A Stage Set with a Story: Designing Hotels with a Narrative

Buena Vista Palace_Nicholas James Photo

An opera with only a beautiful stage set is just something pretty for the audience to look at. A successful production is layered with a story, characters, and music that sets the tone and gives resonance to the staging. The same is true for hotel design. Design needs a narrative to be truly meaningful.

Once, it was enough to simply create attractive lobbies and comfortable guestrooms and serve undifferentiated food in restaurants. That was then, this is now. Today, hotel guests are more discerning, globally aware, and socially connected. And they expect more. They demand an experience and maybe even a transformative one.

Penning that Brand Story
To create highly differentiated and desirable experiences in hospitality, hoteliers need to tap into strategic and creative thinking of their own or through consultants. Each project starts with being well-versed on the competition (to be differentiated) and clear about the target guests (to be desirable). Step one is research and strategy.

Step two is brand story creation based on the established brand parameters. This is where hospitality brand builders become explorers, trend-spotters, wordsmiths, and storytellers. By teasing out threads of narrative from research and weaving them together to form a concept and direction, the foundation for the brand story arc is established. What follows are brand details.


Step three is to craft brand personality, identity, and voice, also known as character development. The brand story is shaped and stretched into a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional hospitality experience—often the larger brand storyline along with the supporting narratives of other amenities, such as restaurants and bars—before it can be handed over to the design team, like a storyboard ready to be turned into a production.

To continue this production analogy, after the brand story is crafted, the larger project team is assembled for a read-through and kick-off. The stage is set but needs a story. It also needs set designers (interior design team), actors (hotel operations staff), and a packed house (hotel guests) as often as possible with the assistance of the marketing and publicity teams. This team will meet regularly until showtime to choreograph and coordinate the production.

Distinctive boutique properties such as Reikart House, a recently reimagined Tribute Portfolio hotel in Amherst, New York, greatly benefited from these richly crafted brand stories. For example, this one-of-a-kind hotel draws its inspiration from the property’s character namesake, Frank Reikart, a colorful, early 20th-century Vaudevillian actor known for his musical inventions and his pet Capuchin monkey, Jacko. Intentional brand research led to a rich, highly unique guest experience that is as memorable as it is distinctive.

Receipts, Reviews, and Returns
It’s a thrilling time to work in the boutique and lifestyle sector. Hospitality specialists have the opportunity to create and craft dynamic and remarkable experiences that spark the imagination of the audience–the increasingly savvy and satisfied hotel guest.


About the Author
Ron Swidler is principal, branding, at The Gettys Group.


Photo: Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace Disney Springs (Credit: Nicholas James Photo)

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