The hospitality industry can help end social disconnection. This will be the proposition explored through conference discussions and concept room installations at this year’s Sleep & Eat, the annual event that looks – through the lens of design and innovation – at the influences and opportunities shaping the hospitality industry.

Mark Gordon, director of Sleep & Eat, explains, "The evidence is all around us. Smartphones and social media have irrevocably changed the way we live, but there are so many indications that overuse of digital devices can lead to a sense of loneliness, low self-esteem and poor sleeping patterns as people disconnect with the physical world. Our premise is that hoteliers, restaurateurs and their designers can be in the vanguard of promoting human interaction by providing guests with the chance to reconnect with others in person, or, indeed, connect with themselves. The challenge is to provide flexible spaces where users can activate the social experience of their choice. Hence our theme this year of ‘Social FlexAbility’."

"Our premise is that hoteliers, restaurateurs and their designers can be in the vanguard of promoting human interaction by providing guests with the chance to reconnect with others in person, or, indeed, connect with themselves."
Mark Gordon, Sleep & Eat

The two-day, free-to-attend conference is promising to be a highly engaging programme of keynotes and panel discussions, featuring some of those who are already in the vanguard of new hospitality models. Josh Wyatt, the driving force behind NeueHouse, the US-based provider of collaborative workspace, and previously the visionary behind Generator Hostels, will share his opinions on how creativity and design can act as financial drivers for investors and look at how NeueHouse is using these to create a unique and nonreplicable company. Wyatt admits to being shocked by the many executives who still don’t appreciate the importance of design. "I think that as we enter into an era of increasing digitisation, design is ever-more important. You can build a somewhat successful company without it; but you can build a great company with longevity if you understand that design is the physical foundation for your customers’ emotional experience."

In the public eye

Convergence spaces will be under the spotlight when a panel of some of the UK’s most respected hotel operators gathers to discuss Social FlexAbility from their perspective. These days, public areas need to be engaging and inviting, with food and drink concepts that complement both room and nonroom areas. But what does that mean operationally and how must brands adapt themselves to manage this efficiently and within a reasonable time frame? In a data-driven world, do we still rely on our teams and human interaction to deliver on the brand promise? These are just some of the questions that Dale MacPhee, general manager of the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh and Business Women Scotland’s Hotelier of the Year 2017; citizenM’s London area manager, Eylem Ozgun; and Grant Powell, CEO of Central Working, will seek to answer. Veteran hotelier and chairman of Bespoke Hotels Robin Sheppard will moderate this thought-provoking discussion and no doubt offer his own perspective.

The design of co-experience environments will also be under the spotlight when Harry Harris of SUSD, the developers behind the Curtain Hotel and Members Club, and the Devonshire Club, chairs a conversation between leaders in hospitality design, including Alex Michaelis of Michaelis Boyd and Matthew Grzywinski of New York-based architecture and design company Grzywinski + Pons. An F&B session, featuring Lydia Forte, group director of food and beverage at Rocco Forte Hotels, will examine the hot new concepts that travellers are craving and ask if hotels have finally caught up with independent restaurants and bars in offering social excitement.

For delegates wanting to learn about hospitality developments that truly are staking out new territory, day two of the conference will feature intriguing ‘Above and Below’ sessions. Martijn Brouwer and Jeremy Brown of Virgin Galactic, which is preparing to catapult the hospitality experience into space, will set the scene and talk about the absolute imperative of putting a personal approach to service front and centre of their delivery. By contrast, Richard Coutts of Baca Architects, a leading designer of buildings on, alongside or under water, will share what’s involved in creating extraordinary guest experiences in such aquatic environments and will argue that an ecologically aware future demands that more attention should be paid to designing with water.

Set a high bar

The concept room installations, the Sleep & Eat Sets, are a perennial favourite among the show’s regulars, and this year there will be six sets, each designed in response to the 2019 theme. The line-up of set designers reveals an intriguing roster of new and long-established practices based in London, Manchester, Paris and Singapore. They are twenty2degrees, Maria Tibblin & Co, Miaja Design Group and HAT Design, which are designing guest rooms, and SpaceInvader and NAME Architecture, which are designing a bar and restaurant, respectively.

Anne-Marie Sabatier and Flavie Deram of Paris-based HAT Design, whose projects include Marriott Rome Grand Hotel Flora, The Hotel Ring Vienna and Paragraph Resort & Spa on the Black Sea, say, "We have imagined a bedroom space that can breathe with users’ needs and moods, that they can [also] control and recreate. Hotels are becoming used to integrating social hubs in their public areas; we see an exciting opportunity in applying the same philosophy to guest rooms. When we have flexibility to rearrange the space around us, we achieve balance and feel peaceful; it is an approach where quality of space wins over size. As Frank Lloyd Wright said: ‘Space is the breath of art’."

Katie Edgar of SpaceInvader echoes the determination to think outside the box that is the hallmark of all the set designers. "We asked ourselves: what’s the biggest barrier to ‘Social FlexAbility’ in a bar? Our answer was the bar itself. So, we are creating a bar without a bar, which, through layout and design, becomes a space where conversations are developed. Adaptability – leading to interaction with the environment. Flexibility – empowering the individual to use the space as suits them. Design – enhancing service and promoting human interaction," she says.

"Hotels are becoming used to integrating social hubs in their public areas; we see an exciting opportunity in applying the same philosophy to guest rooms."
Anne-Marie Sabatier, HAT Design

In an event that has successfully promoted dialogue and rapprochement between investors, operators and the design community for some 15 years, Sleep & Eat is putting even more emphasis in 2019 on showcasing the contribution to the hospitality industry made by creative talent. Also customdesigned for this year’s show, there will be The Hub, created by the London studio of Wilson Associates, a VIP lounge realised by Moscow-based Megre Interiors and the pop-up Sleeper Bar designed by Michaelis Boyd. Alongside all of this, there will be an international exhibition with world-renowned manufacturers and Sleep & Eat newcomers from across Europe as well as from Turkey, Hong Kong and the UK showcasing their products. As regular visitors to Sleep & Eat testify, this is a show where suppliers choose to launch new collections and present their most design-led products.