What the Real Estate Industry Can Learn From the Hospitality Sector

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A couple months ago while walking around West Village, I found myself in J. Crew. Upon entering, a saleswoman offered her assistance. A table behind her held breakfast pastries and coffee. Music was playing. Other shoppers were browsing racks of clothes while eating muffins. A bored-looking man sat on a plush chair, free coffee in hand. A couple weeks later, while walking into a hotel lobby in downtown Dallas, I had déjà vu. Retail stores—and other types of real estate—have realized the lesser known cousin of experience: hospitality.

“Hospitality is so much more than providing a physical product,” says Paula Gomprecht, vice president of marketing for hospitality-focused co-working concept Serendipity Labs, which just opened its first North Texas location at the HALL Arts building in Dallas. “People want to identify with something that will take care of them.”

Whereas creating an experience is focused on producing an enjoyable and memorable time, hospitality is the business of making people feel welcome to stay and return. Hospitality is more complex than offering services hotel guests love such as room service, maid service, and a concierge—though those are important. Making someone feel welcome is a combination of services and details, such as comfortable furniture, well-lit corridors, easy wayfinding, unexpected snacks or drinks, and a predictable arrival experience that mitigates inconvenience.

This recent upsurge in hospitality-focused real estate has gone far beyond hotels and has made its way into restaurants, retail stores, hospitals, schools, airports, and offices, says Lindsay Wilson, executive managing principal and interiors section leader at Corgan. Many types of spaces now have friendly, inviting reception areas that contrast the tall, fortress-style desks of the past. Waiters, receptionists, and check-out personnel have ramped up efforts to be more accommodating to guests and customers.

Wilson, whose team does work all over the U.S., has seen increased demand for hospitality-focused real estate in Dallas. “There are now many examples [in DFW] of this being done successfully,” Wilson says. “Now the desire has been created. And, with the importance of recruiting great talent, many of our clients believe hospitality is a part of that.”

Wilson points to Dallas Love Field and the offices within the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art as successful hospitality-inspired projects. Love Field’s recent renovation, which Corgan designed, utilized more natural light, comfortable seating, better wayfinding, and more local food options. The Crow Collection, also by Corgan, incorporated many health and wellness amenities (not unlike a hotel spa) such as a meditation space for employees.

A Soft Touch

Perhaps no sector has realized the demand for hospitality better than co-working operators. Beyond just providing a physical work station, Gomprecht says Serendipity Labs places a lot of importance on staffing. Staff members can function as a de facto concierge by helping members book meetings, greet guests, or offer suggestions for a good restaurant. “We’re often in the background to make things seamless for our guests,” Gomprecht says. “Having that soft touch—whether it be coordinating meetings or cleaning up coffee cups—helps set our members up for success.”

Many other local co-working concepts, such as Common Desk or GoodWork, have also created niches for themselves as hospitality- and service-oriented co-working spaces.

“What restaurants and hotels try to create is an experience that’s memorable and welcoming so that you keep returning,” Wilson says. “Of course, you don’t always have a choice regarding [returning to] work, but we want to help our clients create a workplace where people want to return.”

Many of those details go unnoticed when done well, and will be unpleasantly apparent when done poorly. It starts at the front door, Wilson says. Designers must ask themselves how people interact with spaces throughout their stay, whether that’s at an airport or a shopping center. Is wayfinding easy throughout hallways, parking garages, and elevators? Does the initial entrance have a look-but-don’t-touch feel, or does it feel like a friend’s living room? Can users have a seamless arrival?

That kind of thinking was also important at Toyota North America’s new 2 million-square-foot campus in Plano. Myra Chung, senior manager of real estate, workplace strategy, project development, and facilities at Toyota North America, says that element of hospitality was ingrained into the office from the beginning. Toyota has clear cultural priorities for its new space, which was designed by Corgan. “We wanted more of that casual living room kind of feel,” Chung says. “Our initial thought was that [the campus] should look and feel different from where we came from, which was very hierarchical and corporate.”

Within the design framework, Toyota also layered on services to increase convenience for employees. The campus has a convenience store with grab-and-go food, greeting cards, Band-Aids, and the like. Employees can mail packages, pick up movie tickets, and get discounts to local attractions at concierge desks throughout the campus. A couple micro-markets stay open late and on weekends for employees working non-traditional hours. One of the micro-markets, Chung says, is Asian-inspired. “You can pick up things you’d find at an Asian market like 99 Ranch Market or Shun Fat [Supermarket],” Chung says. “That’s part of the culture of our company, and we want our Japan staff and our California staff to feel at home when they come here.”

Though corporate campuses might demonstrate the best examples, Wilson’s seen a shift in small and mid-sized offices exploring more hospitality-based workplaces. “Some people think it’s just a Toyota or JPMorgan that would be doing this, but … companies of all sizes are now talking with employees about what is meaningful in improving their workplaces. Even many of these 200,000-square-foot multi-tenant buildings are asking, ‘Do you feel welcome?’”

Outside the Workplace

Southerners take hospitality seriously. And so does Fehmi Karahan. The developer behind the $3 billion Legacy West project in Plano places high importance on making guests feel welcome. “I grew up in Turkey, where hospitality is a big thing. Anyone who drops by your house—they are welcome,” Karahan says. His roots had a big impact on Legacy, he says. In all aspects of development, he asked the question, “How is this place welcoming to our guests?” Karahan and his team constantly raised questions to their planning and execution team and Gensler architects. Is the landscaping charming? Are valet drivers professionally dressed? Do you feel worried parking your car in the garages? Those answers range from the basic—such as safety and cleanliness standards—to the detailed. Legacy West’s mix of retail tenants, which includes experience-focused tenants such as Tesla and Warby Parker, reinforces Karahan’s priorities.

The healthcare sector also has a lot to benefit from by making hospitals more hospitality-focused. When Parkland Health and Hospital System opened its 2.8 million-square-foot facility in 2015, it centralized nurse stations, making them closer to patients.

“I think healthcare providers like hospitals understood the value [of hospitality] before it went to corporate America,” Wilson says. “Parkland moving its nurse stations right outside the patient’s room is not only efficient, but it allows nurses to be better caregivers.”

Likewise, multifamily projects, both for-sale and for-lease, have started emulating high-end hotels. StreetLights Residential and Westdale’s Case Building opened in Deep Ellum in December. The 337-unit apartment complex has a hotel-like lobby, complete with a residents-only bar. Harwood International’s 33-story condo tower called Blue Ciel plans to differentiate itself with several hotel-like amenities such as a gourmet grocery store on the ground floor that will deliver food to residences à la room service.

A related phenomenon to hospitality is real estate’s embrace of regionalism, Wilson says. “At the beginning of my career, you saw a lot of companies who wanted identical offices across the country,” she says. Now, many offices, retail stores, hotels, and the like are allowing the local culture to influence the space. “Airports are a great example,” Wilson says. “Part of the story of your space is embracing regionalism and the city you’re in, whether that’s through local coffee, artwork, or materials.”

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