Hotel architects and designers! – How much can you rely on them?

In my many years in the hospitality industry I had the privilege to work in many hotels!

I was exposed to Leading Hotels of the World, SLH, Boutique properties, Designer hotels, and many other 4 to 5 star properties.

In my career as manager and hotel consultant, I have been involved in close to 30 hotel and resort openings, so, I know that I am in a good position to write down some facts which might help hotel owners, developers and investors here in Thailand and south-east Asia.

The two most important comments – to keep in mind – I want to say right in the beginning!

”Some of the best architects and designers do NOT know ANYTHING about hotels, resorts, about service, operation, comfort, hospitality, work flow etc.”

“Most architects and designers do NOT CARE AT ALL if your hotel will actually be ‘workable’ and ‘profitable’ – they will blame ‘Lack of service’!


Let me give you some facts!

  • Fact is that most architects want to design a ‘great looking’ hotel as they want another ‘great looking’ property in their portfolio for their own reputation! – That’s it!
  • I have seen deluxe hotel villas build with solid rocks! The look really stunning! But, between the rocks there are now Geckos (small lizards), spiders, eggs of geckos, dust etc. where housekeeping department is facing and up-hill battle to control. The same 5-star had no proper staff canteen, only ONE office, no staff quarters; even the resort was in the middle of nowhere!
  • I have seen one hotel where the designers forgot to the kitchen for the restaurant! – What’s the point of having a restaurant I did ask?
  • I have seen hotels without staff eating area! – Employees did eat when sitting on the floor in stores!
  • I have seen a resort where the kitchen was 60 meters from the restaurant! – I recommend not ordering any hot food or ice cream!
  • I have seen a resort where no storage facilities at all have though off. (Not for food, not for beverages, not for housekeeping, not for engineering etc.) – Maybe this place doesn’t like to sell anything!
  • I have seen a 200 room hotel (20 floors) with one single elevator and without any maid stations! – Guess the major complaint from guest …. and employees!
  • I have seen a hotel where offices have been spread out all over the hotel building, from roof to basement! – What an operational nightmare!
  • I have seen two hotels where the suppliers had to bring in food, beverages and all other supply through the lobby.
  • I have seen a hotel where all 150 employees had to come and go through the lobby.
  • I have seen a resort where the guest had to walk 5 meters distance between bed and first available light switch.
  • I have seen a guest room where the guest had to no electric plug at all. – But they had a complimentary hair-dryer!
  • I have seen hotel where the guest could not see the TV properly when on the bed!
  • I have seen a hotel where it was impossible to read a book because there was no lighting at the area where the bed was places!
  • I have seen a hotel without floor drain in the bathroom. Luckily this hotel was under construction and we could add on the drain! But it was done with high additional cost!
  • I have seen a hotel where the air-con flow is not adjustable and right above the bed. It did blow straight down from the ceiling and made me sick. – Will never stay there again!
  • I have seen a 79 villa resort upcountry where supply could be received only twice a week! But the kitchen had only space for 3 refrigerators without any walk in refrigerators and fridges.

I am sure if I keep on thinking for anther half hour I could come up with 20 more examples of bad designs etc.

People argue:  “But this is a boutique hotel, this is a design hotel, this is “bla-bla” concept hotel etc.

My answer – and the fact – is: If there is not comfort for guests and employees the hotel will never work!

The only solution for the hotel owners later on, after high management and staff turnover, and lots of bad guest comments, those poor owners had finally been convinced that the architect was not that good after all!

The owners had to spend again good money to fix the worst issues! However, the hotel or resort will never be as smooth, profitable and comfortable as the resorts of some competitors who did the right thing early on!

Of course, now many people might say that hotel management or an experienced hotelier must be involved from the early stages which are correct and that all this is the hotel developer or owners fault!

In reality it’s not always like this!

In reality, only few owners, developers and investors understand the importance of having expert hotelier involvement in the early stages. Those innocent owners trust their ‘superstar architect and designers” simple because those designers or architects have been involved in the design of some leading hotels and resorts which work just perfectly.

However, the designers will never tell the current project developer or owner that he or she did have many comments on designs that he or she had to accept lots of changes in design because of expert hotelier, hotel group or hotel consultant inputs!

Those leading hotels and resort are special because they have been designed and build in good teamwork, with good communication, and understanding between the architect/designer, the expert hotelier, owners and contractors!

©Klaus R. Rauter

Managing Director

http://mai-bs.com | http://tourismdirectoryasia.com | http://propertiesyouneed.com

Posted in Uncategorized

18 thoughts on “Hotel architects and designers! – How much can you rely on them?

  1. Hi
    I, too, have spent all of my career specialising in hotel and resort development.
    How much should you trust the architects? It depends on the firm that you use.
    The good experienced hotel design firms know more about the requirements of different hotel groups than do the employees of those hotel groups. These people know and understand the design manuals of the major groups and know how to achieve proper circulation together with good aesthetic design. These groups understand how a hotel P&L works and know how to give the group the product they require. Unfortunately, there are only a few really good hotel designers like this isn the world. These really good firms attract very talented designers and therefore also produce very beautiful designs.
    If working with an inexperienced designer, then the operator and developer must produce a lot of detailed data and must ensure that the designer follows it. This data will include Fact Sheet, Space Allocation, detailed description of public area relationships, plus room plans and room facilities. Often it works well, – if the designer has real flair but is mature enough to also follow the detailed directives and brief of the operator and developer. I have worked with many highly gifted architects who knew little about hotel design, but who were smart enough to follow the brief. Usually it worked out well.

  2. Interesting topics that you have over there. As a designer who has involve in large scale hotels projects (branded ones), I understand very well of the frustration mentioned here. True that there are lack of design thoughts being put into and some owners just hired some inexperienced designer to design their hotels just because they are friends and offer cheap fees. I can say the problems are everywhere and they are worst in some locally run boutique hotels in other countries in Asia. Just browse through Trip Advisor for hotels in Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos; you have all the comments there.

    For hotels that are ran by well-known operators, there are less design issues because they are normally being picked up by the operator during the construction and mock up stages.
    But in a way, to blame architects and designers in this case in totally unfair. You need to see other aspects as well as to make the bad result to a particular project:

    a) The existence of the technical operator team or hotelier – non-exist in some small projects because the owners think that they know everything and could handle everything their own.

    b) The budget – hotel owners always cut cost by not giving any comfort to the back of house team. So, most of the staff area and BOH kitchen are being neglected, thinking that they are not important since they are tucked away from the public view.

    c) The time frame – a good hotel project has a good timing to carefully design in details. Some hotels were done in rush just to meet the opening date and many details are being overlooked.

    d) Experience designer – some owners just asked people they know to design their hotels, just to save cost without considering the experience they have. Trust me, hotel design is a specialize category. Not anyone can just design a hotel out of the blue. It’s by learning (and there’s no book about it) of doing 3-4 hotels over the years, only you can understand the whole process. And each hotel brand has their own way of doing things.

    e) Contractor – if the owner listens to the contractor in order to cut cost, that would be the end of the glory. The rest will be a history. Just hope for the miracle of the marketing part….

    f) The owner/the shareholder – I once ended up in a meeting with the whole family as the shareholder, from the 70yrs old father to the wife, the uncle, the sons, the daughters, etc. each and everyone of them has no idea what they were talking about and at one point I just wonder why they hired the designer after all ! People do hotels because hotels make good returns in Asia. Family businesses in Asia are still conservative when it comes to money. To tell you the truth, it was hard to tell them how they should spend their money in order to make things work. At the end of day, when it didn’t work, they blamed the designer. (Sigh…..)

    g) The development team – all of them like to talk big like they know everything and blame each other when nothing works. But none of them is actually doing anything at all. If you do hotels, I am sure you are very familiar with this cliché….

    h) Designer are just designers – no matter how many projects they have done previously because in a big design firm, different people do different projects and the turn over is always high. You will face a situation where such firm did well in other project but perform badly in another.

    i) The idea – there are always the conflict of ideas of the hotel concept among the team members; the owner, the operator, the designer and the marketing. No one make any decision because no wants to take the responsibility. This is a very political issues !

    j) The flexibility – the hotel development normally takes 2-3 years to complete. For the fast growth Asian cities, many things could happen and changing during that time; design ideas, market-driven factor, trend of the society, etc. Everyone must be really open and flexible to accept changes in their development that might cost them money in the short run but worth doing in order to adapt with the economic change once the project completed.

    As a designer, I could say it’s easier to work with the international chain or brand because they already established their guidelines and the requirement needed. In the development process, they are many stages where there are value engineering process, the mock up, the design run through area by area with the hotelier, the technical operation teams etc. The project management teams are more professional and being proactive on every issue in order to make the whole operation works.

    There is no specific guideline on how the small run boutique hotels do their development. It depend totally on the owner or whoever who drives the project. This could be a defective point towards the delivery and the end of the project if no experienced hotelier involve at this stage.

    Those are a few points that I could note down through my experience of running some hotel projects. It is a tough task as the drawing keep changing, when there is a dispute between hotel operator team and the owner; we, designers always fall in the middle and the first person to be blame…. but we also get the best glory in the public eyes when the hotel finally open…Am I right, Klaus ?

  3. Again, another insightful article! This is helpful to those in the design industry who are always open to learning. This is a useful read to share at one of our design meetings.

    Good info!

    Kind Regards
    Deli LaBarck

  4. Klaus, your article reads as a condemnation of the practice of architecture. Sorry, you have had so many bad experiences with architects. I have witnessed the same issues you mention as being caused by architects, originating from experts hired by owners to consult with the design or act as owners representatives for a hotel or for that fact any type project. From my experience, decisions impacting the issues you describe have been made by the owner/developer based on their budget for development. You mention one elevator for 200 rooms. Yes, that would be a design issue, but who made that decision, the architect or the owner/developer of the hotel during the design? Did the owner/developer tell the architect to provide one elevator because he did not want to pay for additional elevators?

    We can all tell horror stories, but the best way to develop a hotel or any development project is to put together a knowledgeable team that works together. If the owner does not understand hotel operations and everything needed for the operations, then part of the design team should be someone expert in those items. As an architect I can design and have designed hotels, but often spaces shown in the design at early stages are deleted by the owner/operator because of budget constraints. These decisions are made by the owner/developer based on the development budget with little input from operations. After construction is complete and operational issues occur it is easy to say the architect screwed up as they are no longer around. Without having been involved during the design or been part of the decision making process during the design, you are making judgments from a limited knowledge base.

    If something impacts operations I point that out to a client. If it is overruled by the client I move on. My obligation is to do the design per my clients instructions. To do otherwise would be unprofessional. I hope to work with my client on their future projects. If a client hires me to design a hotel and he has no operational experience then I put together the team to provide the best design and consider operations within their budget. I am not a hotel operator and make no claim to know all the operational requirements of a hotel. I know the necessary design items to provide a first class, well operated hotel, but directions on how to operate the hotel and what the operator has in the budget, generally come from the client. I am not hired as an expert in hotel operations. I am hired to bring the owners vision to life. I make the design work from a design and operational standpoint. That is part of good design. The client is my boss and I will do what they desire as long as it does not impact my professional license.

    You are correct in one respect. If an owner hires an architect who has never designed this type facility before, there will be issues. I will turn away a design commission rather than do “on the job training. That is unfair to the client and project. If an owner insist I do the project I hire an architect with experience to collaborate with on the project.

    Going forward I hope you have better experiences with architects. It is a wonderful experience when the collaboration between the team produces an exceptional project. Once you have experienced one you will try to replicate the experience on every development you participate in.

    Part 2
    I love designing hotels and the practice of architecture in general. I have been in architecture and construction for over 40 years and sadly I have seen all aspects of the design and construction process deteriorate. Architecture and development are very complicated processes. In truth all sides of the development process can be blamed for the downfall. Education falls short of producing architects, contractors and other professionals in the process with adequate knowledge to perform in the real world. There is little if any mentoring of young staff by many firms to fill this void. Consultants, while many times they know their subject have no idea how to work with an owner or design team. They only see their piece of what those of us involved in the process understand to be an extremely complicated and involved process to create a beautiful building that is very functional as well. Without the beauty of the design and the ease and smoothness of the function it becomes difficult or impossible for an operator to provide an exceptional guest experience, which ultimately is the goal of all hotel developments.

    The third part of the equation is the owner/developer. They often create many of the issues we encounter on all design projects not just hotels. All are trying to make money, but often they have negotiated cut rate fees in an effort to save money. This results in hiring architects who must cut cost to also remain profitable. Often to cut cost you must forgo something, usually that is the experience level of the team assigned to the project as people cost are the largest item in our design budgets. The team assigned has less experience and the only thing they understand is design as that is what they have been taught in school. You also get owner/developers these days who wish everything to happen quickly so they compress design and construction schedules resulting in the team cutting corners to accomplish unrealistic goals. This approach results in missed items at the design stage when it is less costly to correct. I also encounter owner/developers who do not know the operations side of their product they want to see developed and expect the design team to do everything. Architects are not operations experts for every type building they design and when that part of the equation does not exist in any part of the team then you have the makings of a disaster as you have pointed out.

    I love practicing architecture and collaborating with owners, consultants, contractors, etc. everyone that is necessary to produce a successful project. The old adage about the team being only as strong as its weakest link truly applies to our work. To be successful in development of a hotel or any project you must have a strong team on all sides owners, architects, consultants and contractors. Without that someone has to step forward and take charge and demand the right people be involved for success. Sadly in our world today most of the team is afraid to assume this role. The liability increases for that leader. I have been a licensed architect since 1980 and never been sued, but many of my contemporaries cannot say that. No one wins in a lawsuit, but it impacts the willingness to assume a leadership role in any future developments. The fear of assuming a leadership role and the team using imagination to achieve superior results increases the likelihood of achieving mediocre results full of problems and issues on all sides when doing development.
    John E. Burk

  5. First of all, sorry for my english.
    Klaus, I undertansd that you probably has had some bad experience in this term, but there are a lot of experts technical teams specialist in hospitality. I know some of them. We are one of them (www.ihpgroup.es) and we have not only the knowlege to design and develope the project, also wer have experience into the Operators Companies. And I know that there are more companies with similar experience and knowlege. So, I think, you must do a better selection of your technical time next time. However, congratulations Klaus and the others, I think that is very important to have this discussions…… Best regards

  6. True, you are paying for their services but every job is another opportunity to sell their services to others. Decisions can be made in the best interest of your specific property but we’d all like to spend another money to help showcase ourselves. Separate agendas must always be respected and controlled. Define the vision first, specify a budget and interview them with a required broad-stroke design concept in hand. That said you must also hear from contractors on building the design. These two forces do not make for a marriage made in heaven and counseling is required long after the honeymoon period. The potential real loser here is NOT the design/build folks; it’s the owner and operator who are left trying to attain the ROI.

  7. You should be able to rely on them completely if you select the right one. The key is making sure that your consultant has the appropriate level of experience for the job. Hotels are specialist building types and you should always ask to see their experience in this sector. They should have completed a number of hotel projects with established operators and ideally should have some international hotels in their portfolio.The right architect/designer should be able to lead a client through the various stages of the project and negotiate through planning , operator (brand standard and technical) reviews, etc., then ultimately to deliver the project through the construction stages.

    This is what we do at StudioBG – we are hotel specialists and hotels/resorts constitute about 90-95% of our workload. We understand what it takes to deliver a commercially grounded, innovative and relevant product for our clients and our portfolio and client track record bear testimony to our skills. Check us out onstudiobguk.com

  8. Klaus you have hit the nail on the head. Many owners/developers do not realize until too late the many tiny details that must be considered in a hotel design. These issues are always much more expensive to address in hindsight. A good architect will of course understand his or her own limitations and will advise the owner to appoint a hotel consultant early on, if the owner doesn’t do it on his or her own initiative.

  9. As a hotel architect I do not believe a word in the article. No architect could forget to plan a kitchen for a restaurant or place it 60 meters away etc. Such hotels could only exist if there has been a “wild” re-construction without any architect. It is a great idea to save the architect’s fee – every concierge could plan a proper hotel, or?
    (From Linkedin)

  10. We are hotel architects and I believe the author of this article is speaking from experience because I’ve seen this happen. Maybe not ‘most architects’ but definitely some:
    I quote [”Some of the best architects and designers do NOT know ANYTHING about hotels, resorts, about service, operation, comfort, hospitality, work flow etc.”
    “Most architects and designers do NOT CARE AT ALL if your hotel will actually be ‘workable’ and ‘profitable’ – they will blame ‘Lack of service’!]

    We have pitched for a hotel design project where the winner was an architect with no experience of hotel design and the client (also with no hotel experience) chose them because they liked the ‘artists impression’.
    What was worse is that this client made a huge mistake because their objective was to sell the site at a good profit to a chain. Unfortunately they have been unable to even progress past initial consultation with the planning authority because they have designed a building too tall to meet policy, yet not providing enough viable hotel space to attract a chain.
    If the client proceeds with this inexperienced architect they’ll end up wasting their money. What they need is an architect who can advise them on how to reach their objective – a good return – by designing a hotel scheme which gets planning consent and is attractive to a buyer because it is feasible.

    I’m sure there are many frustrated hotel investors out there, having wasted their money on poorly equipped, expensive design.
    (From Linkedin)

  11. I understand your point exposed in the article, and 100% agree with your comment , i think you already give the answer in your final statement…..
    “Those leading hotels and resort are special because they have been designed and build in good teamwork, with good communication, and understanding between the architect/designer, the expert hotelier, owners and contractors!”
    THOSE HOTELS WERE DESIGNED FOR A REAL HOTEL EXPERIENCED ARCHITECT DESIGNER and the owner, hotel director expert, operation managers, consultants, contractors, etc. there is not other way to get a 5 star ( 4 diamond) or GT.
    of course there are many designers who can pretend deign such project , is up to the owner, chain or firm select the right one.
    regards
    (From Linkedin)

  12. Actually every architect has his own specialization. And if you name yourself a hotel architect – some mistakes are unforgivable. It is extremely airily to plan a hotel without having a very experienced member in a team.
    (From Linkedin)

  13. I am currently reviewing a hotel design scheme which has gained planning approval in central London. The architects appointed to produce the scheme have a good track record of obtaining planning permissions for their clients; however this particular practise has no hotel design experience which is glaringly obvious from the space planning.
    Reception counter with no front office located in the vicinity (30m walk to nearest admin office), a cafe with no service area and no connection to back of house and a main lobby bar with no storage facility or connection to the main F&B service areas; some of many eccentricities.
    It is obviously early days for this project however the client has to pay additional fees for the approved scheme to be redesigned to function as a hotel. Any client wishing to appoint an architect or designer for a hotel project should surely be looking to experience practises who understand the nature of hotel operation as well as the commercial value of aesthetics?

    Phil Waterson
    Director Interior Design at Alexander James International (From Linkedin)

  14. We are a Project Management and Cost Management practice which specializes in Hotel Developments. From our experience, we strongly believe that most Hotel Architects and Designers need someone to manage the design process to ensure the hotel worked operationally and most importantly commercially. At the end of the day, a hotel is a commercial venture and if it doesn’t work commercially, the Clients is in trouble. For example, the most common issue we encounter is the GFA of the Hotel versus of the number of Rooms. Currently 5* Hotel standards (200+ keys) would specify 80 – 85m2 per bedroom. Anything over this should be justified from either an increase in ARR or Occupancy, if this is not the case the Hotel is too big and unnecessary space eliminated.

    Jason Cronin
    Managing Director of Eurocost
    (From Linkedin)

  15. I am a specialist consultant for spa and leisure hotels, in my experience it is key to have experts advising as they look at the operational implications of design, an example I have changed the flow of clients in a new build and the effect will be dramatic, I have evaluated the treatment room sizes based on the activity being completed in them, I have saved the client thousand of pound in un necessary areas and also have helped with procurement of specialist equipment again saving significantly on the build costs. My fees have been covered with these savings and the spa will work! delivering return and client satisfaction…. so consultants are important to add to a development scheme.

    Alistair Johnson
    (From Linkedin)

  16. I’m a designer and its true, a hotel needs to be commercial venture. That said I’ve designed many hotels throughout the world with ”Specialists” or those who have the right dimensions, the right services, the right number of rooms…it goes on. But the hotel which make the most money have always been those that you have the best experiences in. The one you wish you were still at when you get home. The one, which has a very special ‘’something’’ about it. The one you don’t want to tell other professionals about. The hotel is only as good as its name. I’m constantly trying to improve in experience for the user in our design. This has shown great resource in our airport design, and even Masterplanning.
    Mike Martyn
    Henry J Lyons Architects

  17. I agree with you in relation to the experience for guests etc. What makes a Hotel investment different from other real estate investments is that a Hotel’s value is based on how successful it is as a business. Its not like an office block or shopping centre, where you ‘just’ collect a rent roll. That said, what makes great designer is their ability to work within the commercial parameters and still deliver the experience you refered to.
    Managing Director of Eurocost
    Jason Cronin

  18. Interesting article, but as mentioned by many wrongly interpreted, I strongly believe that the hotel/resort development process starts at the beginning and that is with the owners/developers!

    Most them fail to understand the briefing and pre-qualification process requirements that are integral to start of with. What are we going to build, a 4-star, a 5-star, resort or urban property, what is the size and restrictions of the site, what are the building code restrictions, is this going to be a brand managed and operated property etc.?

    Once they that brief sorted, what about a feasibility study, which is another much overlooked issue on many so projects! I truly am amazed about the number of owners who at the beginning totally ignore the very important pre-opening, post-opening and OS&E budgets, which often results in tearing the design to pieces by value engineering processes. And you want to blame the designers for this!

    To go back to your story, once budget is agreed and the project is feasible, then let’s start the pre-qualification process for the design team, and I mean all design team members, as most of them come in far too late in the design process! Again a major cause for poor coordination and integration of their services, kitchens, IT, AV systems, are a prime example.

    If this is done successfully, I can guarantee that the concept and design development will be smooth sailing, ditto for the construction team!

    So to blame the architects, designers I think is a bit unfair as the ones that you mentioned were obviously not part of the proper pre-qualification process, so that’s the main reason why those mentioned projects failed!

    Hell, I recently stayed in a brand new hotel in Surabaya where all the three lifts were second hand and also off different brands!

    Just my 2 cents worth!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *