How big hotel brands are rethinking the meaning of hospitality

From shape-shifting rooms to resident automatons, hotels are hard at work designing the guest experience of the future
How big hotel brands are rethinking the meaning of hospitality
Mandarin Oriental, Boston

At the Mandarin Oriental, Boston, a robot does it all. The hotel's resident automaton, MOBI, greets guests, escorts them to their rooms, and even delivers small amenities from a stowage compartment in its belly, providing service with a (digital) smile. During the pandemic, hotels everywhere made technological leaps to adapt to the times, and now things like contactless check-in and QR-code room-service menus are a given. But what about what's next? As the past two and a half years have shown, the ways we live and travel can change rapidly, which is why hotels are hard at work designing the guest experience of the future.

This fall, at its Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters, Marriott will open its state-of-the-art Design Lab, 10,000 square feet of research space that will be used as an R&D playground where partners like LG Electronics, Carrier, and a constellation of start-ups can ideate and optimise hotel-room design. A recent partnership with Ori, an architecture and robotics company, for instance, yielded a guest-room prototype in which the desk pulls out from the wall and the bed ascends to the ceiling, seamlessly transitioning the bedroom into an office. Hyatt, too, plans to transform its guest rooms and common areas into multifunctional spaces. For example, Hyatt Regency is integrating design touches like flexible seating to accommodate its guests' visiting friends, and Caption by Hyatt will offer bookable ‘gathering spaces’ that are more comfortable and engaging than traditional meeting rooms. These new spaces will sub in low-slung couches for clunky conference furniture and natural lighting for fluorescent overheads.

The brief for this year's Accor Design Awards challenged design students to envision the hotel company's properties as the heart of a 15-minute city built around walking and cycling, in a bid to more fully integrate hotels into the fabric of their communities. One finalist proposed unmanicured green spaces on hotel rooftops so guests could camp and stargaze even in the middle of cities. Damien Perrot, Accor's global senior vice president of design and innovation, predicts a continuing transition from hotels solely focused on hospitality to a hybrid model with hotels offering broader and more diverse services like additional spaces for remote working, concerts, sports, and retail. “Hotels can become not only somewhere to create unforgettable travel experiences,” Perrot notes, “but also destinations where locals can truly enrich their everyday lives.”

This article appeared in the October 2022 issue of Condé Nast Traveller, and was originally published on Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.