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Gotta Have It All: Designing Hotels That Appeal To Business And Leisure Alike

Houston Hotel

The best hotels find ways to attract business and leisure guests. The blurring of those two distinctive experiences is one of the most dominant trends hospitality designers are tackling.  

"Everything for everyone," Gensler Design Director Gail McCleese said. "All of the elements are there. It is about how you present it, design it and expose it to the guests." 

Hotel Derek in Houston

Fading are the days when designers would focus on one segment of the market, McCleese said. The top brands support both business and leisure travelers and the data show an increasing blur between the two. 

Business and leisure guests seek similar qualities of experience but engage with hotel spaces and amenities quite differently, according to Gensler's Hospitality Index, which surveyed 4,000 U.S. respondents and was released in December.

Hotels are far more than just places to sleep, especially for those traveling for work. More than two-thirds of business guests reported also participating in leisure activities during their most recent stay. Only 20% of leisure travelers reported completing business-related activities during their recent stay. Business guests are more likely to use hotel amenities, Gensler found. The pool is the only amenity leisure travelers used more. 

Most hotels usually offer similar amenities; but depending on the type, the quality, design and placement can vary. For example, business centers have traditionally had a different location or usage depending on if the hotel caters to business or leisure clients. 

At a business hotel, the center is usually near the front of the hotel and has quick and easy accessibility. At a leisure-focused hotel, the center may be tucked away and require a keycard or front desk staff to open. 

Lazy river on the roof deck of the Marriott Marquis in Downtown Houston

The Marriott Marquis in Downtown is connected by skywalk to the George R. Brown Convention Center and has tagged itself as an unconventional convention hotel due in part to its attention to leisure activities. 

The hotel was built in anticipation of the 2017 Super Bowl, and to help the city attract larger and more convention business. 

In addition to its expansive convention offerings, including a 40K SF grand ballroom, the 1,000-room hotel features a full-service spa, a modern fitness center and six on-site restaurants. It also has an infinity pool and a giant Texas-shaped rooftop lazy river. 

The leisure options will entice people to share their experience on social media and recommend the hotel to family and friends, McCleese said. The hotel is also near Downtown's main attractions, such as Discovery Green and the Toyota Center. 

Thirty-eight percent of business travelers shared their experience on social media during their hotel stay compared to 25% of leisure travelers, per the report. 

The difference may be due to leisure guests spending more time outside of the hotel participating in activities than inside, she said.  

The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston, billionaire Tilman Fertitta’s super-luxe, 38-story hotel in the Galleria area, was designed to appeal to the business and leisure class in the most luxurious way. It checks all the boxes when it comes to the design factors that matter most, McCleese said. 

"It has it all," she said. 

Whether a guest is staying for business or pleasure, the hotel's upscale palette combined with the latest technology presents a five-star experience with a strong sense of personalization.   

The mixed-use environment features a convention center, full-service restaurants, extended stay and VIP room options, luxury car showrooms and a helicopter pad atop the hotel. The lobby, touting its $1M crystal chandelier, embraces beauty and comfort with many layers of luxury finishings

Gensler Design Director Gail McCleese

Understanding guests' intentions and behaviors are the keys to unlocking the hotel's experiences, McCleese said. The report found that five core intentions — task, social, entertainment, discovery and aspiration — offer the framework for understanding how users engage with hotels today.

The design factors that matter the most are beauty, comfort, authenticity, intimacy, inspiration and the latest technology, per the report.  

A satisfactory level of beauty and comfort is a benchmark expectation for a hotel, McCleese said. Those fundamentals include quality, cleanliness, value, safety and welcoming staff. Every step beyond that takes the level from good to great. 

"We always strive to make our hotels feel like home — the home away from home," she said. "You want it to be comfortable but experience all the other factors too."