel amenities, socialize in the lobby, gather with other guests for breakfast, and depart. All these actions and locations require either direct contact, or close interaction, with other guests and hotel employees.

A combination of operational modifications and clear messaging will be the foundation of educating employees and guests on best practices in the post COVID-19 environment. Well-designed signage and graphics will be key to informing people on new protocols. While messaging will be required online and at the time of booking, on-site signage should be a seamless extension of the brand and overall interior design.

The education and adoption of touchless technologies will benefit guest health and safety. Apps can provide digital control of various room elements such as voice-activated window treatment controls, guest phone-based app controls for the TV remote, and sensor controls for bathroom plumbing fixtures. These can all be retrofitted into existing guest rooms.

Both public area and back-of-house design and programming, in tandem with best practices in engineering, will need to integrate with evolving operating models and design standards of hotels across all categories. A training and communication framework for employees and guests must be embedded in the model to ensure compliance.

Space Type Protocols

This pandemic, and all the uncertainty around the virus, has caught the world largely off-guard. There are no formal design standards or criteria in place for what will, or will not, work in a post-COVID-19 world until a vaccine is developed and administered. However, guidance on best practices can support hotels in defining an interim plan. NORR has identified a variety of potential design approaches to consider for different space types in preparation for the re-opening of hotels. These ideas, in conjunction with input from appropriate professionals in health and safety, and improved cleanliness protocols, can form the basis of a reopening plan.

Space TypeProgram ElementBest Practices
ArrivalsVestibuleMake available masks, disposable gloves and hand sanitizer. Messaging directing guests to wear masks in common spaces.
Security CameraNon-invasive thermal imaging security camera to screen employees and guests, customized to alert security when anyone enters with a temperature above the threshold set.
Host StationsHost stations with glass screens that protect guest and host while still maintaining interpersonal contact.
LobbiesLobby seating modifications to create smaller and more personal zones to help maintain social distancing.
Circulation SpaceElevatorsReduce the number of people permitted in an elevator by upgrading elevator software with occupancy sensors and installing floor markings that will guide elevator occupants where to stand to maintain social distancing. Upgrade to touchless technology over time.
Common SpacesSocial AreasUpgrade to touchless technology and transition surfaces to anti-microbial finishes. Transition to cozy, personalized, seating.
Guest RoomsAccommodations Open room doors by using phone-activated RFID door locks that interconnect with an automatic door opener. Introduce enhanced standards of cleaning, and transition to antimicrobial surfaces over time. Seal and certify rooms after cleaning. Offer guests the option of less housekeeping if preferred.
AmenitiesFitness Center / PoolUse an app-based reservation system to maintain social distancing, giving priority to preferred guests and enhance in-room entertainment to provide workout videos. Similar occupancy load control features can be added to the pool area.
Food & BeverageRestaurant / Room Service Room service provisions need to be enhanced as an alternate to restaurant/ breakfast seating. Lobby bars and guest kitchen/ buffet areas could be modified to serve as “grab & go” areas.

Future Proofing

While we are still amid the pandemic and no clear path to recovery is yet in sight, as designers, we will need to constantly adapt to the shifting landscape. We will need to implement new solutions and technologies that will ensure the guest experience is a healthy and safe one while still maintaining high standards of design and aesthetics to make a hotel stay a memorable experience, today and in the future.

Longer term, designing for resiliency goes far beyond the current or next virus.There will continue to be a need to make hotels more sustainable by reducing their environmental impact using innovative design that incorporates low impact materials, new construction technologies and building automation while still maintaining high standards of design and safety.


Mohan Srinivasan, AIA, LEED®AP
Principal, Hospitality
T 312 873 1016