Hospitality Leadership and Design Conference

LA 2022 - Waldorf Astoria Report

HLDC LA – a meeting of minds

Building on its reputation as the leading conference on hospitality design, HLDC hosted its first event of 2022 in Los Angeles with an all-encompassing programme of events and star-studded line-up of speakers.

Held on 26th January at the glamorous Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, more than 120 industry experts gathered in the ballroom to discuss hospitality and design topics as far ranging as design concepts and trends to strategising and development, and to connect with both old and new business contacts.

Comperes Beth Campbell, CEO, Campbell House and Barbara Best-Santos, Director of Interiors, Hart Howerton were the perfect double-act to lead the day’s event with their witty banter and approachable manner.

Attending the conference, as well as speaking on panels, were a carefully selected mix of well-known design and hotel personalities representing some of the biggest brands in hospitality from Hilton, Viceroy, and Rosewood, to Hyatt, Six Senses, and Four Seasons, and design studios including HBA, Richmond International, and Pierre-Yves Rochon, to 1508, GA Group, and SB Architects.

Making these conferences a possibility in the first place, our friends and event sponsors for this event were: AXOR, encore, Kaldewei, Laufen, Samuel Lawrence Hospitality, LaBottega, Montrose Hospitality, Bernhardt Hospitality, Dornbracht, EzSpec, Hansgrohe, ICE International, Lasvit, Moroso, Interra Contract, Kohler, Lusive, My Drap, Preciosa, Infinity Drain, and Lily Jack.

Keynote address

“There’s a lot of opportunity in the future and we think 2022 has the opportunity to be one of the best years for the industry.” – Zachariah Demuth

Opening the day’s programme of talks, Zachariah Demuth, Senior Research Manager Hotels & Hospitality Group, JLL, gave an overview of the hotel industry, focusing largely on the USA but including global trends while sharing some surprising statistics from the last two years.

“Following near enough 24 months of covid, the hotel industry was impacted like never before. April 2020 saw the lowest occupancy rates in the USA ever of just 24%. 2020 was the worst year in the USA, worse than 911 and the great financial crisis combined. Many hotels were forced to close due to lack of demand, but the good news is we’re now in a much better place.”

To illustrate his optimism, Zachariah ran through some hopeful numbers from 2021: “We finished the year in the US on $38 billion in total transaction volume, which to put in perspective is four times what we did in 2020 and 40% more than we did in 2019, which is actually the second highest year ever on record. If you look at a global perspective it’s about $69 billion, the US has the lion’s share of that followed by Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.”

He went on to explain that the market is beginning to see a lot of activity again, from an investment perspective, and that despite no foreign transaction activity in the US in 2021 due to borders being closed, the market had one of its best years on record.

Looking at pre-covid recovery, Zachariah confirmed things looked good for the year end of 2022. “We’re about 83% of pre-covid recovery. There’s still a way to go but I think it’s a lot better than we all anticipated, and if you look at STR’s most recent forecast, they’re saying that RevPar will fully recover by the end of this year.”

He told us moving forward, we need to focus on developing markets, including bleisure travel and technology, with behind-the-scenes tech being more important than ever, and adding the significance of sustainability being factored in when we’re building new hotels.

“The last big focus for us is ESG, but specifically sustainability. surveyed over a million travellers and 80% said they would pick a hotel that showed sustainable metrics over one that didn’t.”

In conclusion Zachariah said: “There’s a lot of opportunity in the future and we think 2022 has the opportunity to be one of the best years for the industry.”

20/22 Vision

“I think the balance between residential and hospitality is becoming so intrinsically linked.” – Hamish Brown

Moderating a discussion on what we don’t know about the hospitality industry in 2022, Rick Evans, President, Samuel Lawrence Hospitality posed questions for panellists Hamish Brown, Partner, 1508 London, Therese Virserius, Co-Founder, Virserius Studio, Vince Stroop, Founder, stroop Design, and Kathleen Dauber, Partner, Hirsch Bedner Associates to find out more about the projects they’re currently working on.

Kathleen spoke about the two residential towers and InterContinental hotel in Bellevue Washington her and her team are working on: “It’s been interesting as most of the design effort was pre-covid and we’ve had to work through things with the consultants and the client virtually.”

Hamish talked about 1508’s work on the Mandarin Oriental Residences in Beverly Hills. “It’s the first new build development in The Golden Triangle in 40 years, which is tremendously exciting. I think the balance between residential and hospitality is becoming so intrinsically linked and we can see branded developments coming up all over the place.”

Telling us how he feels about the blending of markets, Vince explained that he was currently working on an office refurbishment that had the potential to combine a hotel and residences within the same building, and Therese told us about the big project she’s working on in Berlin, which has the aim of becoming an organic addition to the local community that incorporates a number of cultural aspects.

The group discuss different factors that have impacted their designs and the topic of technology features heavily. “Technology-wise I think I’m just scratching the surface in terms of concept design, but I think it’s a given that there will be new touchpoints that we have to integrate without even thinking about it,” says Vince.

“We’re looking a lot at wellness,” adds Hamish, “working out how that can be incorporated seamlessly into people’s everyday lives. We have the ability in hospitality to really push the boundaries with those things.”

A ‘brand’ new world: leading by design

Leaders from three giants of the hospitality world shared insights on how design is influencing the guest experience and how their brands are evolving to meet these ever-changing guest expectations.

An engaging conversation led by moderator Barbara Best-Santos, Director of Interiors, Hart Howerton saw panellists: Audra Tuskes, Vice President, Global Design Strategies, Marriott International; Kara Siffermann, Vice President Design, Resorts World Las Vegas; and Crystal Vinisse Thomas, Vice President & Global Brand Leader, Lifestyle & Luxury Brands Hyatt discuss some brilliant ideas around the ways in which design has a direct impact on how their guests perceive their brands and how that generates loyalty and return custom.

Some of the overarching factors addressed practicality and use and tapping into the psyche of a different generation of traveller looking beyond beauty when it comes to design. Meaningful travel is on the rise and the way we design should reflect the way we think and feel in a particular space. Branding is being redefined for the better and becoming less about look or statement and more about aligning with guests’ values.

Current trends that define luxury hospitality

“I think design has to play a pivotal and a critical role in experience.” – Ari Kastrati

Talking all things luxury and taking a closer look at the trends impacting hotel design and operation the most – from sustainability to staffing issues, keeping up with customer expectations and choosing the right artwork, Hemanshu Parwani, Chief Executive Officer, Olson Kundig acted as moderator for the session with a dynamic panel made up of: Bill Walshe, Chief Executive Officer, Viceroy Hotels and Resorts; Caroline MacDonald, Senior Vice President of Operations, Americas, Rosewood Hotel Group; Ari Kastrati, Chief Hospitality Officer, MGM Resorts International; Kristie Goshow, Chief Commercial Officer, KSL Resorts; and Peter Humig, Regional Vice President, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

Looking at whether luxury and sustainability are at odds with each other, Caroline made the point that sustainability looks different in every market. “It might be that we do something to help employees with their day to day living. In some of the hotels we might be doing restoration work or using less energy or desalination. We try to make an impact in every location.”

Kristie agreed: “Sustainability is so much more than the natural environment, it’s social, it’s cultural, and as operators and managers we have a responsibility, we are stewards of those assets, of those buildings and of those communities and we need to work out what can we give back. Doing good is good business.”

The panel were asked how intrinsic they thought design was to the success of a hotel. “I think design has to play a pivotal and a critical role in experience,” said Ari. “It is one element of it, it is not the whole thing but it plays such an emotional role in how people make decisions. Design can be transformative, just like music can be, just like reading a book can be, and it can be done extremely well if you select the right designer and pair them with the right architect.”

New beginnings

“I kind of had an epiphany, I wanted to go back to design and work with people with a different skillset.” – Dennis Irvine

With a conversational talk led by Alastair Graham, President, Montrose Hospitality, the group in session comprising panellists: Amy Jakubowski, Principal and Managing Director, Pierre-Yves Rochon; Dennis Irvine, Director, Richmond International; Robbyn Carter, Founder, Studio Carter; and Johnathan Garrison, Principal, G.A Group, New York, discussed their recently embarked upon ventures within some of world's finest hospitality design studios and explained how they’ve each arrived at this point in their careers.

For Johnathan, he was looking for a way to reconnect with his love of design. “I spent 16 years at Yabu Pushelberg. I decided it was a time for a change when I felt I was being challenged by things that weren’t related to design. I wanted to learn something new, I wanted to see how other people did things, I wanted to approach design differently.”

In contrast, Amy says she hadn’t considered moving on from her previous role until she was approached. “I was offered this great opportunity. The more we talked and I discovered more about the company I realised this was something I was ready for and wanted to do. We meet regularly with the female directors and that sense of empowerment and growth potential and ability to learn from other women was huge – it sealed the deal for me.”

Robbyn says she set up Studio Carter two and a half years ago after living outside of the US for 12 years and wanted to take her experience from her time in Amsterdam and Singapore to run her own studio. “I have my own mistakes to make, which is a little scary but the decisions I make are my own – for better, for worse. It’s been interesting to break free from always having someone there to tell you how it should be done, it’s quite liberating.”

Dennis worked at Fox Linton Associates for 16 years before forming his own studio, but after six years on his own decided he wanted to get back into a larger studio that would enable him to focus on his design skills. “I kind of had an epiphany, I wanted to go back to design and work with people with a different skillset that can help me and that’s how I ended up at Richmond.”

Vision to reality

“In every project we engage the creative team as early as we can.” – Ebbie K. Nakhjavani

Moderator Dallas Chapman, Vice President & General Manager, Bernhardt Hospitality uncovered what it takes to bring a client’s vision for a concept, brand or property to life by asking panellists Philip Sandhaus, Head of WME Legends, Endeavor; Ebbie K. Nakhjavani, President and CEO, EKN Development; Scott Lee, President & Principal, SB Architects; and Kay Lang, President & CEO, Kay Lang + Associates more about taking an idea and seeing it all the way through the process.

Playing the role of client with a vision, Philip told us how the Notorious B.I.G. estate, which Endeavor manages, is looking at breaking into hospitality with a view to creating hotels that tap into the values of their hip-hop market from all aspects including music and wellness. “We’re looking to be true to what our brands stand for, be true to their reach, and articulate new experiences and move forward.”

From initial idea to development, Ebbie explained that his job is to ‘sell’ the idea to investors and secure the funding and teams to make the project a reality. “Fun and funding are the two elements we look at! What I’m looking for from our creative teams is for them to work with us as partners and not just to follow direction. In every project we engage the creative team as early as we can.”

From an architectural perspective, Scott told us: “We’re in the communication business, we may be architects, but our job is to take and synthesize what Philip does, what Ebbie needs, and turn it into something that’s physically tangible, we’re helping to tell a story.”

And bringing the finer details together, Kay said that having a great team was 90% of the battle but that ultimately it’s about understanding what the client needs. “We’re passionate storytellers, and sometimes if you don’t have a brand you have to come with a vision and that can include a multitude of different things. We bring all our experience to the table, but the very first thing we do is listen.”

Everyone agreed the key to the success of each individual project was collaboration, and the factor that determined whether or not that collaboration had been successful is the enjoyment of the guest at the finished project.

Development strategies for tomorrow: “defining the main thing”

“The longevity of a hotel and its interests and continuing to keep that relevant and engaging is creating spaces that aren’t singular.” Andrew Miele

The final panel of the day saw Beth Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, Campbell House direct the conversation between: Judy Chen, Vice President of Development, Dream Hotel Group; Andrew Miele, Head of Development, Americas, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas; and Erik Eveleigh, Senior Director of Luxury Development, Hilton, and began by quoting Stephen Covey, American educator and keynote speaker: “The main thing is that the main thing remains the main thing” to consider development strategies and design solutions that will accommodate the needs of tomorrow’s traveller.

Beth asked the panel how they deal with the ever-evolving factors of design, technology, and guest experience while being mindful of finances. “We all work for different companies but we’re all in the money-making business,” said Judy. “So whatever it is you do, we’re all chasing deals and leads, and in this environment it has been challenging. We’re starting construction in June on Dream Vegas and we already know that what’s relevant today is not going to be relevant in June, let alone when it opens in 2024. No one has a crystal ball, we almost need to build or develop for flexibility.”

Building upon making a project design-centric, the panel was asked how they consider that against brand standards and the bottom line. Erik felt flexibility and dynamism in their approach was key, making sure branding didn’t override the guest experience. “The message in the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s was to recognise the brand first and location second but we’re very much turning that philosophy on its head now and doing the opposite.”

Looking towards the future, the panel is asked to consider their strategies for 2030 to 2040. “The longevity of a hotel and its interests and continuing to keep that relevant and engaging is creating spaces that aren’t singular.” Andrew spoke about the different uses in lobbies – from bars to work areas – and different programmes made available to visitors. “It’s a great way to keep people engaged and interactive with the property.”

Judy adds: “We should be creating memories, where people are looking back over their photos and sharing moments with friends – those are the things that are valuable and it’s the best kind of advertising for any brand.”

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