Six Senses Bhutan – Thimphu
Six Senses Bhutan – Thimphu

The future of hospitality design is certainly a hot topic at the moment. From contactless check-in and departure experiences to a demand for private spaces, predictions are coming in thick and fast as industry insiders try to make sense of this year’s unprecedented turn of events. 

“It’s a big question,” says Guy Heywood, Chief Operating Officer of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas. Heywood was a guest speaker at the fourth edition of KOHLER Bold Talks (in September 2020), along with Stephane Lombard, hospitality group Accor’s Vice President of Design for Asia Pacific, and Kohler Co.’s Annie Sim, Director of Global Projects Specifications and Sales. The discussion centered on robust design ideas and inspiration for what the hospitality industry might look like post COVID-19. 

Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain
Six Senses Shaharut – Panorama Pool Villa
Six Senses Yao Noi

While no one could have anticipated the scale of the upheaval to the industry, Heywood is quick to note that the pandemic has simply given us the opportunity to rethink the way things were done in the past. For Six Senses, this means a continued focus on its key pillars of wellness and sustainability. This includes the implementation of biophilic design, an emphasis on localization, and an increased focus on sustainability. “Sustainability has definitely been on the rise in the hospitality industry,” Heywood says. “The pandemic has opened the eyes of investors more than ever, as they understand that guests care about sustainability and want to feel good about where and how they spend their vacation.”

Six Senses already boasts one of the most impactful sustainability programs in the industry, including bottling its own water, going plastic free by 2022, and an ambitious 2030 carbon reduction goal, but more pandemic-specific initiatives include testing and evaluating new and sustainable ways of sanitizing hotel spaces and passive design strategies like natural air ventilation and outdoor thermal comfort.

Six Senses Bhutan - Thimphu
Six Senses Bhutan - Thimphu
Six Senses Bhutan – Gangtey
Six Senses Bhutan – Thimphu Suit Bathroom
Six Senses Bhutan - Punakha

Six Senses Bhutan (which features several Kohler products) perhaps best encapsulates this ethos. Heywood says that sustainability is the foundation of everything at the Bhutan properties. “We’re passionate about preserving the world’s only carbon-negative country,” Heywood says. At the same time, since the Bhutanese believe that happiness is the result of good health, he says the hotel’s wellness experiences “focus on bringing the body into balance, boosting the immune system and helping to open the mind and expand consciousness to aid spiritual healing.”

MGallery Yogjakarta
MGallery Yogjakarta

Stephane Lombard also believes the pandemic has given us a chance to pause and reset. While Accor has swiftly implemented strong hygiene and prevention measures in the form of its ALLSAFE cleanliness and hygiene initiativewhich includes enforced social distancing to contactless check-in and check-out, and reinforced food safety standards and cleaning programs — Lombard also identifies the need to focus on localization, to connect with the culture and history of a destination and to create a balance for genuine, unforgettable and memorable experiences.

MGallery Hotel De La Couple interior
MGallery Hotel De La Couple suite
MGallery Hotel De La Couple exterior
MGallery Hotel De La Couple interior

For example, Lombard says, the group’s MGallery Hôtel de la Coupole in Sapa, Vietnam, is “one of the most memorable hotels to visit in Vietnam,” thanks to its vivid design by the renowned Bill Bensley, who took his cues from the region’s past during the 1920s and 30s French Indochina era as well as Sapa’s local cultures and landscape. “Design itself must be redefined,” Lombard says. “Cosmetic and superficial design without roots and a story won’t be attractive. We need to be magical to motivate guests to visit. If we focus only on the pandemic, we’ll miss the point of this wakeup call.”

Insights from industry experts have been invaluable for manufacturing brands preparing for the hospitality business of the future. For Kohler, it has only reinforced the brand’s already innovative, forward-thinking approach, most notably in terms of wellness, sustainability and ensuring an unforgettable, worry-free experience. So much so, Kohler’s 2020 Perspective of the Year — an annual framework for understanding architecture and design in relation to global trends — is Dimensions of Wellbeing. With the aim to explore the relationship between our physical environment and our well-being, Kohler’s approach also hones in on the recent need for increased sanitization by expanding on its existing approach to cleanliness and hygiene.

Paro Lower Walu Farmhouse Lunch - Six Senses Bhutan - Paro
Paro Lodge Gardens - Six Senses Bhutan - Paro
Calligraphy at Qing Cheng Mountain - Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain

The recent Bold Talk also pushed the brand to reflect on its current approach and to think beyond what they are doing today. For Annie Sim, the brand’s commitment to the environment is key. “What new materials should we be thinking about? How do we create products that contribute back to society?” she asked. “People are really looking at localization, looking at materials and touching base with what’s available in the local market.”

Whether it’s  an intensified focus on existing trends like biophilic design and sustainability, or an emphasis on increased hygiene and social distancing measures, the bottom line is that while the future of hospitality design will see a dramatic change in the operation, maintenance, and construction of properties and their services, travel should ultimately be an unforgettable experience, and we can all agree that now is the time to improve, develop, and make hospitality experiences even better than before.