Hospitality Design Expo 2020

May 26, 2020

For nearly 40 years, Hospitality Design Magazine, one of the leading and most trusted design publications in the hospitality industry, has reported on the latest projects and trends, while celebrating the process and people behind them.

Just as much as it’s known for its editorial coverage, Hospitality Design is equally known for its annual HD Expo – one of the largest and preeminent trade shows in the industry – that brings in roughly 10K attendees for exploration and education for its audience of owners, developers, brand executives, and designers.

While the show normally takes place in Las Vegas, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HD Expo was offered virtually this year, granting access to anyone interested in listening to their comprehensive panel discussions.

MMGY NJF team members took full advantage of this opportunity, listening in on multiple discussions surrounding  the state of the industry now with an eye on the future. Contributors included founders and executives from Standard International, Sydell Group, ACE Hotel Group, Virgin Hotels, and Neuehouse, with a keynote address from boutique hotel visionary Ian Schrager.

Following are our key takeaways from these high level conversations which are helpful to keep in mind when thinking about your own project pipelines and new business practices, as well as reopening (and rebuilding) the industry in today’s new landscape.

Consumer safety is of the utmost importance in the post-COVID-19 era, with social distancing protocols remaining a priority, but sanitation will not sacrifice guest experience. Experts estimate drive-through resorts will be the fastest to recover, followed by lifestyle and urban hotels. Time will be spent on opening large venue spaces first, and experts predict an uptick in technology to offer a low touch experience. Room-service will make a strong comeback, as restaurants take longer to come back online, and there will be an active effort for wellness to be incorporated into numerous touch points of the guest experience, as gyms and fitness facilities are estimated to remain closed for the immediate future.

The good news: the overall consensus among expo panelists was that there will not be a paradigm shift in the hospitality industry and that we will return to our feet before we know it. We need to take this time as an opportunity to rethink every aspect of our business and adapt to the times, so we are ready for visitors when they return back to us with great vigor. And remember, we are all in this together.

Below please find MMGY NJF spark notes. If you are interested in viewing full sessions, please find the video line up here.

Emerging Trends: F+B 2020 and Beyond 

Across design, branding, and ownership, HD gathered rockstars in the restaurant world to share the stories behind their work, as well as insight about rebuilding and strategizing in a post-pandemic world. Besides crystal-ball projections, we got a sneak peek of exciting new projects and ideas.

  • Marion Emmanuelle, Partner, AvroKO Hospitality Group and
 Co-Managing Director, Brand Bureau
  • Donnie Madia, Partner, One Off Hospitality
  • Jason Maringola, Design Director – Interior Architecture, Streetsense
  • Jeremy Levitt, Founder + Partner, Parts and Labor Design

Implications: The restaurant industry needs to find ways to merge tasteful design with functionality and safety, as this will be consumers’ top priority in the post- COVID-19 era. Open spaces and low-touch surfaces will be some of the biggest trends, as social distancing continues to be a priority. The following are key design trends identified by the panel:

  • While dine-in is closed, focus on graphic design and the digital narrative to keep customers engaged and share your brand’s story.
  • Design needs to be functional with new COVID-19 regulations (i.e., socially distanced tables, easily wipeable surfaces, low-touch surfaces, etc.), but also keeping in mind sustainability.
  • Pivot your restaurant/bar concept to the current climate. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it.
  • Integrate technology into spaces to limit person to person contact (incorporate app for laundry, check in, keycard, etc.), but keep in mind that some guests want the traditional hospitality experience.
  • People want to feel safe when dining. This can be achieved through more personal experiences like private dining, chef’s table offerings, etc.


Hospitality’s Future—The Hybrid 

In hospitality and beyond, the hybrid and mixed-use models continue their role as powerhouse shapeshifters. A handful of experts shared their innovative concepts, what works and what doesn’t, and what’s next.

  • Josh Wyatt, CEO, NeueHouse
  • Nina Etnier, Partner, Float Studio
  • Clay Markham, Senior Vice President + Practice Leader Hospitality, CallisonRTKL
  • Dwayne MacEwen, Founder + Creative Director,
 DMAC Architecture

Implications: Flexibility is key when it comes to hybrid space design.

  • The ability to plug in and plug out at any time without moving is crucial. People should be able to plug in, literally, to an outlet at the same standing desk they can “plug out” to socialize with someone face-to-face.
  • “Psychological Safety”: “People don’t think about happiness enough.” Utilize space and light to create an environment that people feel good in.
  • The ability to engage a wide and broad range of demographics: It’s important, especially for public mixed-use spaces, to offer things that appeal to different price points, interests, etc. Example: The CallisonRTKL mixed-use project in Calgary has different hotel brands, JW Marriot and AC Hotels at Eau Claire, to appeal to different demographics.
  • Think about all aspects of the hotel experience and understand how flexible design can elevate it – Example: At Grand Hyatt Xi’An, guests can both check-in and eat/drink virtually anywhere on property. Nobody wants to be told they can’t check-in or eat at one end of the property vs. another.
  • Workspace design: Flexible space is key. Many corporate offices don’t want one room completely dedicated to fitness anymore as it ends up becoming a storage closet. However, companies do find that rooms with desks that can easily be moved to the sides to allow for space for a yoga or wellness class are  much more useful and practical.
  • Flexibility is also important in experiential retail spaces to ensure a constantly evolving experience.
  • Co-working spaces will likely see a spike in members post-pandemic. Offices may not mandate that people come back to the office so fast, and with a membership like Neuehouse’s “Salon membership,” people can use the workspaces one day a week and have access to all social programming as well. It’s appealing for people who may have kids at home or live in a smaller space, but still want more of an office feel.


Owners’ POV—Insight, Investment, and Resiliency 

A who’s who of hospitality ownership companies looked at the state of the industry—offering advice for the entire project team. We learned how they are dealing with the pandemic now, with an eye on the future, as they discussed top-of-mind issues including project pipelines and new business practices in today’s new landscape, as well as reopening (and rebuilding) the industry.

  • Stacey Greene, Vice President Project Management,
 Pyramid Hotel Group
  • Brad Nichols, Principal, Geolo Capital
  • Jim Merkel, CEO, Rockbridge
  • David McCaslin, Chief Development Officer, HHM
  • Allison Reid, Chief Development Officer, Kimpton Hotels
 & Restaurants

Implications: The timeline of reopening depends on the market, with some recoveries in urban markets being slower and more volatile. The hotels are having discussions with shareholders, landers, and owners on how to adapt safety strategies. The new normal emphasizes personal space over the communal space, adapting new sanitation protocols and aggressively marketing them to make guests feel more comfortable.

  • Drive-through resorts will be the fastest to recover, followed by lifestyle and urban hotels. Convention and meeting hotels will be the last to recover.
  • Marriott is working on a safe sanitizer that won’t ruin materials, and we may issue people face masks to wear as we see in the aviation industry.
  • Food & Beverage Hotel venues – There will be a revamp of the room service dining experience, in addition to embracing the delivery and take-outs. Hotels will be spacing out dining rooms to ensure 6 feet social distancing.
  • Design Strategies – Hotels are using vendors to determine how long COVID stays on various surfaces and fabrics so they can choose new materials accordingly. Wooden floors are perceived as cleaner than carpets. Any design changes will take place during renovations, reopenings, and summer work.
  • Perception is  key – Venues with outdoor space and rooftops will open first under social distancing protocols, and the industry will learn more from consumers about what makes them feel safe and adapt operational strategies accordingly.
  • Limit exposure to other people going into guest rooms as visitors will not want others to touch the surfaces in their room. Sanitizing the rooms is essential, but refilling minibars can be eliminated.
  • In the next 24 months, the pandemic will impact the market on the credit side. Credit departments will be controlling the decisions trying to determine the value and will be more conservative than they have been in the last five years.


Design Trends Update—The New Normal 

So much has been said of the new normal, the new abnormal, the new now, that this panel turned a fresh eye toward innovation and problem-solving. The panel of big thinkers predicted what the future of design looks like, offering a welcome dose of inspiration!

  • Matt Berman, Principal, Workshop/APD
 Siobhan Barry, Design Director, Gensler
  • Adam Farmerie, Founding Partner, AvroKO
  • Linda Laucirica, Senior Director, Design + Project Management, Lifestyle Full Service Brands, Marriott International
  • Adam Rolston, Partner, Managing + Creative Director, INC Architecture & Design

Implications: Guests will be looking for safety and mental wellness first and foremost, so design will need to match these needs. Designers will now create spaces that are operational under new norms and regulations, while maintaining an aesthetic atmosphere. Technology and sustainability will be driving factors in upcoming design. The following are key design trends identified by the panel:

  • Design will embrace ritual, where safety measures will become luxury, no longer mundane tasks (i.e., hand-washing upon arrival)
  • Moments of transition will be found between spaces to help create an oasis and ensure hygiene (i.e., removing shoes/outerwear; handing off luggage)
  • Post-pandemic will mark “the age of the amateur;” people aren’t looking for perfection and homemade design will thrive
  • Spaces will bring the outside in and inside out, blurring the lines with design concepts like biophilia
  • Design will be exploring a more minimalistic and simple approach; we are exiting the era of excess
  • We are moving toward a human-first approach, incorporating “Security” (to ease anxiety), “Significance” (to make it meaningful) and “Surprise” (to delight)


CEO Lifestyle Brands Talk—Rethinking What’s Next 

It’s no secret that lifestyle brands lead the way in extraordinary experiences and identity. In a candid conversation, we heard from a few of the top brands CEOs about what’s new, what’s now, and what’s to come.

  • Raul Leal, CEO, Virgin Hotels
  • Amar Lalvani, CEO, Standard International
  • Brad Wilson, President, ACE Hotel Group
  • Andrew Zobler, Founder + CEO, Sydell Group

Implications: Lifestyle leads the way in what consumers want to craft experiences; Lifestyle brands/smaller brands will have the luxury of being able to switch directions much more easily than bigger brands.  Cleanliness is the answer to reopening, but safety does not mean sacrifice.

  • Sanitation is where it starts. Operational sanitation first, then design sanitation
  • Hotels will open in phases: hotel first, restaurant, nightlife, etc.
  • Back to basics. No frills, people just want to get back to socializing with others in its simplest form.
  • Venues with a lot of space will open first under social distancing protocols
  • This might be an opportunity for the industry to adopt more tech, a space where hospitality has historically lagged behind
  • Room service will be revamped and more prominent – to avoid no touch service options – more nutritional menus; also more grab n’ go options
  • Wellness will be brought more to the in-room experience


Keynote Conversation: Chip Conley 

Chip Conley is one of a kind, a hospitality entrepreneur and visionary in every sense of the word. He founded Joie de Vivre hotels at the young age of 26 which he ran for 24 years, helped Airbnb evolve to be a more hospitable company, and most recently, invented Modern Elder Academy, the world’s first midlife wisdom school. We heard his incredible story as he shared five lessons learned during downturns, and how to create a growth mindset to deal with chaos.

Key Takeaways: Channeling the right mindset is essential to dealing with chaos and key for leaders to exude as they embark on helping the industry recover.

Lesson #1 – Leaders are the emotional thermostat of those they lead

A thermostat is different from a thermometer. A thermometer just takes the temperature, but a thermostat changes the temperature of the team and controls the climate. People seek authenticity, vulnerability and confidence. Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness

Lesson #2 – Know what business you are in

It’s important to ask senior leadership numerous times. This will help get you to your business differentiator. Once you know this, amplify it.

Lesson #3 – Focus on solving your customer’s problems, not your own

It’s hard to see beyond your own problems now, but consider how to solve your customer’s needs. Focus on top 3-5 and make sure it is not a commodity that a competitor can do just as easily (ie. being the cheapest hotel provider), think back again to your differentiator.

Lesson #4 – Double down on your evangelists

Focus on your brand evangelists. They will stick by you during a crisis. However, you have to nurture that relationship before the chaos.

Lesson #5 – Adopt a growth mindset

Success does not equal winning, success equals learning. According to Carol Dweck, Stanford professor of psychology, you may feel like you have a certain amount of skill and talent and you set out to prove to yourself. That is a fixed mindset. Over time, that may be limiting. Even if you are currently winning because you may not try something new. With a growth mindset, you don’t focus on proving yourself, you instead focus on improving yourself. This is especially important during chaos when you may need to try something new to survive.


How to Be in Business in the Hospitality Business: A Paradigm of Thought for the Future in a Post-Coronavirus Environment – 

Given the COVID-19 climate, this session focused on understanding the industry’s “new now” in terms of economics, sentiments of owners and franchise companies by type, and market conditions and expectations.

  • Bruce Ford, Senior Vice President, Director, Global Business Development, Lodging Econometrics

Implications: Only a couple months into the pandemic in the U.S., owners and franchise companies must consistently monitor market conditions, as some cities will have a slower recovery time than others. Projects in construction or under renovation are still moving forward. While there will be consolidation of projects now through the remainder of the year, rapid acceleration is estimated for 2021.

  • Travel in general had reached a fever pitch in all mediums prior to the pandemic (unprecedented launch of new construction and conversion brands, room night demand experienced an 8-10 year growth trend)
  • International travel is severely limited, but not impossible. Hard-hit cities (NYC, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco) will have longer recovery times.
  • Return to public transport travel to likely take place in Q3, with new levels of clearance for planes and trains. Group travel will likely not occur before Q4.
  • Government stimulus packages help properties, owners and management companies assess what future operations will look like. Consolidation, third party management agreements and brand conversions will accelerate throughout 2021.
  • In the interim, it is paramount for capitalized owners to plan and execute renovations and other projects, if it is financially feasible. Every downturn creates an opportunity to come out stronger on the other side.


Emerging Trends: Leading-Edge Concepts in Wellbeing 

The $4.3 trillion wellness industry will be more important than ever when we come back online. From clubs to hotels focusing on wellbeing, the early adopters and change-makers weighed in as wellness continues to take center stage in design.

  • Kevin Boehm, Co-CEO + Cofounder, Boka Restaurant Group
  • Shelly Lynch-Sparks, Founder + Principal, HYPHEN
  • Kane Sarhan, Cofounder + CCO, The WELL
  • Ashley Wilkins, Founder, Islyn Studio

Implications: Wellness is expanding beyond just exercise and a healthy diet. Organizations are now creating multifunctional wellness spaces that incorporate elements of fitness, restaurants, work spaces, social communities, opportunities to interact with healthcare officials, and even nap pods in some cases all under one roof.

  • Wellness classes – People will not only want to pre-reserve a place class, but will want a specific predetermined physical space in the class. The expectation will be to have  a mat, water bottle, towel, etc. already ready and properly spaced out upon arrival.
  • Digital subscriptions are being enhanced to adapt to COVID-19 and are continuing to build upon the sense of community the wellness industry strives to create.
  • Creating physical spaces that contain flexible, easy to move furniture can adapt to both virtual and in-person initiatives moving forward. 
  • When designing a wellness space, it will be helpful to have an area that serves as a pause point before entering an experience, so guests can shed a layer of outside influence before entering.


Ian Schrager Keynote 

Part visionary, part social scientist, part businessman-with a gift for integrating art and commentary,Ian Schrager has chronicled an unequivocally successful cultural narrative, from Studio 54 to the advent of the boutique hotel. And now with his latest reimagination, the PUBLIC and EDITION brands, he may be saving the best for last. In a rare appearance, Ian discussed his venerable career, the making of the Studio 54 documentary, and the importance of perseverance and taking chances.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ian doesn’t think there will be a paradigm shift in the hotel space, however this time is really an opportunity to rethink every aspect of everything in the industry.
  • Regarding reopening hotels – “If you can’t deliver on the brand experience and can’t make any money or make additional money because of occupancy costs, then there is no reason to open. I wouldn’t want people to come in and not feel the energy and excitement they expect.”
  • When designing a space, it’s not about trying to recreate a nightlife space. It’s about creating a living, breathing organism that people can function in – the way they move, sit, drink, interact – it’s all done to make those things effortless. It’s all about creating a space people can socialize and move in.
  • You can have luxury in any space, as long as it does the job in an effortless, elegant way – that’s luxury. It has nothing to do with white gloves or gold buttons, that’s all old-fashioned. By going into a huge market and not dumbing it down, but making it sophisticated and making it available at a reasonable price – that’s a very important, democratic idea, it’s a passion for me. Having great things and making them available to anyone who wants them is important.
  • Brands have to stand for something. Brands today don’t stand for very much, don’t mean very much. In order to have a real brand, you have to set a level of expectations for what people want. You’re going to do better than everyone else if you have something other people don’t offer. When someone says “I’m going here” they have to have a level of expectation for what they’re going to get – not the color of the carpet, chair, etc., but the experience. It can’t just be a name, it has to stand for something.