The new COVID safe era for Australian hotels

02 Dec 2020

By Thomas Hughes

The new COVID safe era for Australian hotels

Since arriving in Melbourne several years ago, after a decade of project managing “rolling” hotel refurbishment projects internationally, I have continually asked – why are so few Melbourne hotels refurbishing? Occupancies are “too high” was all too often the answer. Now, in the face of the global pandemic it would seem as though they are “too low”.

We now live in a world where hotel occupancies are lower than they have ever been. However, despite the low occupancy levels, there appears to be a reticence to engage in refurbishments on a grand scale.

The concern about occupancy levels has now been replaced with a level of uncertainty as to when profitable trading will resume. The current projections are that trading is only likely to return to 2019 levels in four years’ time.

With the influence of COVID, there is a possibility that the next generation of hotels may need to look very different. Operators are likely to favour design changes that create optimal hotel occupancies and efficiencies while also maintaining a COVID safe environment.

So, what is the new COVID safe “normal” in the hotel world?

The most appropriate design solution continues to evolve. Our research has identified key areas that would likely undergo change in existing hotels, either as part of a refurbishment or, as part of a newly built hotel, include:

Cleaning and hygiene: Easily accessible sanitisation stations are likely to be introduced. Additionally, hard surfaces such as tiles or engineered flooring may be favoured over carpet, which would facilitate a sterile clean of hotel rooms.

Material selection: The antibacterial properties of materials will need to be carefully considered. For example, the selection of materials for surfaces which a guest is likely to touch e.g. door hardware manufactured out of copper or its alloys (brasses, bronzes, cupronickel, copper-nickel-zinc, and others) may be selected as they naturally kill or inhibit microbes.

Touchless technology: There may be a drive to reduce the number of surfaces that a guest is required to touch. For example, the introduction of touchless / Bluetooth enabled room keys, digital voice assistance (Alexa/Siri/Amazon/Apple) as well as sensor-based lighting.

Multipurpose rooms: With the future of business travel not yet known, coupled with the increase in people working from home, there is likely to be a need for hotel rooms to be adaptable through innovative FF&E design to allow for easy conversion to an office-like workspace when required.

Common areas: Traditionally, hotel design has placed an emphasis on encouraging guests to gather in common areas. The design of these areas is likely to change to facilitate social distancing and limit crowding.

Given the nature and the extent of the changes that will most likely be required, prompt implementation is critical. The degree to which the changes are implemented to adapt to the new trading environment will vary. However, unless there is increased investment there could be a significant lag in meeting the guest demand for a COVID safe environment, extending the timeline to the industry’s recovery.