GHN Thought Leader

Harry Wheeler, AIA

Principal, Group One Partners, Inc.

The Smarter Lighter Traveler

Why Hotels are Putting a Twist on Traditional Design

Today’s hotel guests are traveling lighter and smarter. What are they looking for in hotel brands? How are architects and designers adjusting their designs to meet the needs of today’s busy, efficient, and connected travelers?

Let’s first explore the preferences of modern-day hotel guests.

Guest Expectations Defined


Travelers today crave ease, flexibility, and convenience from their hotel choices. At the heart of this is easy and free access to technology. According to a survey by American Express and Skift, free Wi-Fi tops the list of travelers’ most sought after hotel amenity, and, among nearly every age bracket. Guests today demand 24/7 accessibility for both business and pleasure – and this translates into every aspect of the hotel experience from keyless entry to guest rooms designed for technological comfort.


We’re seeing an increase of guest demand for unique and customized hotels with a sense of personality. Travelers today want a true ‘experience.’ Locally sourced design elements and food options have never been more important to accommodate their desire for cultural immersion. Guests also want an improved sense of interaction, leading us to upgrades and renovations of community spaces like bars and lounges and transformations of the traditional lobby into interactive common areas. Travelers want to be connected to their surroundings and each other, even if that means virtually.


Perhaps the most influential guest demand on hotel design is ease. Making it easy for travelers shapes their entire experience from virtual check-in options to personalized service and smartly designed guest rooms, common areas, meeting spaces, you name it. As guests’ needs and desires change over time, it is important to understand what makes their stay as seamless as possible from beginning to end. Think check-in pods instead of oversized reception desks, smaller and more efficient guest room layouts, exposed valet closets, and more that I’ll touch on below.

Move over Boomers

Leading the smarter and lighter travel charge are the Millennials, or, Generation Y. Ranging in age from 18 to 33, they are the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce and business travelers. And, are on track to be the largest consumer group in U.S. history. Traveling with small messenger bags, their own personal amenities, and the latest technological gadgets, this group craves social common areas and personalized service. Remember, technology is in their DNA so make sure to give them keyless entry and online food delivery options. Digital natives, Millennials are the most avid users of technology and the only generation that has not had to adapt to new technologies. They have high expectations and place value on a brand’s willingness to adjust to consumer opinions and feedback. Millennials want to be heard.

How have these changing customer needs impacted the hospitality design industry of late? Let’s now take a look at how hotel brands are reinterpreting standard design.

The Twist on Traditional Design

Guest Rooms

The size of the guest room has changed to mirror travelers’ preferences. Very often square footage is at a premium and hotel brands need to fit as many key design elements in a guest room layout as possible. Therefore, we are designing smaller, more efficient rooms. To do work, guests are trading in the oversized in-room desk in favor of bar stools at a communal table in the lobby. Many travelers no longer unpack into drawers and instead favor open and exposed valet closets.

The traditional nightstand has also gone by the wayside. Instead, this area is being redesigned as a data touch point complete with outlets and plenty of space to house electronics. Bed headboards are incorporating built-in lighting for easy reading and seating areas are utilizing chaise lounges with USB ports so guests can power up right on their furniture. We are also moving away from traditional case goods in favor of millwork built-ins. This alternative provides a smaller footprint to maximize guest room space, which allows for more rooms per floor. And they can be multi-purposed, doubling as a TV stand, storage space, or workspace.


In the bathrooms, bathtubs are being phased out for showers. Glass enclosures are also increasingly popular among today’s guests. Travelers want to feel at home, so we are upgrading the traditional bathroom area to include spa-like feel and finishes. The goal is to provide guests with a more comfortable experience. Tapping into travelers’ need for “green,” we are also incorporating refillable containers for bathroom soaps and shampoos. Many hotels also encourage guests to reuse their bath towels to save water.

Common Areas

Modern lobbies are now the connectivity hubs for today’s travelers. These areas are being transformed into open and interactive public areas. Central to these common spaces are communal tables for impromptu meetings, pod seating, and lots of outlets for guests to plug in their electronics. The bulky check-in desk is also being replaced with smaller check-in pods so guests can experience a more intimate interaction with hotel staff.

Smarter Travelers, Smarter Design

As traveler trends change over time, so does the look, feel, and experience we provide to valued guests. We must provide them with the technology, ease, and experience today’s new smarter lighter travelers crave. And as we embrace these emerging trends, the hospitality industry has the unique opportunity to be more innovative with our design. Now that’s smart.

About the Author

Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc., an award-winning hospitality design firm based in Boston that specializes in architectural, interior design, and purchasing services for hospitality properties. Wheeler is a registered architect in over 15 states and a member of numerous architectural, lodging, and marketing associations. For more information visit or email Wheeler at