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Top 10 Industry Trends Driving Hotel Lighting

Hotels are big business, literally. In the United States alone, hotels comprise more than 5 billion square feet of space,1 according to the U.S. Green Building Council® (USGBC®), and spend in excess of $7.5 billion on energy each year,2 as cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This translates to an average spend of nearly $2,200 per available room each year on energy by the more than 47,000 hotels and motels in America, which, in turn, accounts for around 6 percent of all domestic hotel operating costs.

Given these realities, there exists within the hospitality industry both a significant opportunity to reduce environmental impact related to energy consumption and a powerful financial incentive to do so. As is always the case with the hotel industry, it is important that any changes result in a healthy, productive, comfortable environment for guests. For both of these reasons, an analysis of trends regarding hotel lighting—accountable for a significant percentage of energy usage and something that impacts guest perceptions of a space, whether they are cognizant of this fact or not—is a great place for hoteliers to look when contemplating changes that might benefit both their guests and their bottom line.

1. LEEDing a New Way

Between a majority of travelers who have signified that they often take the environment into account when making travel decisions and government regulations that are gradually becoming more stringent, the expectations being placed on hoteliers regarding environmentally sensitive construction and operations are rising.3,4 For years, one of the defining designations of design has been the USGBC Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design™ (LEED®) green building certification system. There has been a seemingly exponential rise in the number of LEED-certified hotels in recent years: In 2008, there were 18 LEED-certified hotels; the number had grown to 141 by 2012, with nearly 1,200 more registered with the intent to certify upon completion.5

The standard by which hotels can achieve LEED certification will soon be changing, however, as the USGBC’s membership has voted to adopt the next version of its LEED certification system, known as LEED v4. 6 The new certification system will require about 20 percent of points to be allocated to optimizing energy performance beyond the ASHRAE 90.1-2010 standard, and it will include the first hospitality project-specific LEED rating system. The credit requirement changes in LEED v4 are anticipated to be the most extensive in LEED’s history.7

2. A Farewell to Incandescent

A shift toward more efficient lighting technologies is one way that many hoteliers are making subtle energy-saving changes, and compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) lamps are playing a big role. While more expensive than incandescent bulbs, these lamps can often pay for themselves through energy and maintenance savings. Additionally, most light fixtures can now accommodate some form of CFL or LED lamp, making it simple for hoteliers to save on energy and maintenance costs while still providing aesthetically pleasing lighting.8 According to a report by NPD DisplaySearch, the demand for LED lighting was expected to double from 16 million units in 2012 to 33 million in 2013 and is expected to triple by 2016.9

3. A Return to Simplicity

Clean, simple and elegant is in. Some hotel design experts have expressed a belief that guests want little in the way of trendy aesthetics and more value for their money. As a result, they expect there will be a shift toward simplified, yet seemingly sophisticated, design that combines lighting and architecture as an art form.10 GE and USG recently joined forces to create an integrated lighting and ceiling system to create a more open, visually appealing ceiling architecture that also combats overlighting, showcasing the sort of thinking that will make “simple and elegant” easily attainable.

4. Hybrid Hospitality

Another emerging trend comes from visionary hoteliers creating properties that stretch our collective understanding of what a hotel is. These thought leaders are developing multidimensional hotel concepts designed to create a certain experience by integrating elements from other building types, such as theaters, galleries or restaurants with more traditional hotel design.11 What this means for hotel lighting design is that the traditional t-grid and acoustical tile layout that is so commonplace in commercial lighting arrangements will no longer cut it for hotels. As hotel architecture shifts, so too must lighting design, to create a unique, appropriate atmosphere that suits a desired brand image and “feel.”

5. Mobile Meetings

One specific way in which hoteliers are embracing a hybrid design concept is by providing more spaces reserved for meeting and business functions. According to research by Westin, 75 percent of workers in the U.S. have no steady office for at least one day a week. As a result, hotels are beginning to focus on providing not only a place to rest your head, but a place to rest your laptop and notepad as well.12 Beyond providing free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets in a lobby, hotels are beginning to offer conference rooms rentable by the hour, which may come with interactive worktables, whiteboards, a lounge and more. This trend means that appropriate lighting design must take place to facilitate presentations, detail-oriented tasks and other business functions.

As part of this shift toward more business being conducted at hotels, it is important not to forget some of the specialized audio-visual lighting needs that come with it. For instance, there is an increasing awareness that lighting designers should be involved when designing videoconference spaces to ensure everyone participating is being seen in the best light, especially because these conferences may account for the only “face-to-face” interaction some professionals may have with one another.13

6. Smartphones Are the Key

Smartphones are swiftly becoming a tool to connect beyond just calls, texts and emails. For some hotel guests, smartphones are the key—literally—to accessing rooms and experiencing a personalized visit. Mobile-enabled room access is becoming an increasingly popular service for guests who download and engage with an app for the hotel’s membership reward program. But, these mobile apps can do more than open the door. They’re with consumers throughout their entire process, from checking in to selecting their room.

Right now, the technology exists for LED lighting fixtures to “talk to” smartphones. These light fixtures can open the door to a personalized experience with automatic adjustments of light, sound and temperature in a room. And soon, smartphones will incorporate indoor location-based services that can make a hotel stay even more convenient and customized for visitors. Helping generate additional revenue for the hotel, the smartphone will also serve as a digital concierge service, guiding guests to their rooms and offering push notifications for other venues on the property. Notifications could include promotions at the gift shop, coupons for coffee or discounts for dining.

7. Balancing Generational Considerations

Members of Generation Y, or “Millennials”, are becoming an increasingly important consumer group for brands to pay attention to, especially because they are expected to possess $200 billion in annual purchasing power starting in 2017. 14 This is a very connected group, and they are typically apt to turn to social media or online review sites for information on hotels or to share their experiences (positive or negative) at a venue. For this reason, it is important to know what they seek in a hotel experience. Millennials are more likely to seek out open working environments, such as lobbies and atriums, and they may seek out hotels with notable design flair that they deem make the venue unique.15 For these reasons, it is important to consider how both ambient and accent lighting design may attract the mobile Millennial to increase your brand capital in their eyes.

While playing to the taste of Millennials, do not forget the older generations. As the Baby Boomer generation reaches senior citizenship, there will be an ongoing need for better lighting quality in general throughout hotel spaces. One form in which this will likely manifest is in the installation of more LED lights, which goes beyond energy efficiency to provide a very clean, uniformly distributed white light. There is also likely to be a need for more variability in lighting levels to give guests more control over illumination in certain spaces.16 Finally, there is likely to be a need for more comprehensive, layered lighting designs that account for ambient, accent and task lighting to deliver illumination levels that create maximum comfort and desirable aesthetics appropriate to the location and room usage.

8. Take Control, Wirelessly

One way to facilitate appropriate lighting for spaces, regardless of the hour, is to integrate wireless lighting sensors for daylight harvesting in tandem with occupancy sensors. These tools not only lower energy costs by supplying lighting for a space only when appropriate, but help to avoid overlighting as well. Wireless sensors make it simple to install these technologies without the time and costs associated with running wires behind walls and ceilings, and it makes it simple to reconfigure spaces in the future. 17

9. Systematic Savings

As part of the move toward more sensors and more advanced energy-saving techniques, hoteliers are exploring how they can more comprehensively integrate lighting into building systems. Some hotels now require a room keycard to be inserted into a switch that activates lighting, heating, air conditioning and even radio or television controls within a room. This simple change limits the amount of energy wasted when systems are activated, but rooms are unoccupied, and it showcases one of many ways automation can save on energy costs. 18

10. Unique Considerations

While there are many trends driving lighting design in the hospitality industry, there are considerations unique to every hotel chain and location that should drive lighting strategy. To determine a path forward that makes sense for you, contact Current powered by GE to explore your options.