Society

Rethinking The Hotel: Open And Fluid Replaces Exclusivity

Hotels are changing their design to reflect the style of modern travelers. A key component now is the entrance and lobby, which are morphing from the secluded and palatial into a multipurpose space that welcomes both guests and the public.

Esplendor Palermo Soho hotel interior design
Diego Coll Benegas

BUENOS AIRES — Among architectural typologies, the hotel is perhaps the most faithful reflection of the time in which it is built. Interior design and decoration contribute to the final product, creating a mood and an environment that are the hotel's seal. Crucially when creating a hotel business, architects, investors and operators must first agree on a common vision and strategy.

Yet the success of an architectural work does not automatically ensure the success of the business it will house. I have had to work both as businessman and operator with professionals who love their work but prove unable to adapt the creation itself to the daily operation of a hotel business. This clearly hampers the desired objective, which is a prospering enterprise.

New generations and new ways of traveling are pushing modern hotel projects to update the way they look like — something that is often dealt with at the initial planning stage. Taking into account the desire of new travelers to have real experiences and to mix with other guests and locals alike, hotel projects are adopting co-working and co-living concepts, especially in the boutique niche, but also in big chains or hostels.

These new shared spaces do not necessarily foster deeper relations between people.

There is a move away from grandiose entrances and imposing doorways toward more creative options. A good example is the multi-use space like the neighborhood bar, café or restaurant that is also the hotel's lobby. It is a space anyone can enter without having to go through a reception.

Now, the inside-outside interaction is more important than the exclusive spaces that characterized five-star hotels. It used to be customary to first enter the hotel before going to its bar or restaurant. This is being modified, even in many five-star hotels, that now allow people to freely move through various spaces even without being a guest.

Photo by Eduardo Sánchez on Unsplash

In Caminito, Buenos Aires — Photo: Eduardo Sánchez

There are hotel projects that have created their own open spaces, while other hotels prefer to let famous café or bar brands operate in their premises. The "cool" thing today is to create globalized environments for both tourists and locals, where everyone feels a world citizen in a relaxed atmosphere, free of architectural barriers.

New public areas or shared zones are thus the new challenge where architecture plays an even more special role. It is the soul of the new hotels. Rooms must meet high standards but are no longer the center of attention. Leisure, work and dining areas must be interconnected, and co-exist naturally. The traditional architectural concept of the lobby on the ground floor, restaurant and breakfast rooms on the first floor, pool on the fifth and spa and gym on the sixth is now outdated.

This is not just to abide by a real need to care for the planet.

These new shared spaces do not necessarily foster deeper relations between people. Today's hotel guests often identify with the tribe concept without the need to interact, simply by sharing a physical space with someone else.

Architects designing new hotels must also pay more attention to the environment, energy efficiency and green spaces, either in traditional terms or in new forms like vertical gardens. This is not just to abide by a real need to care for the planet but also to attract new travelers who select destinations with these characteristics. A hotel project that ignores these elements is definitely falling short of the modern, global traveler's expectations — a trend that will be surely more marked in the future.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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