Hospitality Report 2019: Flooring is a key element of the hospitality experience – Nov 2019

By Jessica Chevalier

In an era when the collection of experiences is desired over the collection of things-doing over having-the hospitality sector is uniquely poised to both play into and capitalize upon this preference. Rather than serving simply as a “place to crash for a night,” today’s hotels are themselves becoming a textural element of a traveler’s experience by considering how their guests live, relax and work within their walls or, in fact, perform a hybrid of the three activities. This is changing both how hotels look and how they function.

The hospitality industry has been posting strong activity since the Great Recession. In 2018, total revenues for the hospitality industry-which includes room, food and beverage, and other revenue sources-reached an all-time high of $218 billion. Profits hit a record high as well.

And as of August 2019, room supply, room demand, average daily rate (ADR), revenue per available room (RevPAR) and room revenue all hit highest-ever rates.

But a record-setting market can only maintain its pace for so long; a slowdown is inevitable. At present, occupancy growth is slowing because supply and demand growth are now running at about the same pace. In addition, according to Jan Freitag, senior vice president of STR, which specializes in data and analytics for global hospitality sectors, current ADR growth is anemic, and the global economic slowdown will most likely lead to lower hotel industry growth rates.

In June, STR adjusted its 2019 hospitality industry anticipated growth rate from 2.3% to 2.0%. For 2020, the analyst projects 1.9% growth.

The U.S. hotel construction pipeline chalked up growth of 7% in 2018 with a total of 669,456 new rooms, according to Lodging Magazine. As for 2019, the publication reports, “The total U.S. hotel construction pipeline climbed to 5,653 projects totaling 693,207 rooms in the second quarter-up 6 percent by projects and 9 percent by rooms year-over-year, according to Lodging Econometrics (LE). Pipeline totals are just 230 projects shy of the all-time high of 5,883 projects/785,547 rooms reached in the second quarter of 2008.”

It continues, “LE’s trendline analysis suggests that the U.S. hotel construction pipeline is in a topping out formation as new project announcements in the second quarter are at 359 projects/44,895 rooms-their lowest count since the fourth quarter of 2014.”

Designers interviewed for this report note that activity has been steady in both new construction and renovation. Rick Marencic, design principal/studio leader with JCJ Architecture, reports that urban clients are often renovating, while exurban clients are more often building. He says, “Many of our rural-area clients are using their natural landscape as a resort-style amenity, while offering state-of-the-art rooms and amenity design. Our urban clients focus on renovation, looking for ways to upgrade older buildings and repurpose them.”

The designer adds, “Budgets remain steady and competitive. Every design must be able to withstand the test of value engineering. Budgets parallel the growth rate of the economy. And jobs are highly competitive. Tariffs play a role, but people have clever ways of working around them. You still have to be able to deliver high-quality design for a reasonable price. In this industry, people are looking for that: five-star quality for a three-star price.”

Meg Prendergast, principal at The Gettys Group, points out that there is a dual nature to hospitality design. “There is the business side of hospitality and the guest side, and there will always be a balance there,” she says. “As designers, we’re always playing that game, seeking that balance, trying to find the best bang for the guest’s buck-things that will help the guest feel good-while also seeking the best ROI (return on investment) for the client. For example, customers really like hard surface flooring in the guest room. There is the perception that it is cleaner. And for hotel teams, it is easier to clean. There’s no vacuuming, no deep cleaning.”

Winston Kong, a partner with Champalimaud Design, emphasizes that one of the most important things to remember with regard to the hospitality sector is that establishments that are not renovating on regular cycles are not so much standing still as they are falling behind. “Hotels need to renovate every seven to ten years, or at the most every ten to 14, if they are to remain competitive, so this forces a certain amount of business,” he reports.

The rising popularity of alternative lodging options, peddled through sites such as Airbnb and VRBO, has significant impact on the traditional hospitality market. These allow private individuals to list spaces-be they homes, rooms or even sheds and barns-for nightly rental. And there is a second alternative lodging trend similarly affecting the hospitality industry. JCJ Architecture’s Marencic, explains, “We are all familiar with Airbnb and VRBO, but one of the most significant trends in the hospitality sector is alternative lodging through companies such as Stay Open, Sonder, Bode, Why Hotel and T5. These brands create temporary ‘hotels’ within the context of recently finished, unsold luxury multifamily lodging. They utilize a space that is not yet sold for daily rental. This is an upgraded and less-expensive alternative to the standard extended-stay hotel. Sonder, for instance, leases spaces in urban area buildings that have been lying dormant. These are especially important tools in reinvigorating downtown communities and provide the sort of alternate-destination experience that is desirable to the digital nomad.” Of course, before the advent of these alternative options, the business of these sites, as well as that of VRBO and Airbnb, would have likely gone to traditional hotels. But today, travelers have options, and for travelers seeking an experience, these alternative options offer a particular appeal.

The labor shortage has impacted the flooring industry in direct and indirect ways. The industry is well acquainted with the challenges related to the dearth of installers and, specifically, next-generation installers. But Marencic reports that the hotel industry’s transition to hard surface flooring has, in fact, been driven not primarily by style preferences, as one might assume, but by a shortage of hands in housekeeping.

“Housekeepers are expected to clean each room in about 27 minutes, so any innovation that reduces that time is essential in managing labor costs,” the designer explains. “Hard surfaces are easier and less costly to clean, as well as easier to keep clean. So, while room carpet may be less expensive at the outset, across the lifecycle it is more expensive to maintain to a ‘clean’ level.”

This is a notable revelation, not only in terms of explaining the origins of a significant trend but also in its ability to shed light on what the flooring industry can do to serve the hospitality sector even more efficiently. Marencic reports that he has heard talk of technological solutions to the housekeeper shortage crisis, such as room-cleaning robots. While that may still be years off, the very existence of the talk sheds light on the immensity of the predicament.

The desire to create more residential-feeling interior environments was another factor in the soft-to-hard transition in guest rooms. Over the past decades, the residential market has increasingly shifted from broadloom in the living areas of the home to hard surface, and the hospitality market followed suit.

In an overview of material use in the current market, Rafael Berkowitz, associate design director with Wilson Associates, notes, “There are some properties and brands that are leaning towards hard surface for maintenance purposes, yet we are still using a softer surface on the floor-meaning area rugs-to soften the guest experience and create a more residential feel. For maintenance and durability purposes, you may not have to replace hard surfaces as often as you may have replaced broadloom. The portfolio of products that we utilize varies by brands and markets. The flooring industry provides plenty of options for hospitality design. We use some hardwoods and natural stone. But in other properties and areas, porcelain tile has gained popularity due to the technology and design possibility of that material, which has expanded greatly.”

Kelly Waters, senior designer with Gensler, is a fan of hard surface use in hospitality. “We prefer, if our clients allow, to have hard surface and then do either inset carpets or area rugs, leaning towards a residential feel,” she says. “Of course, hard surfaces create issues with acoustics, so we are looking at every which way to bring a bit of softness back in-more upholstered pieces, acoustic panels.”

While LVT’s use in these spaces has attracted a lot of attention, it isn’t by any means the only hard surface material making inroads in guest rooms. Regarding material specifications, the level of service that the hotel is offering matters a great deal. Kong, who works only in high-end properties, reports that he would never use LVT in a luxury property, adding, “On luxury projects, we do hardwood and stone. This won’t change. Properties aren’t looking for bamboo or LVT in a five-star.”

Marencic often chooses between hardwood and LVT based on the facility’s construction. “In new construction, where we can introduce an 8” concrete slab and underlayment to address acoustical issues, we go with hardwood,” he says. Often Marencic chooses an acrylic-impregnated engineered hardwood because these products last longer and are more resilient when it comes to denting or scratching. These installations typically feature a carpet inset at the bed.

For his mid-scale two- to three-story renovations in facilities with wood frame constructions, Marencic opts for LVT as a pet-friendly option on the first floor with carpet on the upper floors to manage the acoustic challenges. Marencic notes that he is very careful in his LVT selection, as some products on the market scratch quite easily. “For many guestrooms at the midscale level, we use a mixture of LVT at the room entry with carpet in the remainder,” the designer reports.

As for lifecycle advantages of LVT-type products, there is certainly an awareness that LVT may style-out before it actually reaches the end of its useful life and, as staying fresh is key to staying ahead in hospitality, that may mean that LVTs don’t stay on the floor as long as expected initially. With that awareness, many designers seek to specify a floor as classic in look as possible, so that facilities can update accessories and accents, including area rugs, while keeping the flooring intact. “Everything eventually uglies out,” says Prendergast. “Tastes change. But good LVTs will probably last longer than average carpet.”

Marencic notes that in addition to hardwood and LVT, he also uses a lot of porcelain tile in his hospitality work. “The look and feel of porcelain has exponentially improved over the last ten years, so it’s become a go-to material,” he reports. “Many porcelain manufacturers offer base and corner moldings, and this fits well with hospitality maintenance and durability needs, while providing a clean, upgraded look. We use gauged panels on walls in the showers but not so much on floors because they’re tricky to install. There is no such thing as perfectly level slab in new construction. If the panels get too big, it takes two people to put one up, which is problematic cost-wise. Porcelain panel manufacturers often market their products on fashion, but they need to work on the installation aspects more.”

Prendergast notes that the hard-to-soft transition in hospitality has taken some getting used to. “Over the past five years, the design community has been getting more savvy about what performs well where-as have manufacturers,” she says. “Design is getting better about asking the right questions. With new products, there are always bumps. It behooves designers and owners to really understand the products-just because it’s LVT doesn’t mean it’s suited for every installation.”

Waters-I am not a fan of faux materials, whether that is wood-look porcelain or LVT. I prefer real wood or terrazzo or even rubber and cork materials that can be designed in fun way-materials that are not faking. On one recent project, a speakeasy space, I used a beautiful terra cotta clay tile. It’s a more delicate tile. It will patina and wear and chip. It glitters a little. Anything with real true-ness and quality-that’s what I’m looking for.

Berkowitz-I have to say, though this might be more personal, that, as a design preference, I’d like to have more integrity and honesty. The flooring industry tries to imitate natural materials such as wood and stone. If the flooring is manmade, I would prefer for it to read as such. Let it be what it is. We need design honesty.

I need to create a timeless design. A hard floor, like stone, is timeless and will be there forever, so how do we add flavor to that? A carpeted area is that opportunity. For these spaces, I do custom design frequently, so the flexibility of modifying a design is critical. We don’t want to use the same thing that others are using. We need easy modification. Often, we want a really good base carpet, a timeless neutral, then if we have feature carpet, perhaps something custom, we want to use the same manufacturer so that the colors blend perfectly. We may use that accent on every tenth tile, which creates a different rhythm in the space.

The shortage of skilled labor can be an issue with design process. I recently had to reselect tile for a project four times to find something the installer would feel comfortable working with. And we recently used a larger format tile coming out of Spain that had grout lines embedded in tile, so it was easier for the installer.

People are very interested in outdoor-in and indoor-out. This affects flooring choices, as designers are always looking for ways to extend soft surface out or find companion products to make one space the extension of another.

We need more stylish flooring options for fitness rooms. We will use wood in the most luxurious properties, but the material isn’t necessarily conducive to free- and dead-weight areas, so we have to add mats there. The other option is wood-look vinyl, but I’m not a fan of those products. Just yesterday, however, Chilewich presented to us, so I’m thinking their woven vinyl might be a good option.

While the flooring industry does a good job with product innovation, it’s important for it to educate its sales force to focus on durability and cleanability as well as design. It’s important that the flooring industry not only sell from a fashion point of view.

In the early days of hard surfaces’ foray into hospitality, the sector faced a great many acoustic-related challenges, but with years of specification now under their belts, both designers and manufacturers have established systems and innovations that largely manage the issues.

To be clear, there are two distinct acoustic challenges that must be addressed: within room, “echo chamber” dynamics, wherein the guest experiences unpleasant reverberations from the noise they are making within their own space; and through floor, wall or ceiling noise, wherein the guest is disturbed by noise made in outside their room, often within the hallway or rooms above.

The former problem is largely addressed through the use of soft surface and acoustic absorptive materials within the space. And the latter can be addressed in a number of ways, through flooring and ceiling systems between the room levels, through the use of doors that minimize sound transference, and through the use of soft surface flooring in the hallways, to name a few.

“New construction is seeing a ton of hard surface flooring,” says Prendergast, “with combinations of appropriately positioned soft surface flooring, anything from overlay area rugs to inset or wall-to-wall installations. But, of course, there is room for both hard and soft flooring in new construction. Carpet does help with sound attenuation, so we are always looking for balance with hard surface. One thing we have learned about hard surface is that, if a renovation client is moving from carpet to LVT, it behooves them to do acoustic tests before they go all in. The floor substrate might not have the structure to provide the same sound attenuation. They either need to include an underlayment or prepare to deal with complaints.”

Prendergast notes that she is always looking for ways to mitigate sound through the flooring system, rather than just relying on the ceiling and vertical surfaces.

Berkowitz notes that with regard to guest rooms, sound rating is an important consideration. “Should you have a hard surface in the room, you must make sure that the sound is addressed on the ceiling of the floor below,” he says. “As a matter of practice, I first address the design issue, then adjust the design to accommodate sound rating. Underlayment improvements have helped to facilitate sound control, but, ultimately, it’s the entire assembly-including the slab, insulation, underlayment and flooring-that is considered holistically.”

Large spaces, such as grand lobbies, can provide challenges as well. For the Hyatt Regency Seattle lobby, Masako Wada, principal of LMN Architects, specified custom-designed lobby seating that is acoustical. In addition, 80% or more of the ceiling is absorbent, and she utilized area rugs around the seating area.

Wilson Associates’ Berkowitz says, “In hospitality, I always design with the life of the project in mind. Designing a timeless room is my goal. I don’t want the room to feel tired in a short span, so I am seeking non-trendiness. Making something trendy is what shortens its lifespan.”

This approach, shared by other interviewees, has a direct impact on flooring specification, as many designers prefer to specify a classic-look floor and add trendiness in accessories, such as pillows, rugs and bedcoverings, that can be updated at less cost and with less disruption.

Of course, designers still want choices, and Kong laments that the interiors industry, flooring included, has become a market of me-toos rather than trendsetters. “Everything is starting to look the same,” he says. “There is too much trending and following. Design is starting to look homogenous. The minute anyone gets a great idea, it’s knocked off. There’s a loss of individuality.”

While hard surface has certainly taken a bite, soft surface is still a go-to solution for many hospitality spaces, and several of the designers with whom we spoke pointed out that the soft surface industry is responsive and relevant.

“There is an abundance of finely-designed in-room carpet available in the current marketplace,” notes Marencic. “Guest room carpet is a highly evolved, mature industry with the right price points. Manufacturers do a great job with the products and make specification easy.”

Prendergast adds, “Can all projects afford to do hard surface? Maybe not, because they may not be able to foot the initial cost, and so other solutions, like carpet, are good. Of course, there’s lots of great stuff about carpet: the feel underfoot, the luxury. Ultimately, we want to make guests feel like they are getting value for their dollar.”

Wada, who typically works in the public space areas of hospitality, such as hotel convention centers, reports that the vast majority of these spaces utilize carpet tile due to ease of maintenance. On a recent project in Seattle, however, she opted for a stone floor for the lobby due to the fact that Seattle is a wet climate and high numbers of people tracking into the building in wet shoes may, ultimately, grey the carpet. However, Wada accented the stone with a broadloom inset in a custom design. “We see these areas as almost like accessories in the space,” she notes. “When you have a really simple, large space, area rugs, art and furniture add personality.” The Hyatt standard for carpet is Axminster for public areas, and Wada adds that the high-end carpet “made the facility feel much richer.”

Marencic reports that he is currently seeing a trend toward the use of flocked flooring, such as Forbo’s Flotex, in commercial design and is considering how the materials may serve as good solutions in the hospitality market. “These products hold up well and clean easily,” says Marencic. “Forbo is importing its European Flotex, which is a washable, thin-napped, low-density nylon carpet. It has been used in Europe for decades. It comes in tile formats, goes down easily, wipes up, and you don’t need extraction machine to clean it. It also gives the specifier more design flexibility.” The designer cautions, however, that “we must overcome the generational idea that thin carpet is cheap.”

Indeed, there may be no better time to do that than now. With the widespread trend toward hard surface flooring use in guest rooms, customers have, to some extent, let go of their conception that luxury must equate to soft.

For the designer and hotel, flocked flooring could be a big win, as it pairs the cleanability of hard surface with the acoustic benefits of textile floorcovering. In addition, the products are durable, slip-resistant and warm underfoot. And for spaces that are pet-friendly, they offer a softer yet cleanable alternative to LVT.

Following, each designer shares their thoughts on over-arching trends shaping the hospitality industry at present.

Digital nomads, which I characterize generally as those in the 20 to 40 age group, are focused on the use of their phones, mobile apps and instant messaging. These experience-seekers drive the digital platform that properties use.

One of the strongest influencers in the industry is the desire for brands and independents to create a personal experience. This is realized in the introduction of high-tech/smart rooms or personalization through a digital platform. Hilton, for instance, is introducing a one-stop-shop app called Hilton Honors, which the guest can use to book stays and choose rooms, digitally check in and out, unlock the door and order favorite items, like extra pillows and snacks, ahead of time. These apps may also allow the user to control the TV, order room service, adjust the lighting, and control the shades and temperature. For hospitality venues with gaming, these apps are a real win, as personalized messages can be delivered to gaming customers concerning slot tournaments, dining preferences or entertainment preferences.

On the design side, an important realization is that the turnaround for fashion styles is collapsing. We used to see style evolution in terms of decades; now we see it in terms of minutes. In the ’80s, trends migrated out of Italy, London, Paris or Tokyo. One learned about trends by going to the local magazine store and picking up copies of Domus, Interni and Blueprint. A zeitgeist would be discovered in two years as opposed to two minutes, as it is in today’s Internet- and social media-driven world. The replacement cycle for finishes such as flooring, however, isn’t necessarily shortening, as it remains dictated by the availability of time and funding. As such, designers must be very careful to use their editing skills to distill the best possible ideas from the many choices available.

In some locations, in some markets, rooms have shrunk, and designers have had to provide all the amenities in a smaller footprint-sometimes more amenities in a more compact footprint. In these cases, the designer certainly still wants to create the perception of grand space, even though square footage has been reduced. This relates to guest rooms as well as public areas. Designers must provide good design, so that the guest experience is comfortable and enjoyable. Along with that, the notion of openness has been clear across the board.

Flooring plays a role in this effort as designers try to minimize the number of transitions and, therefore, the number of flooring types. A reduced number of flooring types gives the impression of a larger space. Of course, the trick is always how you transition from wet areas to non-wet. In this effort, technological advances in the flooring market have helped.

When we work on event and public space, we always focus on the facility location, who the client is and who its guests are. For the Hyatt Regency Seattle, we asked ourselves, ‘How do we want to showcase the local flavor?’ The Hyatt has its own standards and design team to capture its [corporate] perspective. But if you build a Hyatt in Florida and another in Seattle, Washington, they can’t be the same. Some visitors staying at a hotel don’t have the time to go out and experience the local area, so we have to provide local flavor. Seattle is known for lumber and Microsoft, as well as totem poles, wood crafts; there is a strong influence of Asian culture. Due to the size of the project, we decided that we were going to feature certain moments for discovery in the space. We used wood material features in those spaces. We custom designed all the public space carpet with inspiration from Asian art. The owner of the building is one of the top art collectors in the nation, so we also wanted the lobby to feature art. We created layers of art, local craft and industry.

In hospitality, staying current is huge, especially in a city like San Francisco, which has lots of choice, lots of talent, but can be fickle. The cost of living is massive, as is the cost of opening a business, so we sometimes see restaurants not putting in that extra bit of design, thinking that the food will sing on its own. With so much competition, this is a mistake. It is proven that a space really impacts how you feel about the experience. Today, more people are looking for an experience when they are going out.

We have seen workplace design cross over into hotel rooms. We’ve found that we don’t need all of the case work today. The closets have gotten smaller. We don’t need drawers, just a place for a suitcase and hanging. What we do need is a comfortable place to sit and work. Room sizes are going to stay fairly the same, so customers are gaining more luxury of space in a hotel room. People don’t think enough about having openness in a room for the eyes to move and travel, breathing room to appreciate quality pieces. We are also seeing workplace crossover in lobbies. We are more casual about work today. Visitors need to be able to plug in and work anywhere.

All travelers are looking for experience. Experience-driven programming is key. Not just a place to sit down in public areas, but the environment of that space. We are trying to make space feel as multifunctional as possible and as flexible as possible. The notion of being able to transform a space through lighting or slight partitioning changes really helps the operations team divide up the space to make it feel different throughout the day.

The way that people travel today is affecting what we are doing, the concept of bleisure [business-leisure], extending a business trip into a leisure experience. Staying longer. This means that even though we are designing a property catering to conferences or transient stays, we have to build in experiential factors that allow it to blend. Hotel restaurants are transitioning from cafeteria-esque to more compelling and destination-oriented experiences.

A space should help people feel that they have something to call their own, so it’s important to consider how to incorporate connectivity into all these spaces, responding to transparency of life relative to social media, and also to consider the negative side of that too-every spot need not be Instagramable.

In addition-I don’t know how this is going to play out yet-but hotels continue to put large-screen TVs in guest rooms, but today many people are quite happy watching their entertainment media on smaller screens. We always factor in the bed as a seating unit in a guest room, but public area furniture also needs space for guests to stretch out and lounge. Today, people feel comfortable doing exactly what they want to do in both private and public spaces. They make spaces their own.

Hotels are lifestyle driven today, and how that manifests is really based on the audience. Some are offering the types of food that younger generations prefer today-more health conscious, organic. And they are catering to those who exercise by, for instance, putting Peloton bikes in rooms.

From the moment you check in, they track you. They know if you are a repeat guest and what your preferences are. Based on that, they may provide extra pillows or an extra bottle of water or know whether you like down [blankets and pillows] or not.

Technology is a big part of it. Some Asian hotels loan out iPads or iPhones to international travelers, so you don’t have to use your own minutes. Hilton is coming out with a robot concierge that can answer questions about where to visit. Technology will continue to play a bigger role.

Currently, there are some fabulous new airport hotels-at San Francisco International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport-that are part of the massive airport renovation trend that has grown over the last 20 years. These new hotels are incorporating trends from Asia, one of those related to bathroom design.

The trend towards a more open and finely detailed bathroom with alternate light scenarios, a private water closet, mirror TVs and an almost residential feel is one that we are applying to our most recent projects. The overall design concept is openness and light. There is one North American project, Four Seasons Toronto, which directly picks up the Asian trends I am referring to, where the bathroom opens to the guestroom via sliding panels, allowing light to penetrate deeply into the guestroom experience, providing a liberating and uplifting feel.

Lighting matters, and though hotel gathering spaces were once less committed to bringing natural light in, today it’s an important tool for new facilities hoping to get their foot in the door and set their interiors apart from the pack. Besides the trend toward increasing the accessibility to daylight across hospitality, there is also a trend toward utilizing lighting technology to achieve variation in a space, both from day to night and as desired for setting a particular mood.

Says Wada of her Hyatt project, “We used temperature-changing white light in many spaces. In daytime, during a workshop event for instance, we use a cooler light. At night, we can dial the temperature up. People may not notice the change outright, but they can feel it.”

Prendergast adds, “Lighting technology has come a long way and gives designers more pages in their playbook as to how to turn the volume up or down in a space. This is useful today because our lives are so theatrical.”

Copyright 2019 Floor Focus 

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