Sincerely, BLLA

How Design Acts as a Communication Tool for Boutique Hotels

Imagine you’re standing in a hotel lobby. Gentle scents float in the air. Calming music lingers in the background. Beautiful artwork lines the walls....

Imagine you’re standing in a hotel lobby. Gentle scents float in the air. Calming music lingers in the background. Beautiful artwork lines the walls. On the surface, these aspects of the hotel experience may seem commonplace. However, they are far from accidental. In fact, it is this type of multisensory branding that is essential to creating a meaningful ambience — an immersive lifestyle.

As part of BLLA’s webinar series, “The Unfamiliar Shift of Design” focused on how design functions as a tool for hotels to communicate their brand and bring their story to life. Kia Weatherspoon, President of Determined by Design and BLLA Advisory Board Member, and Ashley Wilkins, Founder & Creative Director of Islyn Studio, came together to discuss their experience as designers, the value of hospitality in today’s projects, and advice for hoteliers of any background.

Minutes into the webinar, Weatherspoon and Wilkins emphasized a fundamental point: designers work to make a difference. And, in order to make this difference, there needs to be a focus on storytelling. As noted by Weatherspoon “Storytelling is how you change the world by design.” Thus, it is highly important for designers to gravitate to the stories of communities and to breathe the life and vibrancy of these stories into their concept development. Hospitality is a people-oriented industry, and stories allow for customized experiences that stray from the unmemorable and mundane.

At the end of the day, it’s all about hospitality — regardless of the type of project. Wilkins explained to viewers that “Hospitality is an escapism” and a hotel is a space for guests to escape the everyday — to curate invaluable memories or celebrate that one special occasion that has been on the calendar for months. But, hospitality institutions aren’t solely for the customer experience. They are for the employee experience, too. With the creation of a fully holistic space, both customers and employees can engage in a whole person experience where all-around wellness and fulfilment can be achieved.

In creating this holistic space, there is an advantage to studying customer journeys and to recognizing what’s working and what’s falling short. Design is changing by the day, and at the crux of this change is the guests and their continual interactions with each other and the hotel itself. There is also an advantage to marrying technology with design. As Wilkins said, it is “invisible technology” that infuses design projects and generates an effortless experience for guests. 

Both of these strategies hold value, especially as we enter a new era. Both Weatherspoon and Wilkins speculated that life beyond COVID-19 will create a dynamic shift in the hospitality world. People will yearn to go back outside, and there will be significant opportunities in secondary markets. Pop-up culture will thrive, and union markets and online shops will be more detectable. There will be an opportunity to move into second tier cities and a chance to develop something, interview people in the area, and even partner with local businesses.

Weatherspoon and Wilkins rounded out the webinar by extending profound input to current and up and coming hoteliers. They expressed that when designing any type of project, there are certain questions to keep in mind: Why are you doing this? And, what’s the backstory? To create an impactful hotel experience is to delve into the root of the design and to truly understand the context of the space and location. Therefore, hoteliers are more apt to communicate and share stories now more than ever before. There is imminent value in bringing the stories of a community to life and shaping hotel experiences that will leave guests eager to return. Weatherspoon reiterated that “People buy into people,” and hoteliers should focus on fostering brands that are thoughtful, authentic, intentional, community-focused, and built on an abundance of stories. A designer’s task is to design for the people. After all, what is hospitality if the people aren’t involved?

Watch the episode recording here.

This article was written by Nicole Bessen, Content & Media Associate of BLLA

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