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The Future of Hotel Design

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Hotel occupancy is down 50 percent nationally in the pandemic-stifled world of travel. While hundreds of hotels nationwide remain closed because of the crisis, new hotels — from the sleek high-rise Joseph Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., to the Kimpton Armory Hotel in a 1941 Art Deco landmark in Bozeman, Mont. — continue to open.

Whether they are banking on the swell of tourism that many predict will follow the introduction of a vaccine, or bound financially to open, hoteliers are making plans for a future that now must consider new outbreaks and pandemics in the same way that public buildings permanently changed their security measures in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Boutique hotels that once acted as cultural commons with art exhibitions and buzzy public spaces will be toned down and disperse guests rather that draw them together, at least until the health crisis is over.

“The biggest thing right now is this focus on health and wellness and making sure people feel safe and confident going back into hotels,” said Tom Ito, the hospitality leader and a principal at Gensler, a global architecture firm. “Anything that assures that now and in the long term is here to stay.”

We asked hotel executives, designers and suppliers to imagine how the hotel experience might change in the post-Covid world beyond the now very evident enhanced housekeeping. The following predictions span present practices and speculative solutions.

ImageAt Virgin Hotels in Nashville and other cities, guests can control room lights, temperature and television. And room configurations allow attendants to make deliveries without contact.
Credit…Virgin Hotels

Hotels have long been moving toward automation with self-check-out and keyless guest-room entry via cellphone, especially at budget and mid-scale hotels. The pandemic has only heightened the importance of these features, which align with increased needs for social distancing and avoiding strangers.

Now, travelers can expect more automation. Google Assistant has created a hospitality application for its virtual assistant Google Nest Hub, rolled out this summer in a handful of hotels nationally, including the Gansevoort Meatpacking hotel in New York City, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Viceroy in Washington, D.C. (It’s not the first; Amazon’s Alexa assistant was launched in hotels in 2018).

A combination of a speaker and a tablet-size screen, Nest Hub allows guests to ask questions about things like pool hours, set an alarm and make requests for extra towels or room service without picking up a phone. For hotels that have blinds, temperature controls and lights wired for digital access, Nest Hub can control those with voice commands as well.

“We believe that it’s actually going to help both in providing a better in-room experience, but also avoiding unnecessary contact,” said Manuel Bronstein, the vice president of Google Assistant.

At Virgin Hotels in Chicago, Dallas and Nashville, and coming to Las Vegas early next year, the company’s app was made more robust this year to control room lights, temperature and television. Room configurations separate the back bedroom from the dressing room near the hallway with a barn door behind which guests can remain, allowing attendants access to make deliveries without contact.

“We don’t make you sign the room-service check,” said Raul Leal, the chief executive of Virgin Hotels. “That’s an archaic accounting tool.”

Not every hotel can offer outdoor dining year-round. Neither can their restaurants thrive with the capacity restrictions forced by social distancing requirements. The solution: Make the entire hotel a dining area. And throw in robotic servers.

“This is meant to be an answer to how do you deconstruct the restaurant experience so you don’t have to eat in one small place,” said Ron Swidler, the chief innovation officer at The Gettys Group, a Chicago-based hotel design, development and consulting firm. The Gettys Group recently convened with a consortium of 325 industry professionals from Hilton, Marriott and Cornell University, among others, to come up with the Hotel of Tomorrow project, collaborating on future hotel innovations. (The company has a track record with the workshop; in the early 2000s, it came up with the idea of a robotic butler, later developed by the Aloft brand of hotels as the Botler).

The think tank envisioned delivery units of various sizes that could keep food hot and drinks cold and provide video or music for entertainment.

“Maybe these robots have personalities and hang out with you,” Mr. Swidler added.

Even without robot partygoers, existing hotels have a great incentive to repurpose their now underutilized meeting rooms, ballrooms and even event lawns.

“We’re thinking the whole dining experience could change,” Mr. Ito, of Gensler, said. “You can create spaces around the hotel that aren’t necessarily in the restaurant, but become pop-up areas for private dining. It’s all about personalization and creating a unique experience.”

Credit…1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

Most hotels are already maximizing the use of their outdoor spaces, where guests may feel safer from virus transmission, by moving dining tables and fitness activities outdoors. Ahead, designers predict, travelers may see more greenery coming inside as hotels seek to capture the calming effects of nature.

The Gettys Group envisions redesigning spaces such as boardrooms and event areas with plants enhanced by digital projections that simulate the natural movement in nature, supplemented by air-filtration systems that produce a cross breeze and germ-killing ultraviolet light.

“A part of it is a physical signal to people to say that this inside space is safe,” said Mr. Swidler, citing research that shows the stress-relieving effects of viewing nature.

Incorporating nature into buildings, known as biophilic design, is already at work in places with green walls, potted plants or moss gardens in guest rooms and public areas, such as those at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We’re seeing biophilic design as a driver,” Mr. Ito said, noting that more hotel rooms may feature expanded balconies or patios and operable windows that allow fresh air in.

Guest rooms will no longer be just places to sleep and shower. Instead, they will multitask as gyms, dining rooms and offices. Of course, travelers often use rooms for these purposes already. The difference will be designs to accommodate these expanded roles.

Consider room service. Instead of sitting on the edge of the bed and leaning over a rolled-in table to eat your club sandwich, the more accommodating rooms of the future may have banquettes or convertible dining spaces.

“Before room service was not so nice, but now it’s an amenity people want and you can design guest rooms for great dining experiences in your room or on your terrace,” Mr. Ito said.

Gyms are also expanding their in-room presence beyond the yoga mat in the closet. The newly renovated Gansevoort Meatpacking hotel in New York City features a fitness-on-demand service called Mirror that broadcasts fitness classes on a full-length mirror. Weights are available on demand.

“You don’t have to go downstairs and interact with other people in the fitness center and wear a mask while you work out,” said Anton Moore, the general manager of the hotel.

Sleep remains vital. The Gettys Group think tank proposed a high-tech bed that could monitor your sleep through sensors in the mattress and pillow and feed that data to a guest’s mobile device for analysis in the morning.

Credit…The Getty Group

This summer, Americans rediscovered recreational vehicles as a means of taking their dwellings on the road. Now imagine a hotel company that maintains a fleet of autonomous R.V.s — equipped with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen — that could rove from one location to the next.

The mobile hotel room — already imagined by rental van companies like Cabana — is one of the more futuristic of The Gettys Group ideas, featuring units that pull cars that detach for more nimble exploration in a destination. Guests would be driven from one hotel location to the next on a deluxe road trip, parking at affiliated hotels to use the pool, dine or have it serviced by housekeeping.

“The basic idea is to uncouple the hospitality experience from the hotel and set it out on the road,” Mr. Swidler said.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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Good Is the New Cool When It Comes to a Successful Brand

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October 27, 2020 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Afdhel Aziz is a thought leader, writer, speaker, consultant and board advisor with 20 years of experience working as a visionary marketer at companies like Procter & Gamble, Nokia, and Absolut Vodka. Despite creating world-class pop partnerships with everyone from Lady Gaga to the TED Conferences, he felt there was more he could be contributing to society. 

This search inspired him to co-write Good is the New Cool: Market Like You A Give a Damn. The book’s success led Aziz to quit his job and follow his own purpose. Now he is on a mission to help companies and individuals find purpose and meaning in their work and in their lives. 

An internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, Aziz is also the co-founder and Chief Purpose Officer of Conspiracy of Love. The purpose consultancy supports a long roster of clients, including iconic brands like Adidas, Red Bull, Oreo and Microsoft, to Fortune 500 companies like Unilever, AB Inbev, and .

“Goodisthenewcool.org is now a global movement of good, with events and podcasts in association with Soho House, conferences in LA, Sydney and Melbourne, and an online community of 20,000 purpose-driven leaders in and culture,” Aziz says.

Aziz spoke with Jessica Abo to discuss Conspiracy of Love, why businesses should take the “good is the new cool” approach and why it’s not too late for companies to do better. 

Jessica Abo: Tell us about your book Good is the New Cool: Market Like You A Give a Damn.

Afdhel Aziz: It’s an exploration of the whole world of purpose driven . Today, brands more than ever are asked to take stands. When you think about Nike with Colin Kaepernick, for example, consumers are asking brands to take positions in social issues. We wanted to explore that in this book that I co-wrote with Bobby Jones. The expectation for brands to help solve societal problems has never been more sky high.

In the wake of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter, consumers are demanding that the brands in their lives stand up for their values. Consumers are voting with their wallets, we like to say, and making sure that if they’re going to invest in a ‘s products and services, that brand better be helping solve issues, whether they’re environmental issues or social issues. There is an incredibly high level of scrutiny at the moment that brands are under and expectations keep growing as well.

What are some of the biggest mistakes brands make?

Aziz: One of the biggest mistakes brands make when they venture into this territory of social impact is positioning themselves as the hero, riding in on a white horse to solve the problem. We like to preach to our clients the maxim “be the helper not the hero.” Brands who do this find a way to make the consumers the hero of the journey to give them platforms to help society at large. And this way you can avoid the trap of coming across as too egotistical when talking about how you’re going to attack this problem. 

Do brands have to be perfect to start doing good?

Aziz: Brands do not have to be perfect to do some good. In fact, I would say that no brand is perfect, just like no human being is perfect. It’s important not to be paralyzed by the lack of perfection. Every brand has its problem, has its issues. As long as they’re transparent about it and say, “Listen, here’s the plan that we’re putting into place to solve this problem, bear with us while we do it. But in the meantime, here’s another problem that we really want to solve in society, will you help us?” Taking that humble posture really helps people understand the genuineness of your intentions and that really makes a difference when asking people to participate. 

What advice do you have for brands that want to do some good in the world?

Aziz: The advice that we have for brands who want to do some good in the world is, first of all, listen. Listen to your employees, listen to your consumers, look at the culture in the world today and try and find a way of thinking of people as citizens, not just consumers. Think about the broad range of issues that they care about, and then figure out a way that you, as a brand can get involved in helping to solve some of those problems as well. We like to say brands should solve problems from the everyday to the epic. It doesn’t all have to be about climate change and racial inequality. Maybe there are everyday problems as well that you as a brand can get involved in to make people’s lives a little bit better.

Related: Fighting Zoom Fatigue? These Cards Can Help

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