Designing for Conscious and Purpose-Led Travel Experiences

Hospitality experts weigh in on how the industry can recast itself in a moment of crisis.
Hks Hclub Hollywood Fotoworks Benny Chan

Club Hollywood in Los Angeles was designed by HKS to create community space and capitalize on the creative environment of Los Angeles. Courtesy Benny Chan

Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer,” said Sergio Saenz, Principal and Director of Hospitality at HKS Architects. This pearl of wisdom was just one of the insights offered during a lively panel that pleaded for more authentic, local traveling experiences that celebrate uniqueness, be it in small town America, a Mexican resort, or the nation’s often overlooked second-tier cities.

“COVID-19 has forged a oneness in the world,” said Avinash Rajagopal, editor-in-chief of Metropolis and moderator of the event. “While air travel may have slowed, there has been a surge in other forms of travel, especially by car.”

Mary Alice Palmer, principal and director of hospitality interiors at HKS added that “People are less interested in ‘all inclusive’ experiences that separate them from surrounding communities and [want] more authentic ways to engage with local inhabitants and create new opportunities of culture and history.” She offered a specific example: At the Esperanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, after a hurricane, she started with a blank slate to renovate the hotel interior using all locally-sourced craft furniture, rugs and artwork.

“We got back so much response from guests thanking us for this realism that was locally made,” she said.

Justin Croft, vice president of development at Zeppelin Development in Denver, added that the connection to the community needs to be more than superficial. At the Source Hotel + Market Hall, which his firm developed in Denver’s up-and-coming River North neighborhood, a wide variety of local tenants have a commitment to serve both local patrons and tourists. The complex also lends support to the surrounding neighborhoods via a business improvement district that gives grants to black-led businesses. “So the money you’re spending is going back into the community,” he explained.

Invoking the COVID-19 theme, HKS’s Saenz said, “Isolation has given us time to find our values.” His HKS colleague Palmer offered a personal reflection of growing up in a “road warrior” family that was constantly driving from California to Texas. “Being in a creative field I appreciate uniqueness. There’s been a great resurgence in what I call the ‘places in between,’ the small towns and second-tier cities. It’s a great opportunity. When you’re passing by a small town or second-tier city, get out of the car and walk around. It’s a broadening experience.”


The Think Tank discussions were held on October 1, 8, and 15. The conversations were presented in partnership with DesignTV, Material Bank, GROHE, and Durkan.

You may also enjoy “As Technology Reshapes Travel, How Can Hospitality Design Keep Up?

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