Architects and designers are reimagining travel for pandemic-proof tourism.
From the spaces that accommodate travelers to the vehicles that bring them there, the backdrop of tourism is being reimagined in the wake of COVID-19.
Arper is redesigning airports and other spaces where people gather en masse. In their project Back to our Spaces, the firm presents new furniture designs for easy space modifications that maintain personal space in post-lockdown gatherings. Modular sofas encourage proper distancing; protective screens create barriers; and larger dividers can be moved to accommodate groups or create personal nooks.
The project aims to protect the individual without fully isolating them. The designs “create distance without sacrificing important social interaction that happens in these spaces,” Arper explained, preserving “a sense of shared culture.”
UK architecture firm The Manser Practice has envisioned the post-pandemic hotel. Their vision includes features like touchless room access, personal in-room gyms, app-based amenities, robot cleaning, remote room delivery as “a return to the old forms of room service,” CEO of The Manser Practice Jonathan Manser explained, and even custom-built, self-contained suites for heightened seclusion.
“There will be increased demand for ‘quarantine hotels,’ not only for guests to get away, but for those ‘stuck’ in other countries unable to travel home,” Manser said. “We’ve roughed out plans for a 28 metre-squared Utility Pod, with bed, bath, wardrobe, minibar, delivery hatch workspace and gym all in the one space—a self-contained isolation hotel room,” he added.
Other designers are turning their attention to the vehicles that take travelers from point A to point B. Arrival’s new bus design, released in June, includes reconfigurable seating to aid social distancing between passengers. Other features—like zero-touch bells, cantilevered seating and seamless interior surfaces—optimize sanitation and facilitate cleaning, while screens on the exterior and interior of the bus provide information on how busy the route is and how much seating is available.
Airplanes, too, are getting a redesign. Factorydesign’s Isolate Kit, released in May, repurposes the middle seat into a barrier between passengers. “Airlines will need to adapt their cabins in order to tempt customers back and reassure them that their health is protected whilst on board,” the firm explained. Similarly, in April, Italian design agency Aviointeriors proposed its Glassafe concept, a transparent hood that can be fixed onto existing seats and “reduce the probability of contamination by viruses or other.”
As these designs underscore, ensuring cleanliness will be a key priority in the future of hospitality. “We used to think that seeing people clean things [should be invisible], but now you want to bring them to the forefront,” Tom Ito, principal at architecture and design firm Gensler, told Business Insider. “For us, it’s about how we can integrate that into a design that is still not clinical.”
That design will likely incorporate antiviral surfaces and materials, especially as “people are saying no to rugs,” noted John M. Sofio, president and founder of Built, Inc., a design group currently working with three Marriott properties.
“People will want the assurance of properly maintained, clean space,” echoed Manser, who questions if this will drive a move away from home rentals. “There’s no guarantee, when renting from another consumer, that interiors have been properly cleaned since the last use—this gives an advantage to the hotel industry and particularly, one suspects, to the big international brands.”
In recent years, solo travel has been celebrated as a conduit for psychological and emotional journeys alongside physical ones. But these innovations herald a new kind of individualistic travel: one that shields personal space and protects individual health at all costs.