The spirit of Africa with a sophisticated twist

The hospitality landscape is constantly changing with many older hotels renovated into new hip designs. With 2010 under two years away many new hotels are going up or existing ones undergoing facelifts. Lodges are also unique to our continent and come with their own design trends

Hotel design is currently an exciting area of architecture and interior design. As hotel guests become more discerning, hotel design is no longer just about the variable permutations of restaurant, bar, lobby, leisure facilities and meeting rooms. The issue of design within the successful development of international brands as well as individual hotels is now understood to be hugely significant. In the current climate of accelerated change, architects and designers must now ensure that hotel design continues to evolve, in order that the sector can go from strength to strength.

“Anywhere in the world, good design and designers enhance our environment and enhance our life styles,” says Esti Mellet-Mass of Ensemble Interiors. “Top South African hotels and guesthouses are designed to satisfy the demands of the wealthy international traveller. That’s true. In service and design we compete with the 1st world by pampering guests with 24-hour spa facilities and world class chefs delivering gourmet meals.”

Yet it is no longer simply designing a stop-over anymore – it is about designing a unique experience that flows seemlessly from the entrance and check-in to the rooms and public areas. And hotels and lodges cannot simply classify themselves as business or leisure – people are working while they play and they are playing while they travel for business. There thus has to be a degree of escapism for business hotels and vice versa, business facilities in leisure accommodation.

Another trend is that people are adding elements of wellness into their lives – they visit spa’s, and as a result, bathrooms in lodges and hotels are becoming more spa-like with plenty of natural light, space-concious shower designs, large baths and neutral, relaxing tones. The concept of extra space is again evident in the rooms – where once hotel owners believed that smaller rooms would encourage guests to spend more time (and money) in the hotel’s bars and restaurants, current trends indicate that guests are willing to pay more for the lifestyle experience that is afforded by larger rooms. Rooms are being designed so that the bathrooms are becoming one with the main room so that visual space is interchanged between the bedroom and the bathroom.

Designers need to put themselves in the shoes of the guests – they need a place to unwind after a day of business meetings, a place to work or watch TV – they need to be able to customise the room. Here furniture on castors and changing light levels are popular.

So how do our designs compare with the rest of the world? “Our local hotel designs are high-tech, functional and usually brand new. In Europe on the contrary, designers look to convert, with great respect and consideration of the original, their old buildings into hotels and spa’s,” she says. “There is a growing trend to convert run down chateaux, monasteries and warehouses, all conforming with the green-trend where things are recycled, sustainable and eco-friendly. There is definitely a tendency toward the nostalgic, the natural and individual. The mass produced ‘look’ just won’t do it any more.”

“No wonder that our lodges are in such demand! They have captured this not only in service and functionality but in their designs and décor by using local building materials and eco-friendly products, while local craft and design has been given a more sophisticated, contemporary twist,” says Mellet-Mass

With the Soccer World Cup around the corner, Mellet-Mass sees some new trends developing. “With 2010 approaching we need to look at catering to the sport enthusiast and ordinary traveller, without the big budget,” she says. “I was delighted to discover a private game farm in the Waterberg area where nature was respectfully incorporated into the architecture and interior design of the chalets and surrounds. The building design has simple clean lines, while the local building materials have the textures. The interior design complemented the design by using natural textiles,” she explains.

Renovations

Nowadays there tends to be a more aggressive and open approach to renovating hotels than there was five to 10 years ago. Clients tend to be more adventurous and guests are more demanding. With the glut of information available to the general public, guests are now looking for something new and different. They are a lot more educated and travel more – they expecting to walk in to their accommodation and be wowed every time.

In addition to improved aesthetics, guests also want the latest in technology. In order to keep up with changing culture, the nature of design has changed, possibly due to a more relaxed work environment. It translates into a more casual experience because it is more user-friendly and more human.

Due to sustainability issues, rising construction costs and decreasing places to develop, hotel design in the future might come down to basic methodology. According to panelists at the American Hotel & Lodging Association Fall Conference, truly successful hotel design trends need to stay about five years ahead of the curve in order to stay relevant. Modern luxury, clean lines and accessibility for travelers are the key trends influencing all hotel segments, no matter whether the hotel is economy or luxury.

Trends to watch

* Multipurpose lobbies 
Casual, comfortable and usable lobbies are replacing formal, underutilised spaces.
As building costs rise, the need to utilise the lobby space in different ways to be as efficient as possible is of importance to designers. These spaces have to be more social, flexible and be designed so they are social environments and work environments where guests can relax or conduct business. Informal meeting spaces are of particular importance as it’s socially more comfortable for business travellers to meet in the lobby than in a guest room
* Changing the shape of rooms
Rooms are getting wider squarer, and more functional. A little furniture rearranging, such as flat-screen TVs, can also earn square footage gains. Guest rooms are also becoming more business-friendly because most people who travel with laptops still want to have the option of being able to work in their rooms. Increased workspace and larger desks are critical, as are extra outlets. Internet access – either hardwired or wi-fi – is the rule, not the exception.
* Energy-efficiency
Rising energy costs are forcing hotels to adopt technology that requires guests to use hotel keys to activate their room’s lights and air conditioning – something frequently done abroad. More-efficient lighting outside guest room is also an option with hallway lights on motion sensors a possibility. Although a certain degree of light is needed for safety, motion detectors can up the lighting output as someone approaches.

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