In a few months, the world will have completed its second year in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the pleasures we once enjoyed, like travelling, restaurant dining, and outdoor leisure, have taken on new forms that adhere to modern safety standards. With the onset of safety protocols, the restrictions on enclosed spaces have remained strictly enforced by the government, making the hotel industry one of the hardest hit sectors, operating at 50 percent capacity and surviving as quarantine facilities.

Experience seaside oasis from the world-class luxury brand The Anali Boracay (soon-to-open), which infused the island’s cultural essence through architecture.

As we begin our ascent into a healthier future, the hospitality industry must adapt to the new normal, and reimagine hotel interior design protocols. Norman Agleron, a partner and principal of global design studio dedicated to hotel interior design HBA Manila, understands this well.

Agleron sheds light on the situation, sharing that the hotels today are far from what we used to know, encouraging designers to step up to the challenge of dealing with change. He does not perceive all the changes as negative. While several projects have been put on hold due to uncertainties, he recognizes that when it comes to design, designers must recognize the opportunities there are during and post pandemic. “In my humble opinion, the positive from all this is the need for designers to step up and offer more creative solutions to our clients.”

Agleron maintains that the impact on hospitality design may not be so apparent aesthetically, but the goal to create beautiful spaces remains, with the majority of the changes seen in the fundamental planning of hotels. Examples of these are al fresco dining, and more rooms with balcony access.

Holiday Inn will soon rise in the heart of Cebu Business Park, a first in the Philippines’ oldest city.

“Generally, travelers will be more selective with their destinations. For instance, a significant segment of the market will be looking for boutique resorts rather than hotels with 200 plus rooms. It’s really more on what the destination has to offer and the mindset of the travelers we need to address,” he says.

This need to address varying aspects of customer’s utmost comfort is what the hospitality sector has always prioritized. With the new normal, a certain facet takes center, and it is a sense of security and safety when it comes to health concerns.

“The future of the hotel industry is really a hybrid of a hospital and a hotel,” Agleron explains. “The new normal is not so heavy on the aesthetic changes, instead focusing on the way the hotel will provide services to guests. It’s not what you see, it’s what you experience.”

A refreshing new look for the lobby of Crowne Plaza Galleria Manila, unveiling soon.

HBA Manila knows this firsthand. After having been in the hospitality industry for 55 years, the company understands there can be no cookie cutter trademark in design. Instead, what they offer is a global perspective with the sensibility of the local scene. The studio takes pride in the fact that it offers more than a single style, design, or voice.

“We pride ourselves in our diversity and the creativity that allows us to do so. Despite that, we aim to maintain a single standard of quality. And, of course, the value that we add to the hotel or owner’s business.”

Indeed, the global design studio has had a hand in designing spaces that bring recognition to the project’s location and celebrate local tradition. Agleron is proud to have designed for The Siam Kempinski Hotel in Bangkok, which garnered the Perspective Awards for Best New Hotel in 2011. He states that this particular project is a prime example of HBA Manila’s design approach. With each project carried out, the studio aims to tell each client’s stories in a visual, experiential manner. “We derive our inspirations from the project’s location and culture, while keeping in mind the market positioning, the brand standards, and of course, the client’s vision.”

When it comes to tourism in the Philippines, Agleron is optimistic. While business travel has decreased thanks to work from home setups, leisure travel is steadily increasing. One positive note gained from the pandemic is the growing interest of Filipinos in local travel. Some popular spots like Bohol, Siargao, and Mactan remain in the public’s itineraries. But he notes that other cities like Iloilo and Bacolod (where HBA Manila designed the first international brand hotel), as well as the soon-to-rise Pullman in Davao, are garnering more traction.

Incorporating local artisan pieces into the design of the lobby of Citadines Bacolod brings out the unique identity of the hotel being tied up to the local culture.

“What is the appeal of travelling to these cities?” he asks. “It’s the experience that people are yearning for, the sleepy-town feel of a simpler and quiet neighborhood.”

Agleron concludes by saying that the need for travel will always be there. “As it is, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I believe the Philippines is an essential destination, and one that must be explored. After the pandemic, travel and leisure will go back to normal and the hotel industry will be back on track.”