One of the best parts about my job as an architect designing hospitality projects around the world is the opportunity to visit many of our projects' destinations to experience, and learn from, our client's competition in a given locale. There are moments of inspiration and wonder. There are (I can admit) moments of envy at not having thought of something first. And then there are moments of…?
On a recent trip to Vietnam, one resort, in particular, stood out amongst the crowd. I recall briefly glancing at a few online images prior to booking our rooms and seeing advertisements for the resort in the in-flight magazine, where I noted the opening date of January 2010 (a full 18 months prior to my arrival, the importance of which will soon be clear). It boasted a large infinity-edge pool, great guestrooms and other standard accoutrements for a tropical beach resort of its type. In short, I was looking forward to the stay and to documenting it for future reference.
Little did I know at the time that my documentation would be of quite a different sort. Things started off promising; the lobby was fantastically large and the guestroom palette spoke of elegance and sophistication. I liked it. Then I stepped onto the balcony echoing with the sounds of circular saws slicing through stone. Eighteen months after opening, I could see construction underway around the pool, the fitness center, what I assume will be a specialty restaurant, and nearly an entire wing of guestrooms. It was curious, but I didn't give it much thought. Low season I told myself, some minor tune-ups, not a big deal. The more I explored, however, the more I came to realize I'd arrived at a textbook example of how not to run a hotel.
Throughout my short stay I kept my camera in hand, ready for the next photo-op of what-not-to-do. What sort of things did I stumble upon? For instance, the hotel staff was kind enough to leave a variety of vertical-chase doors open for me to investigate. The route to the emergency stairs was a virtual wonderland of half-conceived retrofits, dangling wires and accessible, unused roof terraces. The hotel directory helpfully informed me that the spa was located on the second floor; but when the elevator doors opened, I was greeted by a dark vestibule covered in dirt and construction debris with a stack of mattresses two meters high. I wish I could say I took the responsible course of action and alerted the hotel staff to their potentially dangerous oversight, but instead I snapped a picture, tweeted it, and rushed off to tell my colleagues about my discovery before our next appointment.
My experience at this particular resort -- while entertaining for someone who uses every stay as a chance to explore and learn -- spoke of the importance of taking great care in making a choice about who will design, operate and maintain your hotel. Guests don’t want to spend their holiday at a construction site. They don't even want to see a back-of-house corridor. It is up to us as designers and our clients as developers and operators to ensure that doesn't happen.
Also, I never did find the spa.
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