Hoteliers are Making Risky Colour Choices

August 29, 2018



Wouldn’t it be nice if the guest experience could be scientifically understood down to the smallest detail? There would be no room for error. You would only have to follow the established guidelines in every area of hotel design and operation, and voila – the guest experience would come out perfect every time!


Actually, this would be boring. Everything would funnel into uniformity. It would be like a dystopian thriller in which someone has to rise up and challenge the established order.


Like any good industry, there are many players who do undertake a lot of research and, once they have found a formula that works, try and replicate it. Indeed, this is the basis on which Holiday Inn was founded and which many others copied however it is equally true that new technologies and tastes are constantly re-shaping our best approximations of what works. Following a golden era of consistency and reliability it is logical that individuality is now more important. In fact, outstanding guest experiences come from the unique flavour of a property as much anything else.


The use of colour is an interesting example of push and pull between the established order and a hotel’s individual character. Everyone has an opinion of course, and you know that everyone from the GM to the owner to the doorperson will have a view on what the interior designer has proposed. Making the best choices, whether for common areas or guestrooms, is ultimately a guessing game but it should be an informed choice nonetheless. If we’re interested in how interior colour palettes affect the mood, there is a massive body of research to lean on but unless you are the owner who is driving a particular vision, don’t get caught up in personal opinion. Engage experts and listen!


Earthy and neutral tones, for example, remain incredibly popular – and common – in hotel rooms. They have a stable, relaxing and unobtrusive effect. The downside is that, even when skilfully combined, such tones can feel safe to the point of boredom. This is why Marriott, for its millennial-focused “Gen Next” rooms, rolled out neutral tones offset by splashes of bright colour. The effect is safe and calming, with hints of more vibrant emotion.


What about ditching neutral tones altogether? Is it an option? Leatrice Eismen, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, commented earlier this year that hotels are trending toward bold and vibrant colour palettes – a phenomenon that, from my own point of view, appears to line up with the growing desire for evocative and adventurous travel experiences. This is also why newer groups such as Ovolo make colour such a point of difference in their hotels. It challenges the norm.


Purples, sea greens, yellows, and even orange tones can serve to achieve these effects. Many hotels are experimenting with colour combinations that have long been considered to be totally outside the box: such as red with orange, or pink with purple. In this sense, riskier palettes are being used as a way to push brand differentiation and (quite literally) colour the guest experience in new ways.


Green is a colour that’s also on the uptick, apparently because of its appeal to younger demographics. The psychology of green – at least many shades of it – is one of youthfulness and vitality. Blue is still a classy and calming favourite, although it can evoke sadness in the wrong combinations. Meanwhile, very dark tones with shiny accents are being used to create elegance, depth, mystery and power. 


Deeper questions about colour


Why are hotels testing the science and effect of different colour schemes? Why are they flouting conventional wisdom, in some cases? Could it be increasing variety and competition erodes the rules even as it creates new ones? Or is it just another case of the Emperor’s New Clothes where we mistakenly believe something looks great just because it is different?


It’s nice to have all that knowledge of colour psychology at our disposal, and it only makes sense to let it inform our choices. But if we want the guest experience itself to have more feeling, there should be more intention and feeling in our design choices. We need to be very clear on what we are trying to say with a hotel brand, and what competing hotel brands are saying about themselves. Like all good “moments of truth” we need to ensure that the colours are a positive influence on our guests and our staff and ultimately make people want to return and not just because we want to be different.


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