How do Designers Create Loyalty?

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Constantina Tsoutsikou, Creative Director of HBA London and one of the AHEAD Europe judges, shares her top tips.

With endless choice available in the hospitality sector, hotels today are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain guest loyalty. Millennials are after the next best thing at Instagram speed, business travellers are eager to break their routines and the well-heeled curate their lives by moving from one hotspot to the next. That said, there are some great examples of hotels that have succeeded in fostering loyalty, and design in all its manifestations has a significant part to play.

One year after completing the new Hilton at Schiphol Airport, I called the hotel to find out how they were doing and how our design was being received by guests. I was cheerfully directed to TripAdvisor where I could see for myself the feedback, from design highlights to service comments, all written by guests vowing to return! It seemed that design and service had together worked their magic to produce loyalty in a location that is all about ‘moving on’.

So, a question I believe designers should ask themselves is: “What can we do to inspire loyalty in hotel guests?”

Here are some suggestions.

Sense of Place

It still baffles me that many hotels fail to evoke the emotion of belonging in their location. For most of us on a trip to ‘somewhere new’, our hotel is the gateway to this experience. Design touch-points that reference local culture and reflect the history and aesthetics of the district are imperative in creating memories. They pique our interest and encourage us to discover more.

Transformative Experiences

To create a transformative experience, one has to touch guests on an emotional level and the best shortcut to emotion is to start with the senses. I am a big advocate for embracing tactility and enhancing visual impact, be it a small and unexpected detail in a bathroom or a grand statement in the lobby.

Sound also plays an important role in how we perceive and experience a space. By creating soundscapes, be they breakfast beats in the dinning room or relaxing rhythms in the spa, the designer adds another sensual layer to the guest experience. Alternatively, rather than ‘dressing’ a space with sound, we may wish to use design to achieve contemplative silence instead.

Exceeding Expectations

Every hotel brand is synonymous with providing a certain service and level of amenities. They are “the expected”.  But how do we give that little bit more?

I suggest it’s about saying to guests: “We’ve thought about just you”. For example, adding butler buttons in the rooms for a late ‘top up’, or providing portable speakers that a guest can wirelessly connect to, just as they would at home, or anticipating the need for a handy tote to take that extra paperwork.

Magic Moments

Who doesn't like these moments! There are countless opportunities to create that ‘WOW’ impression throughout the guests’ hotel journey. The designer curates these magical moments in many ways, be it by framing windows to accentuate views, by positioning artwork in a certain way, or by slowly revealing one area after another in a sequence that engages guests.

Historic properties, in particular, offer a wealth of magic moments. Take the Westin in Dublin, for example, where we had more room types than any other project I can think of.  At the time of refurbishment, it was challenging, but as the rooms came together, each one slightly different from the others, we revealed a way for returning guests to discover a new experience every time they checked in.

Belonging

Create loyalty amongst the locals, and the guests will follow’. If successfully done, public spaces become buzzy and guests will think twice before leaving the hotel bar to seek new adventures elsewhere. Mixing with locals gives guests a sense of belonging and being “in the know,” and they keep coming back for more.

Wellness

Memorable spa experiences not only bring back the hotel clientele but create loyalty amongst the locals. Wellness has become a staple of luxury travel and the design of spas has been elevated to glamorous heights that enable not only relaxation, but also dazzle and excite. The designer’s task is not only to create an intuitive spa journey through meticulous space planning and beautiful, thoughtful design but also to ensure that layers of technical complexity are out of view.

Design with a Conscience

Choosing sustainable materials with humane qualities, sourcing locally where possible, in-building pure air facilities in guest rooms…every design choice we make can be a step towards a happier planet and a contented guest.

When it comes to F&B, healthy, locally sourced dining is now the norm. As a designer, I would prefer this healthy produce to be served on ‘locally sourced’ crockery too… fired in a kiln not too far away.  Unfortunately however, on large-scale projects, crockery and similar items often fall outside the designer’s brief. By getting these ‘guest touch points’ off the OS&E spreadsheet and back in the designer’s court, the result will have guests turning plates upside down to discover to the signature of local artisan, and loyalty is back on track!

Multi-Generational Travel

As retired baby boomers are fueling a rise in travel, so too are families with young children who don't think twice about exploring far corners of the world with kids in tow.  Catering for all ages means creating opportunities for families to relax together, engaging the youngsters’ imaginations in all spaces, not just reserving it for the ‘kids club’.

There are many ways to accommodate these needs. Apart from space planning that allows for step free routes, it is, for example, about composing seating elements in a ‘hi low’ mix. It is also about going that extra mile in designing accessible bathrooms and baby changing rooms. Attention to detail and creating a big or small ‘wow’ moment can happen here, where, perhaps, it is least expected.

Good Design

Creating something visually stunning, sustainable and comfortable that resonates with the hotel’s guests is arguably the most significant – and most complex – factor when it comes to designing for the long-term. Keeping true to these design values and pairing them with excellent service, will help achieve an emotional connection, and guest loyalty will definitely follow!

To explore the theme of Loyalty: Lessons in Love join us at #Sleep17 here