Design Inn 2014

By James Wilkinson

Over 200 designers, hoteliers and suppliers were wowed by several of the world’s best creative minds in Sydney this week (Oct 8) at the third annual Design Inn Symposium.

Headlined by a star-studded list of international and local speakers, Design Inn – hosted by fit-out specialists ISIS Group Australia and HM magazine – is giving delegates a comprehensive day-long insight into what owners want and what guests expect.

The day got underway with an overview of the Australian hotel scene, from the cities in demand to major trends, by JLL Hotels’ Karen Wales.

A panel on ‘select service, styled design’ followed, with presentations by Accor’s Lindsay Leeser talking ibis, Starwood’s Andrew Taylor looking at Aloft, AHL’s Geoff York discussing Atura Hotels and Wyndham’s Scott Wallace providing an insight into the company’s recently launched Tryp hotels, which made its Australian debut in Brisbane last month.

At the Tryp by Wyndham Fortitude Valley hotel in Brisbane, Wallace said the company was “using urban art as a differentiator for the brand”.

Accor’s Leeser highlighted the impact the economy hotel sector was having on the market, “on the back of low-cost airline demand”, and how hotels like ibis Adelaide have been driven by design as much as comfort and functionality.

Starwood’s Taylor hinted at more Aloft hotels being announced in Australia in the near future and gave the room of designers and architects a unique insight into the company’s “brand immersion” that’s offered to designers working on any new Aloft.

Atura, which made its debut in the Western Sydney suburb of Blacktown in October 2013, is set for further expansion, York said, on the back of popularity for the segment.

“We will have two more properties that will happen by the end of the year,” he said, while Accor’s Leeser also highlighted ibis’ significant pipeline of new hotels in Australia.

A panel on ‘Meeting spaces, more than just a ballroom’ followed and it highlighted the way hotels are evolving in the space more than ever before.

The panelists – including Woods Bagot’s Wade Little, Opera Studio Design’s Carmen Glenister and Ace Hotels’ Trey Shores – revealed the ways meeting rooms were embracing their surrounding environment.

Natural light, plants, larger spaces and sustainability are going to be features of the meeting rooms of the future, Glenister said.

“It’s about bringing in the outdoors, fresh air and a connection to nature especially through sustainable materials,” she said.

Glenister said keys for hotels were to be “one of a kind”, “be crafted to define” and a “concept means everything”.

“Why aren’t we looking investing in the spaces that hotels are going to provide rather than in some cases just striking exteriors?” she questioned.

Little said there had been a push towards “unconventional breakout spaces”, in the form of lobbies, cafes and bars being used as breakout spaces, as opposed to dedicated breakout rooms in hotels.

That was also highlighted by Shores, who said the lobby of the Ace Hotel in New York City, which features popular café Stumptown Roasters, was a roaring success and alongside being a breakout space, was doing around “$4 million in revenue” a year.

“People want natural light, flexible spaces and a lively atmosphere,” he said. “And [as such], public spaces are becoming an extension of meeting spaces.”

The most eagerly awaited panel of the day was the international panel, featuring Super Potato’s Norihiko Shinya from Tokyo, Japan, AJC Design’s Alicia Cannon from New York, USA and Dalman Architecture’s Richard Dalman from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Dalman highlighted the use of sustainable materials in lodge and hotel design in New Zealand and brining in the natural environment from possum furs to colours of the surrounding area.

“It’s about designing something that fits the situation,” Dalman said.

Cannon said lobbies had been rapidly becoming welcoming spaces, akin to lounge rooms with a homely feel, where couches, books and comfortable furniture had been playing a major role.

She said check-in desks were “becoming a thing of the past” and those areas had become inviting for guests the moment they walked in.

Shinya looked at how “environmentally friendly” was the biggest trend at present and how Ryokans had been embracing their local environment and how large properties, like the new Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, were adapting traditional Japanese designs, from furniture to colours on the carpets and walls.

He tipped sustainability through design, including producing materials locally where possible, would become a trend across the globe, something being seen in new projects Super Potato was working on across China and the Middle East.

Boutique hotel owner Robert Magid, from TMG Developments, was then the subject of a one-on-one interview and he spoke about his passion for boutique hotels, including the three he owns – Pier One Sydney Harbour, Harbour Rocks Hotel in Sydney and Hotel Lindrum in Melbourne.

Magid said making significant money out of boutique hotels was a challenge and while his properties make revenue, it’s more of a passion than anything else.

He revealed plans for a revamped lobby and F&B offering at Pier One Sydney Harbour, which is being transformed into a space with check-in pods as opposed to the existing check-in desk, and a bar as a key feature of the room. He also said the outdoor space would be utilised.

Magid said it was an exciting time in the hotel sector with boutique hotels opening up across Australia at a record pace, some unbranded and some under the QT and Ovolo brands.

When asked if he would look at adding to his hotel portfolio, Magid said while there was no immediate rush, he would look at a warehouse conversion, should the right opportunity arise.

Magid also said he had been given significant freedom from management companies when it came to brand standards across all of his properties.

Brand standards was the subject of the next panel, featuring Bates Smart’s Brenton Smith, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts’ Michael Cottan and leading designer Joseph Pang, where the question was asked: ‘do brand standards restrict creative design?’

“There is plenty of opportunity to work with brand standards,” Cottan said. “And many of them are straight forward.

“We allow designers to express themselves, be it in Sydney, Paris or Abu Dhabi. It’s about bringing in cultural elements into the design and also the environment we are operating in and the cultural aspect [of the city or nation] we’d like our guests to experience.

“It’s up to designers to work with brand standards and work with the [management] company to design creatively,” Cottan said.

Smith used the example of the upcoming InterContinental Sydney Double Bay, a project Bates Smart worked on.

“While brand standards have been [executed] in the room design, the glamour has been brought back to Double Bay through fashion, destination bars and restaurants,” he said.

At the end of the day, Smith said, “brand standards are more applicable to some hotels more than others”.

He said brand standards were like brand saturation: “You can have too much of a good thing sometimes.”

Pang said the simple answer to the question was, “no, brand standards don’t restrict creative design”.

“Brand standards have evolved with new ideas,” he said, adding the growth of the boutique hotel segment has led management companies to “see what brand standards can accommodate… the sky is the limit for new brand standards”.

Pang said it was also the guests that were driving the change when it came to brand standards and design.

“Guest awareness and expectations from a hotel’s design have been heightened [in recent years],” he said.

Food and beverage was the next topic in the spotlight and featured CKP Hospitality’s Paul Barnard from Dubai, restaurateur Mark Best from Marque and Pei Modern restaurants and designer Grant Cheyne.

Barnard gave an insightful history into the buffet and highlighted many don’t do’s for hoteliers.

He looked at how important the design element can be to any hotel restaurant.

“Stop designing for the market that you have and design for the market that you want,” he said.

“Guests want a true local eatery and your dining area must be flexible in its overall design to be able to make revenue.”

A growing theme in Australia, Barnard said the biggest trend going forward was third-party operators running restaurants in hotels, while restaurant ‘pods’ were also on the rise.

He also had one key piece of advice for operators and designers.

“Don’t design for cuisine [such as Japanese or Thai] but design for technique… that way you can change your menu a lot easier,” he said.

Best talked about his cooking style and how that can translate into theatre for diners, and at the same time provided a preview of his new Pei Modern restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, which is due to open on October 15.

He said the design philosophy of Pei Modern Sydney was to create a space people would want to eat at more than once a week.

Cheyne talked about his work with Neil Perry’s Rockpool Group, Park Hyatt Sydney and Crown Metropol in Melbourne.

“What makes a destination restaurant in Australia is a memorable experience has to be unique and have a personality,” he said.

Cheyne said he recommended hotels in restaurants had a separate street entry.

“Having a street presence is very important,” he said, noting restaurants should not just be “located in a big casino or hotel”, according to their address.

The day finished on a major high with star Singapore designer Colin Seah, from
Ministry of Design, wowing the packed Doltone House crowd with a presentation on how hospitality and heritage can meet.

He used examples of the New Majestic Hotel in Singapore and Macalister Mansion in Penang, Malaysia – hotels in heritage buildings that hadn’t just been resorted but transformed into two of the hippest hotels in Asia.

Design Inn was hosted by ISIS Group Australia and HM magazine, and sponsored by Accor, Brintons, Designer Rugs, Dorma, Dulux, King Koil Commercial, Laminex, Lightforce, Prototype Commercial Furniture, Schneider Electric, Tyrone Branigan and Zepel Fabrics.

James Wilkinson

Editor-In-Chief, Hotel Management