Top hotel operators are turning to psychographic profiling — relax, it’s for your own good.

Next time you’re in a hotel room and think ‘sexy taps’; wake up to a great playlist; or love the fact you don’t need to bring a computer, even though you’re on business — you’ve been successfully psychographically profiled. ‘Psychographics’ might sound alarming, but it’s what is driving the best in hotel design. And don’t be under any misapprehensions. Psychographics is not to be confused with demographics, which just give researchers information like guests’ age and gender; nor with behavioural studies or firmographics, which respectively provide information on usage and loyalty or industry, seniority and function. Psychographics are all about personality, values, attitudes, interests, activities and opinions. What, perhaps, more quaintly, used to be called ‘culture’.

It’s a culture that sees guests now willing, in a way they once weren’t, even five years ago, to check-in at a kiosk, in their rooms or indeed off-site, much as one would at an airport rather than be checked-in by solicitous staff in a grand, ritualised reception or intimidating lobby. This in turn means reception and lobby spaces are changing dramatically. Lobbies are becoming flexible, zoned environments that include bars, sitting areas, meeting and workspaces, all wirelessly connected — places to casually socialise and work, with a soft-focus between the two. Fireplaces and columns are used to create zoned areas of privacy and intimacy. Furniture serves multiple work and relaxation functions. Dire hotel business centres are on the endangered list. Cloud technology and tablets available through the concierge replace the need for travelling with hard copy and computers and make working in social spaces possible.


Of course, this all has a cost-saving function as well. Building costs are so expensive that developers and investors want to utilise the lobby or reception in more cost effective and revenue-generating ways. Dining and drinking generate revenue from locals and travellers alike. Cafés by day are becoming cocktail bars at night as both business and pleasure travellers want to meet locals in venues connected to the local community via the hotel. Post first-wave GFC and in the run up to the second, far fewer builds and far more renovations are taking place, as those in the industry attempt to ride out what is clearly no ordinary downturn. Design strategies include re-sized wider, squarer and higher guest rooms, which are actually smaller overall. Ceiling height and expansive glazing maintains the illusion of spaciousness, while sophisticated shower rooms, with rain showers or spa fittings, are replacing bathtubs, saving on space and maintaining the impression of luxury. Simple tactics like removing armoires from guest rooms and installing flat screen TVs can result in 5–10 percent increased yield in numbers of rooms, adding more ‘keys’ and therefore profitability in a typical 200,000sqft scheme.


Environmental and energy cost concerns are driving room energy management systems with features like key-activated in-room lighting, remote thermostats and hallway light motion sensors. Likewise, the emphasis on recycling, local resources and suppliers, green balconies, water sensitive plumbing, sustainable materials and fabrics, and even the use of vintage furniture, have sustainability and economic benefits. Localised design also reflects a change in guest attitude to a desire for a more authentic and immersive experience and a move away from starchitect-designed schemes to a more boutique approach. Having said that, these trends are territory-dependent according to Joseph Pang of Joseph Pang Design Consultants. Pang claims the market and therefore design is determined by the two-speed global economy. “The GFC has obviously had an impact on the industry,” he said. “Projects have been put on hold and banks are cautious, even in Australia, which has weathered the GFC well. “In Tokyo, Sydney and Hong Kong you do see scaled down size because land is expensive. Even in the Middle-East refurbishment is being used to some extent, to keep up to date without the expense of a build.”


While Europe and the US are bearing the brunt of the GFC and hence the need for cost saving strategies and a more modest approach in general, China in particular, because of a different psychographic profile still wants grandeur and luxury, according to Pang. “In mainland China,” he said, “where land is still available, particularly in second and third tier cities, like Jiang Xi, owners are building and going for high impact factors. Star architects are still very desirable. It’s a question of pride, particularly in China. A star architect brings kudos. “So contrary to the trends in the West, in China there is still a demand for huge single purpose lobbies and reception areas. There is also a demand for bathroom suites that include a bidet and toilet, whereas in Australia water restrictions and regulations (recent flooding aside) mean three-point bathrooms, which include a shower, vanity and toilet only, are more the norm. Although it must be said that China is more and more conscious of environmental issues.”


“There is a trend towards organic and recycled materials both in the West and in China,” said Pang, “but not necessarily organic forms. Organic forms are not always appropriate. There is still an overwhelming desire for a modern aesthetic with clean lines. “In China, business centres are always required. Some people are not as technologically advanced as others, although new technology has undoubtedly affected the way we design hotels, even down to furniture and fixtures. Desks, for instance previously had to be big. This is no longer necessary.”


“In Australia at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne, for instance, we eliminated the desk in favour of a 900mm-diameter round table that can be used to eat at, for drinks or for a balancing a laptop,” continued Pang. “This has also eliminated the need for an office chair, in favour, in this case, of a chaise lounge that can be used for relaxing, working or meeting. The chaise is a very open-ended piece of furniture. It makes the room feel very different to an office but it can still be used in a working context. “The challenge is to design a room that is non-formulaic in relation to pre-determined factors, which a design can do if involved from day one. With the Sydney Hilton, for example, where a significant refurbishment was undertaken in 2001, the design took a strongly unconventional approach. The rooms were small 24-25sqm with four point bathrooms. In a conventional hotel room, the desk is always next to the window. The bed is always near the bathroom and the TV always faces the centre of the room. “The design turned the room around completely. The bed was positioned close to the window so guests could experience the city more readily. The desk was put in the corner near the bed and bathroom and the TV was put in the corner of the room so guests could see the city. Instead of putting the sofa near the window, it was replaced with a chaise where the TV would normally be, so that everything was oriented to the view.”


“However the important thing is the experience,” concludes Pang. “Each hotel has to provide a different experience — from home or work but also from other hotels. Our aim is to make the guest feel they are being offered a unique experience, no matter where it is.” – Heather Barton

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