Fashion, Beauty & Lifestyle

Honoring The Best Hotel Designs

Hospitality experience and design on a whole new level

Winner of Spa and Wellness category: Hôtel de la Coupole, Vietnam

When AHEAD (Awards for Hospitality Experience and Design) announced its AHEAD Asia 2020 shortlist two weeks into March, the world, particularly Southeast Asia, was already guarding up by taking precautionary measures to stem the spread of Covid-19. 

AHEAD did the same by cancelling their on-ground ceremony in Singapore and webcasting their first ever online awards presentation, putting social distancing into practice and technology into good use.

With over 15 award categories including one special award, more than 50 projects were shortlisted to win prestigious AHEAD titles. The winners were selected through a carefully developed judging process by a panel of judges consisting of hoteliers, architects, interior designers and industry commentators.

Guy Heywood, Chief Operating Officer of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas.

To understand what it takes to be finalists and subsequently winners in a prestigious hospitality experience and design competition, we talked to the panel’s chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, Guy Heywood, about the significance of a great hospitality design and its future, among other things.

In light of the uncertainties caused by Covid-19, we also enquired about the challenges faced by the hospitality industry all over the world and how they would overcome it.

Here are his responses:

First of all, what was your anticipation for AHEAD Asia 2020? What were the designs that you hoped to see in the competition?

Innovation and adaptation of norms that place the customer experience at the center of the offerings were paramount to my anticipation.

Winner of Lobby & Public Spaces category: Grand Hyatt Xi'an, China

How would you describe an exceptional hospitality design?

The guest experience is one of the main design elements. Regardless of the individual hotel or resort setting, this is a prime consideration. Another is obviously an environment in which guests feel comfortable with their surroundings. Almost any architectural and interior design can adapt to this criteria. Another element of design should have what used to be called the ‘wow’ factor, which translates to a memorable guest experience and a desire to share that experience with friends, colleagues and media followers.

What makes a design relevant, captivating, and most importantly timeless? Do you have any personal favourites or examples of this?

Relevant design incorporates seamless simplicity, clean lines and use of local materials that embody and talk to the surroundings and destination. There needs to be a sense of extraordinary without being over the top and kitsch that lends to an air of elegance and sophistication. Favourites would be Amanjiwo by Ed Tuttle and Alila Villas Uluwatu by Woha.

Alila Villas Uluwatu by Woha. Photo credit: Tim Griffith /

Of all the entries this year, which one stood out for you the most?

The winners were selected from all types and styles of accommodation, without favorites as we were in the selection process. Standouts had the ‘wow’ factor as mentioned earlier, plus equally as important delivered function as well as form.

Factually speaking, how much does the architectural design of a hotel affect customers’ choice to stay there?

Architecture usually is a significant factor as it is the first impression experienced by guests and can influence their perception of an upcoming stay. Impressive architecture will also photograph well and we all know that images do sell. Architecture does not have to be big, bold and brassy to capture imagination; equally impressive could be smaller and environmentally focussed properties.

Winner of The New Concept of the Year Award: Hanare, Tokyo, Japan

Apart from mesmerising designs and impeccable services, what else makes up an unforgettable hospitality experience?

Activities, facilities and out-of-the-ordinary experiences together with unobtrusive service where the guest is front and centre. More and more we are seeing greater interest by guests in the Wellness and Sustainability space.

AHEAD Asia 2020 introduced the new Lodges, Cabins and Tented Camp category. What do you think about this alternative in the hospitality industry? Can we expect any new trends popping up in the future?

It’s great to see high-end hospitality providers continuing to be innovative. I am not a predictive guru, however I see such creativity in our hospitality sector that nothing would surprise me, especially when we go out of this world.

Winner of Hotel Newbuild category: Rosewood Hong Kong, China

In your opinion, what are the main challenges faced by the hospitality industry right now? What new challenges will you anticipate within the next 5-10 years?

Obviously we are all hugely challenged in a completely unprecedented way right now with this Covid-19 virus that is seeing the world being ground to a halt, airlines cancelling services and hotels closing. Who knows how long this will last and the depth of the crisis in our industry.

How have you, or any other hotels, been dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak? Are there any standard procedures or backup plans to keep revenues afloat during such trying occurrences?

As a community with wellness at our core, our highest priority is our duty of care to everyone’s health, safety and well-being.

The uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 makes it a confusing time to travel. As the situation evolves, we are closely monitoring official guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and working with authorities on a country-by-country basis to ensure what we are doing is correct, comprehensive and effective.

If guests are planning to stay at one of our resorts or stop by our urban locations, I want to reassure you that we are living by our responsible and caring value. This means taking care of our guests and hosts, being consistent with our already high standards around hygiene, sanitization and cleaning, and implementing additional measures based on the guidance of local health authorities in each country where we operate.

Our chefs are focused on serving nutritious and delicious fresh food that is prepared safely. Our hosts are taking extra steps in addition to our rigorous cleaning routines to ensure you have the guestroom essentials for rest and relaxation. Our wellness experts, spa therapists and Guest Experience Makers also remain on hand to keep you healthy and happy.

Given the ever-changing situation surrounding Covid-19 and travel restrictions some countries have now put in place, we are keeping our cancellation policy under regular review to ensure guests have the flexibility they need when considering their travel plans.

To make an experience stress-free, we are waiving cancellation fees for existing and new bookings at Six Senses resorts globally for stays between now and April 30, 2020.

Winner of Bar, Club or Lounge category: Lennon's at Rosewood Bangkok, Thailand

Could you paint us a picture on how significant the coronavirus has impacted the hospitality industry?

It could be described as the ultimate challenge. Keeping properties relevant when the guest supply had dried up. Many properties are taking a negative situation and turning it to an opportunity to work on improving the physical property and planning for the time that the world will return to normal – which it will.

Airbnb started in 2008. Is the famous startup still impacting the businesses of hotels globally? What do you think of Airbnb, and what were your strategies for taking them on as a competitor?

Airbnb have eked out their share of the market and provide a great service to many travellers. They have not impacted our end of the travel market because we offer a very different service and experience. There is definitely room for both Airbnb and hotels in providing accommodation options for the hugely growing traveller globally and servicing the array of needs from these travellers.

Winner of Transport category: Oracle

What is the future of the hospitality industry? Could you provide some insights into the next best thing we can expect?

Innovation and new and emerging destinations will help keep the sector vibrant and relevant as some traditional destinations are reaching responsible capacity. As our global market is diverse, so will the hospitality offerings – from striking architectural edifices to environmentally focussed properties and cultural immersive guest experiences, they are what make our industry so exciting.

Following the webcast, a celebratory event will take place in Singapore for the AHEAD Asia community on September 7th, when the Asia Outstanding Contribution recipient and Hotel of the Year Award will both be announced.

To check out the complete list of winners of AHEAD Asia Awards 2020, click here.

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