Frame Awards jury member Patricia Holler shares some hotel forecasts

Frankfurt – For the past five years, Patricia Holler has been heading the interior design department that oversees the work in Marriot's properties throughout Europe. Just think of the range: that includes anything from the business-friendly Courtyard and Millennial brand Moxy to the personality-driven Autograph Collection and W properties. As the senior interior design director for the hospitality giant, she has a treasure trove of consumer feedback to keep ahead of trends – and give travellers at every level the unique experiences they didn’t even know they wanted.

Patricia is also one of the jury members of the Spatial - Hospitality panel in the upcoming edition of the Frame Awards. The late submission deadline is October 15, so here at the Frame offices we’re getting ready to tackle the project shortlist. That’s why we decided to pick her brain: Is there anything we should be looking out for in the bar, restaurant, hotel, entertainment venue and health club entries?

In the past, brand consistency was a great pull for hotel guests, but today it’s all about standing out on a global level. How do you address that across the Marriott board?
PATRICIA HOLLER: We have 30 brands in the portfolio, with different positioning. Our guests are expecting a lot of individuality and every hotel is, in a way and to varying degrees, bespoke.

To give an example: There are business travellers that, wherever they spend the night, it gives them comfort to find a repetitive design, they know what the room will look like, and where they can find amenitites. This helps them unwind. We have brands that meet these expectations.

There are other business travellers with completely different personalities and needs. Guests, who would, for instance, like to discover the neighborhoods – to get as much as possible from the locality and dive into local, off-script experiences. For them we have other, much more relevant brands, where the property turns into a fully custom lifestyle experience. This way, we can go beyond expectations and surprise them with the unexpected. 

Then we have our collection brands – which allow the individual hotels to develop their own brand, such as the Autograph collection. All these hotels have in common that they are completely unique, with an own story and identity and with the highest level of customisation.

It’s absolutely critical that you use designers that help you bring a story to life

Let’s talk about that second type of traveller. How important is it for hotels to invest in interior design, compared to 10 years ago?
Very: It is absolutely critical for the success of the hotel that you use good designers that help you bring a story to life, that are able to identify and develop the design language you need to express the story you want to tell. Travellers are increasingly picking hotels based on the décor. In today’s world, they make very conscious decisions on the style they are going to find in the hotels – it has to do with how they identify with the place. And we shouldn’t forget the tremendous variety of hotels we have now. 20 years ago, travelling and staying in a hotel was still something that not everybody could afford. Today, everybody travels and can stay in a hotel – you have availabilities and options in every budget tier, and every customer has the opportunity to make a very conscious choice.

Something that’s also become increasingly noticeable is the sophistication of the gyms inside hotels – our workouts are much more specialized now than the cardio-driven routines of the recent past. Given your experience there, which type of health-club projects impress you the most?
I believe we will be moving away from traditional machinery and sturdy equipment, and will go much more into virtual workout experiences. We will have more immersive fitness concepts with increasingly technology-driven exercises, with your own virtual trainer. Interactive smart surfaces will replace more and more machines, allowing for more spacious, multifunctional workout spaces. The experience I imagine will be much more multi-sensory, more fun and diverse. 

The need for hyper specialized Food and Beverage designers is higher than ever before

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned regarding bar design?
A bar needs to have its own identity, the design needs to reflect the bar offering. In our continent, we naturally expect a restaurant or bar to be a stand-alone outlet. When located in a hotel, we need to make the guest forget they are inside a hotel. Street access is critical to pull people in from the street – you also want to have the local crowd in your bar, and not only the hotel guests. Food and Beverage is a key area in any hotel. The need for hyper specialized F&B concept firms and designers is higher than ever before; these disciplines used to be taken over by the general, appointed interior designer, but today’s market and the expectations have increasingly changed that.

Are you thinking of Gen Z already?
Yes, we do, we have to look into the future long-term. Currently, the Millennials are still extremely important to us – it is still not that long ago that the different expectations of Millennials turned the hospitality world upside down and this brought many changes to our industry. They are now the main generation of hotel guests that may currently still book our entry-level brands but in a few years, they may book our top-tier and luxury brands. If we can make a convincing impression on our young customers, they will likelier become loyal customers in the future in all other segments.

The featured photos are from the Cotton House Hotel in Barcelona, one of the recently opened Autograph Collection properties in Europe. 

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