The New Guest Journey

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The New Guest Journey How can hotels and resorts offer warmth, luxury and wellness in the COVID-19 era?

A LEO A DALY white paper by: Ryan D. Martin AIA, NCARB, Fitwel Ambassador Pamela D. Goff Assoc. AIA, CID, LEED AP BD+C Mark Pratt AIA


Hospitality is the art of curating guest emotion. Its foundation is trust, earned by brands and reinforced through design. The global pandemic has compromised this trust relationship, making travelers uneasy in public spaces and suspicious in private ones. It has challenged the traditional model of hospitality amenities and the sequence of events in the guest experience. This analysis reimagines the guest journey from beginning to end, exploring strategies for maximizing health and wellness without sacrificing the warmth and luxury guests have come to expect. Summary As the hospitality industry struggles to cope with a historic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, hoteliers and designers are considering how they can create new properties and reimagine existing ones to support the safety and wellbeing of guests. To contribute to this discourse, we convened a group of planners, architects, engineers and interior designers from our hospitality and healthcare design studios to study the guest journey and envision solutions. We began by analyzing the pandemic response plans currently available from leading hotel brands and supplemented this research with one-on-one interviews with a representative sample of our hospitality clients. We then applied design thinking to reimagine key spaces in the hospitality typology. Our analysis began with a birds-eye view of the guest journey, breaking the hotel into discrete zones of activity and identifying potential touchpoints. Next, we looked at how guests are currently welcomed and explored the physical and experiential impact of wellness screening at the hotel entrance. Next, we conducted a detailed analysis of certain high-touch spaces, including food & beverage service, guestrooms and backof-house areas. Throughout, we evaluated the need for adaptations in four overlapping categories: 1) personal, 2) behavioral, 3) operational and 4) infrastructural.



An indoor-outdoor lobby design for a resort in St. George, Utah, allows fresh air to flow through and provides increased access to naturally decontaminating sunlight.



Evolution of the Guest Journey No hospitality space exists in a vacuum. Each one is part of a continuum of experiences that stretches from the home, office or airport, to the guestroom, on and off property, and back. Each step in this journey has its own infection control considerations. Arrival at the hotel involves a one- or two-phase entry sequence with multiple potential touchpoints, including vehicles, valets and doors. Once in the lobby, the guest may meet a porter, front desk clerk, concierge and other guests. Circulating through the property, there are various lobby amenities, meeting spaces, food and beverage options and other touchpoints.

Throughout, there are handrails, door handles and elevator buttons to contend with. In the guestroom, everything is a touchpoint—the windows, walls, floors, ceiling, every finished surface and piece of furniture and equipment. Beyond that, we must consider the entire range of activities a guest participates in during their stay, inside and outside the hotel. On the following pages, we will explore options for adapting the guest journey to these challenges, viewing each space as a dynamic part of the overall hospitality ecosystem.

Our analysis takes into account each step of the guest journey, including both macro- and micro-level movements and behaviors.



GUEST MOVEMENTS macro vs. micro

guest corridors

arrival guestrooms/ amenities

lobby main circulation corridor

GUEST MOVEMENTS GUEST MOVEMENTS macro vs. macro micro vs. micro



guest corridors guest corridors

arrival lobby


main circulation main circulation corridor corridor

guestrooms/ guestrooms/ amenities amenities elevator/stairs elevator/stairs



Wellness Screening Most infection opportunities occur after the guest checks into the hotel. For this reason, it is exceedingly important to control the introduction of pathogens at the earliest possible touchpoint. The sooner highrisk individuals are assessed, the less risky each touchpoint within the hotel becomes. One concept for a first line of defense is to employ a “wellness concierge,” who greets the guest upon arrival and screens them for health concerns. If done poorly, this could be considered intrusive. But with the right hospitality touch, wellness screening offers an opportunity to show personal service and slow the guest experience to a more leisurely pace. Hotels may consider creating a wellness lounge prior to check-in to offer guests a private and comfortable environment for screening. Negative pressure air handling should be considered, as well as ingress and egress and the addition of thermal cameras. The goal is to make wellness screening a seamless and comforting part of the guest experience. Once relevant questions have been answered, hotel staff has a better understanding of how to curate the guest’s individual experience and offer additional accommodations. If a guest is screened as a risk, they may be given a special type of room with additional safety features built in. There could be a section of the hotel designed for biocontainment, with air-handling and material upgrades, or the guest could be upgraded to a villa to provide more space. It should be clear that wellness screening is not an opportunity to turn a guest away, but to accommodate them in a more caring manner. It could also reduce anxiety by giving guests confidence in the general health of their fellow guests.



Guests in the post-COVID era will likely have a heightened awareness of the routes of infectious transmission. High Tech, Low Touch Technology will play a variety of important roles in the new guest journey. Automatic door openers, mobile key cards and voice-command elevator interfaces are already widely used and will become ubiquitous. Room service robots and electronic baggage handling may replace their in-person equivalents, and much information exchange will occur electronically. Valet parking will likely be replaced by an increased reliance on ride-share apps. This may accelerate the adoption of autonomous vehicles.

We expect to see a sweeping change in how surface materials are specified. Furniture, fixtures and equipment will be updated to include more anti-microbial, self-cleaning, non-porous and dustfree options. Manufacturers will be pushed to implement resiliency and infection-control testing for countertops, flooring and wall coverings, and these products will need to be bleach-cleanable while still feeling hospitality-centric. UV-C lighting may become a standard feature of many spaces for the purposes of decontamination.



Breathe Easy Controlling airborne pathogens will be a top concern going forward, leading to major shifts in the guest’s business and leisure travel planning and in the calculations of owners, operators, architects, engineers and interior designers. According to the EPA, levels of indoor pollutants are often two to five times higher than outdoor levels, and humans spend 90 percent of our time indoors. Wellness measures already in use, such as WELL and Fitwel, and real-time tracking programs like Arc, will become a key selling point for guests.

Air & Space Creating cleaner air will require designers to reconsider many standard features of hotel design. Floor-to-floor heights and mechanical room size may need to be increased to accommodate high-performance air handling systems. Increasing ventilation through operable windows may require changes to the traditional building envelope. Guestrooms may borrow certain engineering features from the healthcare space, such as negative pressurization to prevent the escape of airborne pathogens under doors, and exhaust to the exterior via HEPA filter.


For developers, demand for wellness-oriented design will change the financial calculus of a project. Rather than focusing solely on level of service and maximizing square footage, FAR (floor area ratio) and number of units, the focus may be on a “wellness ratio,� comparing occupancy to empty space for physical distancing. Hotels with this focus could be made more porous and spacious through the use of open and indoor/outdoor spaces, more fresh air flowing through and increased access to naturally decontaminating sunlight. The result may be an architecture that is more engaged with its urban

context, turning outward rather than retreating inward. When designing meeting and event spaces, hotels may need to rethink capacity and room size to accommodate smaller groups and provide more space between guests. New AV considerations would come into play, as well as air filtration and UVC lighting. One key challenge will be processes for getting large groups in and out of meeting rooms and rethinking pre-function spaces to provide a feeling of togetherness while being physically distanced.


Food & Beverage Food and beverage service in the hospitality space may be more hospitable in the post-pandemic era. With guests anxious about common dining amenities and self-service, there is an opportunity to emphasize individualized service and fine dining. The End of the Buffet? Buffets, salad bars and continental breakfasts are now more problematic than ever, and may go away altogether. Same with bundles of utensils, condiment dispensers, straw machines, creamer canisters and sweetener packets arranged on counter tops. Instead, the guest will become comfortable with being served. The large, leather-bound menus in restaurants will go away and, in their place, small, bespoke paper menus will be printed daily. With a new focus on service, hoteliers will have the chance to deliver a much more personal dining experience across all service levels. The need for physical distancing will also change the look and feel of F&B outlets. The hotel’s bars and restaurants may need to be downsized, expanded to accommodate greater space between tables, or moved outside. There may be a renaissance of al fresco dining. Cramped dining rooms will become a liability, leading to new opportunities for architects and interior designers to subdivide dining space. The result will be more intimate dining experience for friends, family and those within the guest’s “quarantine pod” to enjoy. Beyond the restaurant and bar, there will be an increased focus on how hotels handle coffee service and pre-packaged fresh meals in the grab-and-go. Retail spaces will become more boutique, with less merchandise directly on display, and a more serviceoriented, one-on-one sales experience. This can be viewed as another element in slowing the guest experience to a more leisurely pace. LEO A DALY


The guestroom is a sanctuary from the outside world and must offer a complete retreat from anxiety while remaining accommodating and user-friendly. Because of its rotating occupancy, guests are naturally on-edge about who may have been there before and how thoroughly it was cleaned. Therefore the guestroom of the future must be designed to leave no doubt of its safety. Guestroom of the Future Surfaces in the guestroom should use the latest technology to provide the perfect balance of antimicrobial properties, cleanability, durability and luxury. Many options exist right now, such as Designtex’s bleach-cleanable Hardwear 2.0 collection and 3M DI NOC eco-friendly products, which have the look of natural wood, stone, textile and metal. Careful work by designers will be needed to specify wellnessoriented materials while avoiding a healthcare feel. Air filtration, operable windows and UV-C decontamination fixtures should all be considered, in addition to smart technologies and owner/operator cleanliness protocols. Some objects and appointments in the guestroom must be rethought or eliminated, but that doesn’t mean the guestroom must become mundane or clinical. Guests may look with suspicion on throw pillows, curios, alarm clocks, remote controls, tabletop lamps, tapestries and artwork. These items must be carefully considered. Partially used paper products, mini-bar items, glassware, additional bedding, magazines and anything else that reminds a guest of a former occupant may disrupt the feeling of cleanliness and comfort that is so important to the guestroom experience. As the guestroom becomes less cluttered, there is an opportunity for designers to play with a minimalist aesthetic while retaining warmth.



Complimentary comfort items, such as luxury PPE dopp kits, offer an opportunity for branding and enhanced guest service. Technology will play a key role in the guestroom. Voice-activation and/or smart phone integration can be used for any item the guest would need to control, from lighting to window treatments, air filtration and thermostat, wet area fixtures and TV entertainment or AV systems. Because gyms, spas and yoga studios are likely to be viewed with increased scrutiny by guests, hotels may consider accentuating in-room fitness and wellness options. Guests could choose between a variety of fitness-enabled room types, including those with Peloton bikes, Tonal smart fitness systems, yoga and pilates equipment, all equipped with on-demand training programs via a smart mirror or TV. A higher level of luxury in wet areas should be considered, as well as furniture to allow in-room treatments.

New room service protocols will need to be developed, including the use of valet boxes like those already used in many Mandarin Oriental and AM resorts, and the introduction of AI robots delivering food. These would impact staffing models and may not have the human touch some brands are looking to cultivate. Appropriate enhancements to in-room furniture for dining will be needed as guests may prefer the privacy of in-room dining to public spaces such as bars and restaurants.

Front-of-House/Back-of-House With added demands on hotel operations, it’s important to consider the behind-the-scenes and back-of-house needs. An increase in IoT devices, such as virtual touch systems, proximity/motion sensors, smart speakers, digital artwork, automatic shades and smart temperature controls will require hotels to closely consider their low voltage needs. Workfrom-anywhere has become commonplace, so hotels may face additional bandwidth demand from businesspeople using the guestroom as an office. Hotel networks will need the capability and capacity to handle the increased traffic without a hiccup. This can enhance brand loyalty and additional revenue streams based on individual demands or preferences. Work-from-anywhere may also impact the needs of hotel employees for traditional office space. Rather than bringing the entire hotel staff team back to a centralized work environment on property, hotel owners may choose to keep portions of their support teams working from home, reducing the need for permanent office space and impacting the current program model. Instead of building out permanent offices, hoteliers may consider creating smaller spaces with temporary “hoteling� options for employees to use as needed. Looking further behind the scenes into the seldomseen choreography of running a hotel, there are impacts on the inspection of goods and services moving in and out. Enhanced screening, cleaning and health regimens for property, staff and equipment, along with greater scrutiny of staff health and hygiene, will likely increase the need for support


space in back-of-house areas. Increased use of robots or AI will introduce the need for more power points, charging locations and control stations. Additional maintenance space may be needed for convenience sinks and areas for staff to change in and out of PPE. For some, this will be a challenge to existing business models. For others, it will be an opportunity to celebrate the responsible practices and protocols that are in place.

Conclusion The new hospitality journey post-COVID-19 will require designers to think differently about safety and sanitation while seeking to elevate and transform the guest experience. While solutions vary across markets and product types, they share many themes in common for enhancing wellness and wellbeing. No one knows how long the pandemic will last, and many travelers remain cautious about hotels. However, it’s clear that brands that respond to these fears with a clear vision for safety and security are better positioned for the future. Travelers are willing to pay for peace of mind, and that hinges on trust. It is clear hospitality isn’t going anywhere. Guestrooms, lobbies, bar, spas and event spaces will continue to be cherished spaces for gathering, and LEO A DALY

Concept sketch for a hotel lobby. LEO A DALY designers anticipate the programming of public spaces throughout the hotel, beginning with the lobby, will be reimagined for the post-COVID era.

there is likely to be significant pent-up demand when this threat has passed. Now is the time to rethink the guest journey, focusing on the highest and best use of resources to deliver the most impactful guest experience per dollar spent.

Research Team Kathy Chavez; Kim Cowman, PE, LEED AP; Rebecca Davis, AIA, ACHA, LEED AP; Christina Fritz, RID; Pam Goff, Assoc. AIA, CID, LEED AP BD+C; Michelle Holmes, RID; Adam Jackson; Chris Johnson, AIA, LEED AP, WELL AP; Suthinee Kasemsomporn; Ashley Loftis; Ryan Martin, AIA, NCARB, Fitwel Ambassador; Rie Ohnuki; Mark Pratt, AIA; Lara Rimes, RID, IIDA, LEED AP; Micaela Sheffield; Erik Travis; Gabriel Wang; Brent Yost

Copyright All text and images © LEO A DALY.


About the Authors

Ryan D. Martin

Pamela D. Goff

Mark Pratt

AIA, NCARB, Fitwel Ambassador

Associate AIA, CID, LEED AP BD+C


Vice President, Director of Hospitality Design

Senior Interior Designer

Vice President, Global Hospitality Practice Leader

Ryan is the lead designer for LEO A DALY’s hospitality architecture practice. He has extensive experience designing hospitality spaces, including boutique hotels, luxury resorts, urban business hotels and major mixed-use developments. He understands the process behind development of a select service prototype as well as creation of a destination hotel and spa experience. Ryan’s comprehensive approach to design emphasizes both aesthetics and operational functionality to create a memorable guest experience.

Pam is a talented designer with more than 20 years of experience. She has contributed to all aspects of the design process across a variety of market sectors, with specific focus on healthcare and hospitality environments. Pam brings her passion for architecture, interiors and sustainability to each project and has contributed to successful collaborations with diverse clients and design teams. She is dedicated to creating innovative design solutions that match each client’s needs and expectations.

A hospitality-industry veteran, Mark leads strategy and business development for LEO A DALY’s hospitality market. He has devoted a 34-year career to working with developers, hoteliers and municipalities to envision and realize hospitality projects that meet and exceed their business and placemaking goals. His expertise is comprehensive, covering all phases of planning, design and construction across the spectrum of hospitality, including luxury, full-service, boutique, resort and convention center hotels.

About LEO A DALY LEO A DALY is a leader in the design of the built environment. With more than 800 design and engineering professionals in 29 offices worldwide, we are one of the largest planning, architecture, engineering, interior design, and program management firms in the world. Since 1915, we have had an unyielding focus on design excellence to create exceptional spaces that enhance and enrich the human experience. Our award-winning, diverse portfolio includes projects in more than 91 countries, all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. For more information, visit LEO A DALY


Ryan D. Martin 214.765.8840 Pamela D. Goff 213.316.4497 Mark Pratt 213.316.4439 3232 McKinney Avenue Suite 800 Dallas, TX 75204 214.526.1144