Hospitality’s Wake-Up Call


To stay relevant in the increasingly mercurial hospitality industry, hotels are reinventing their relationships with guests and the local community.

POD shares this article from Metropolis Magazine by journalist Jen Murphy.  Illustration by Ethan D'Ercole.

On a recent business trip to Boston, I checked into my hotel at an automated kiosk, ordered room service via an iPad, and used my smartphone to book an Uber to the airport. After my automated checkout, the hotel thanked me for my stay via Twitter. The experience was seamless, yet also soulless. Other than signing for my dinner, I had zero human interaction throughout my four-day stay. When, I thought, did hotel hospitality stop being hospitable?

Our cultural obsession with instant gratification has pushed the hotel industry to excel at customer service at the expense of good old-fashioned hospitality. Big-box hotels have embraced a model of efficiency and convenience that has turned the guest experience into a business transaction rather than a warm and welcoming stay. Guest loyalty, once created by human engagement and memorable moments, is now earned through reward points and Facebook likes. In keeping up with the digital times, the industry has failed to realize that the more connected we are virtually, the more we crave real human connection. I have yet to find an app that re-creates the sense of comfort I feel when I land in a foreign city and am greeted by a smiling stranger who is genuinely interested in taking care of me.

Nothing has reconfirmed our yearning for human connection more than the onset of the sharing economy. Airbnb’s increasing influence on the hospitality industry has been a wake-up call to hotels, which have been scrambling to personalize and localize the traditional guest experience. The 2008 launch of the home-share site fulfilled our desire for both ease and convenience, but, more importantly, it facilitated a relationship between people and place.

Newer brands such as Lark Hotels and Salt Hotels have taken note and found success with their updated twist on bed-and-breakfast hospitality. The stripped-down approach of these boutique properties underscores what truly matters to guests (complimentary locavore breakfast served by a friendly host, yes; multiple dining venues run by star chefs, no). Hosts at Lark and Salt act as both modern-day innkeepers and conduits to the community. The latter is evidence that a hotel’s relationship with the wider community has become just as important as its relationship with its guests.

The hotel has always played the role of historian, shedding light on a city’s past with nostalgically named cocktails, coffee-table books, and design elements. But as hotels become ambassadors of place they also provide a lens into the current cultural zeitgeist of a city. Mini-bars and restaurants showcase local artisans and producers, lobbies double as galleries for local artists, rooftops turn into concert venues for local bands, and gyms host workouts led by cult trainers.

As brands like 21c Museum Hotels and Ace Hotels become cultural hubs for visitors and locals alike, the question for the traveler shifts from “What type of room do I want?” to “What type of people do I want to rub shoulders with during my stay?” The home away from home for travelers is now a hangout for niche segments of a community. Foodies line up to dine at hot hotel restaurants, hipsters hide behind laptops in low-lit lobbies, business execs power-breakfast, and yogis flow in shiny hotel gyms.

As the line between business and leisure travel continues to blur, hotels have the challenge of keeping us plugged-in while also allowing us to tune out, recharge, and reinvent ourselves just a bit.

The emphasis on community-guest engagement has given hotels a leg up on the sharing economy. In April, Airbnb debuted a new brand campaign, “Live There,” and announced a shift in focus to immerse Airbnb guests into a neighborhood through host-generated online guidebooks. And this past July, it launched a pilot program in Sonoma, California, that offered hotel-like amenities including instant booking, 24-hour check-in, and local snacks and wines.

If the hotel industry wants to stay ahead of the sharing economy, it needs to continue to reinvent its relationship with the guest. For centuries, people have turned to travel as a means of personal growth. But as time away becomes more scarce, people are looking to hotels to facilitate personal transformation. Few people have three months to travel the globe, let alone one week to devote to their favorite passion, be it cycling or cooking. As the line between business and leisure travel continues to blur, hotels have the challenge of keeping us plugged-in while also allowing us to tune out, recharge, and reinvent ourselves just a bit.

The hotels of the future will educate, inspire, and improve our overall wellbeing. A good night’s sleep is no longer just about the bed. Pillow menus will be replaced by customizable lighting—and options won’t just go from dim to bright. Technology from the Delos Wellness Real Estate company now gives guests the choice of warm white lighting that adjusts the body’s internal clock or blue energizing light that reduces the effects of jet lag. We’ll see more e-smog-free rooms, like those at Villa Stéphanie in Baden-Baden, Germany, that allow guests to disconnect from Wi-Fi with the touch of a button, guaranteeing distraction-free rest.

While hotels will continue to partner with experts to execute experiences, they’ll also turn inward to take advantage of their own staffs’ knowledge and talents. We’ll see more specialized concierges, like Hotel Vermont in Burlington’s beer concierge, who tap into guests’ geeky obsessions. The stuffy guest-staff formality of the past will give way to more casual encounters as general managers lead morning runs and chefs invite guests into their kitchen gardens. During a recent stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Casablanca, I bonded with the head of housekeeping—someone I’d normally have no interaction with—because the concierge arranged for him to take me surfing.

As the global consciousness increasingly values experiences over things, we will view real time away from our office, our email, and our day-to-day lives as a luxury, and the resort experience will be reimagined as a result. All-inclusive stays designed for guests to sip cocktails and lounge poolside will give way to think tank–style retreats with a Burning Man–meets–TED Conference sensibility. We’ll see more properties like La Granja, a small farmhouse and guesthouse in Ibiza from Design Hotels founder Claus Sendlinger, which offers Slow Food workshops and lectures on meditation and future mobile societies. Developments like Tres Santos, which bills itself as an “epicenter for well-being” in Todos Santos, Mexico, may be the ultimate pioneers in transformational, locally driven hospitality. When the first phase is completed early next year, the mixed-use community will include residences and a boutique property from hip hotelier Liz Lambert, a community farm, and a branch of Colorado State University where locals and visitors can take classes in conservation and organic farming.

All this may seem like a hospitality revolution, but really the industry shifts are a return to the roots of what people have always sought when they travel—a deeper connection to and understanding of people, place, and themselves.


26 January – Australia Day


A couple of big hearted Brisbane lads have just been named Young Australian's of the Year for their free mobile laundry service for the homeless.

Freshly laundered clothes and linen delivered with true Aussie spirit made me think of another pair of Brisbane friends, Susie Everingham + Liz Watson.

Whilst Orange Sky Laundry is a charity, and a completely different kettle of fish to these young home wares designers, I thought they deserved a shout out on our National Day for their patriotic product range. Beautiful, simple screen printed tea towels and stationery featuring prawns, pineapples and Aussie paddock icons sit along side bush scented soaps and blackboards that make you smile. Made in Brisbane, Everingham + Watson's pared-back lifestyle products should make us want to advance their Australia fare.

Australians all let us rejoice for the selflessness of Orange Sky Laundry and the style of Everingham + Watson. Images with thanks via E+W web site.




POD_Everingham & Watson

What’s your story?


POD works with retailers to help them define and tell their story through store design, display and communications.  Does anyone know the original source to this favourite quote of mine?  #PODfinds

VM Other

Half Time

Screenshot 2015-05-17 08.39.46

I have no idea where in the world this 'concrete and clock' installation is located.  Spotted on Flickr, I liked it enough to share it with you.



Design Other

Tapping into Some Colour


To March to the Beat of a Different Drum mean to do things in one's own way regardless of societal norms and conventional expectations. This bathroom does that rather well.

Image via


Design Other

Ceramics in Season

POD_Zemer Peled Ceramics35POD_Zemer Peled Ceramics34POD_Zemer Peled Ceramics01POD_Zemer Peled Shards_FlowerPOD_Zemer Peled Ceramics23POD_Zemer Peled Ceramics12POD_Zemer Peled Ceramics16POD_Zemer Peled Ceramics17 POD_Zemer Peled Ceramics14POD_Zemer Peled Ceramics36POD_Zemer Peled_flower in hand

Ooh I wish I was in London this week for the inaugural London Craft Week.  A brand new, week-long, festival of activities and exhibitions to celebrate all sorts of craftsmanship across the capital. Galleries and artisan workshops in central locations such as Bloomsbury and Mayfair, which have been hubs of industry and craftsmanship for many centuries, are hosting events to showcase both ancient skills and exciting new talent.

I am in awe of the beautiful work by Israeli artist, Zemer Peled.  These stunning blooms are formed from ceramic shards. Her work is showing at the Saatchi Gallery for COLLECT 2015 (The International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects). If you live in London, get your skates on as it closes 11 May.

Images via


Craft Other London

Magic Carpet


This stunning carpet measures 25m x 75m and is made from thousands of fresh Belgian Begonias. Until I stumbled upon this striking installation I did not know that Belgium cultivates 60 million begonia tubers every year, and is recognized as the world’s largest producer.

The Flower Carpet appears in Brussel's main square every 2 years. 2014's dramatic design is inspired by the Turkish Kilm (pic below).

flower carpet 2014

It's times like this that I wished I lived in Europe and could easily hop on a train to experience such fabulousness!  via

VM Other Belgium

Bespoke Little Bird

POD_bowerbird_redhill At first glance Bowerbird looks like another 'lovely' interiors store. I quickly discovered the mother and daughter talent behind the counter makes this little nest of stylish things for the home a stand out. Peta Sweatman is a ceramicist who hand makes the bespoke lamp bases that are a feature item. Shades in all sorts of designer fabrics add the finishing touch. With most things made (and made well) in China these days it is refreshing to find someone bucking the trend.  The pony painting is hues of blue also caught my eye. Turns out Peta's daughter is the artist. She will take a portrait or photo of a favourite pet and turn it into a work of art with her paint brush and acrylics. Affordably priced, her work would make a great anniversary or special occasion gift. You can find Bowerbird Collections at 1 Enoggera Terrace, Red Hill, Brisbane. Ph (07) 3368 3241. 

Shibori Surprise

Indigo Jane_Shibori Studio_Brisbane Shibori is the ancient Japanese art form of dyeing cloth.  I have just discovered my neighbour has a serious talent for the craft, and from what I can see it's a messy process. She tells me there is a precise formulae to mixing a 'really good' indigo vat and that it has taken her years to perfect the recipe. I popped over this afternoon and found her mid-way through creating another batch of artisan fabric. I took a few snaps of the string, gloves and PVC pipe that she uses in her dyeing techniques and was happy with the abstract results (hence this blog post!). She has no web site or established retail channel but I think she should. If nothing else I think the first few photos would make a fabulous large scale piece of photographic art in a Byron Bay beach house. Ah the talent hiding in the suburbs ... it needs to be encouraged and supported. "Indigo Jane" the world awaits your first exhibition!

Fashion Other Brisbane

Seek & Find

POD personal update POD peeps from around the globe have sent the occasional email over the past year enquiring as to why my blogging has slowed down? Those who know me, already know I have been limping for 18 months and am now 6 months post surgery (a total foot reconstruction if you don't mind).  The reality is if you can't walk you don't look, and if you don't look you don't find. The surgeon says another 6 months until I can really start snooping seriously again. So there you have it (and yes, that is the X-ray of my foot with the 'bolt' that is now holding it together - looks like I have had a nasty accident on a building site!).  In the meantime, if you're a designer and have done something fabulous then feel free to flick me a photo file.