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Do They Know You in Bangalore?  

The Westin in Suzhou, China. Photo credit: Gensler

This blog post was originally published in HOTELS Magazine.

I recall a quote from Teddy Roosevelt that seems to resonate with me. He said, “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

In other words, if we’re good at what we do (whether that’s designing buildings or operating hotels), we’re first and foremost in the business of knowing—really understanding—people. Or (as the case may be with a growing number of hoteliers thinking about global expansion), knowing people.

Those who reap success in taking their brand overseas realize you can’t simply clone your concept and drop it in a foreign land with the appropriate accommodations made to security (essential in India) and religion (particularly in the Middle East, where hotels must have prayer rooms and signage pointing to Mecca) and sitting/organization (a la feng shui in China). You have to know how to get along with the people there first. You have to understand the culture and weave that sensitivity into your brand, which is something we at Gensler are constantly aware of as we work with clients on their expansion programs in Asia, the Middle East, and South and Central America in particular.

The trick is also the goal: honoring people's unique place in this world and your brand at the same time. Here are five tips for making magic happen:

  1. Know who your customer is and what they want. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to misjudge the entirety of your draw. In the growing cities of China and India, for instance, hoteliers are likely to be addressing a combination of local customers and both domestic and international travelers. Many of those global travelers come with lots of miles under their belts and great expectations for comfort and amenities. The challenge is to marry all of those customer bases into a hotel experience that appeals to all while still feeling personal and unique.
  2. Embrace local customs and traditions. Embedding local flavor is what turns a hotel into an experience. Travelers want an authentic experience, even/especially if it comes wrapped in what they consider a “pre-packaged” brand.

    Make your spa experience feel Indian or Chinese or Peruvian or otherwise typical. Make the bar and restaurant experience offer at least one option for traditional cuisine done really, really well. Make your materials selection as local as possible, and if artisans are plentiful and labor is inexpensive (like in India), by all means infuse that local handiwork into the hotel’s design.

    With the spread of social media (and sites like tripadvisor.com), it’s entirely possible for travelers to hop off the “brand wagon” and experience something new at an independent, local hotel with the relative peace of mind of previous guests’ recommendations—which is even more reason why global brands must find something special about the country/region they’re now serving and deliver it with exuberance.

  3. Embrace the locals. In many of the emerging markets, hotels are a special meeting place for the local community. Cater to those locals (they’re often an overlooked revenue stream) with restaurants and spas that celebrate the culture. And offer the right celebratory spaces—i.e., large wedding ballrooms and wedding gardens if you’re anywhere in Asia. The traditional (large) Asian and Indian wedding should be a big driver for a hotel’s program and design.
  4. Look to the geography—and the brand—for design inspiration. You never want to be literal about this (i.e., designing a hotel with the native flower or your logo painted all over the place), but there’s design inspiration to be had in the local surroundings and in your own brand language. And it’s a great way to infuse both—with subtlety, grace, and a modern context—into the hotel’s design. For instance, in Suzhou, China, we were inspired by the traditional Chinese patterns—and particularly the lattice motifs—seen on the framed windows and doors in this city’s beautiful gardens. We embedded those gradient patterns into the architecture of the new Westin Suzhou. In Lima, Peru, we designed a new hotel at Larcomar to terrace down the coastal hillside, making a nod to the Incan civilizations of Machu Picchu. And at Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea, the design of the new Hyatt Regency hotel—with its undulating curves and feeling of movement—references both flight and the Korean Air logo.
  5. Remember the universal truths. Guests want to be comfortable. They want to feel safe. They want great service. Your program and design can enhance all of that.

Do they know you in Bangalore? Perhaps the better question is “How well do you know them?”

Tom Ito is a principal in Gensler’s Los Angeles office and a leader in the firm’s global hospitality practice. Tom launched that practice at Gensler with the renovation of The Beverly Hills Hotel in the early 1990s and has since developed it on an international scale with clients throughout Asia, the UK, Middle East and Americas. This is the first in a series of blogs that Tom is contributing on design—and its value. Contact him at tom_ito@gensler.com.

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