Whether to keep up with the Joneses or to comply with ever-evolving brand standards, hotel owners and operators are racing to improve their properties in today’s bustling hospitality climate. In the same vein, developers are feverishly working on deals for acquisitions and entitlements for newbuild hotels to bring to market. In all this fervor, it can be easy to jump in head first, start reaching out to interior designers and architects, and move with the intention of presenting a completed model room in just six weeks. Time is money, right? Of course it is, but to maximize investments and minimize costly change orders and design-add services, it’s worth taking the time to put together a strategic plan that provides as much critical information to a design team as possible.
When developing a new-build project or renovating a hotel, there are many critical factors that owners must balance and leverage—including loans, entitlements, permits, lead times, operations, and displaced business. These front-of-mind factors are also critical for architects and designers. At the onset of a project, the design team needs to understand some specific pieces of the puzzle to provide clients with a thoughtful proposal response and reflective fee structure. As such, it’s imperative to create a careful and comprehensive request for proposal (RFP) before contacting designers.
A properly written RFP accurately reflects the owner’s vision and goals for a project and is an essential tool for soliciting apples-to-apples bids based on the same degree of scope, services, and assumptions for all bidders. Too often, designers are sent standalone conceptual or existing architectural plans and asked to provide a bid for interior design, which typically leads to needless rounds of questions and clarifications that must then be conveyed to the different bidders to keep the bids consistent.
Before embarking on a major project, take the time to establish the overall vision or the “big picture” through a design brief during the RFP stage. Engage the brand or operator to obtain their direct insight and guest feedback, and analyze the competitive set to understand the market’s current offerings. Make a list of key buzzwords that describe the desired guest experience and overall impression of the hotel to share with the design team. Taking the time to provide this key information to the design team during the bid process will put them on the right path and will yield informed and consistent bids. Many design firms begin the design process by producing a conceptual narrative that positions the project and establishes a DNA to direct the design. This conceptual narrative should be foundationally driven by the owner’s vision. Providing an informative RFP will not only facilitate the design process, it will result in a project that stands apart in the market place because it has been developed with a vision.
Owners should also allow sufficient time and money to assemble the information on bidding design that teams need up front to better understand not only the owner’s goals and vision, but also a project’s existing conditions so they can determine fees more accurately. Providing benchmark aspirational properties or information on the competitive set will help the design team understand the owner’s desired quality of the project.
If a new brand or operator is identified, sharing this information also provides the design team a reference for quality and process to obtain necessary approvals.
It is important for those authoring an RFP to carefully consider how long it takes for a project to be designed, including the approval process, with its owners, partners, operators, and brands.
Much emphasis is placed on construction durations and furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) procurement windows. But it’s just as critical to the success of a project to outline realistic design durations and an approval process that permits decision makers to respond to the design team. Too often, developers and owners want something that “works” on paper but is not realistically achievable and therefore sets up the project—and everyone involved—for disappointment, delays, and additional costs.
For renovation projects, the RFP should provide the potential design teams with as much existing information as feasible, including: existing as-builts; surveys; computer-assisted design (CAD) files; photos; guestroom matrices; American with Disabilities Act (ADA) reports; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP); and structural information. If it’s a new construction project or a major renovation, the design team will need an area program to understand the scale of the project and the scope of the different areas that require design solutions.
When it comes to project budgets, owners and developers often play these cards close to their vest. Perhaps this is to try to prohibit the perspective design team from bidding the project as a percentage of the construction budget. However, sharing this information with the design team during the RFP stage is extremely critical. Not only does it provide a seasoned design team with the understanding of the target project quality, it’s an essential benchmark included in most contracts for architects and designers.
Owners typically require the design team to adhere to the owner’s budget contractually, and any design revisions required to achieve the owner’s budget is at the sole expense of the designer. For this contract language to have any meaning, the design team must be aware of the financial target they are obligated to deliver upon. Interior designers should specifically be provided an interior finishes and FF&E budget, as designers have no control of individual market labor costs associated with general construction. Simply providing designers with an “all-in” construction budget is not as useful, as this encompasses all construction costs.
Given the importance of the RFP, hiring an experienced hospitality project manager directly or as a consultant can aid in the RFP process and development of a realistic project schedule. The technical services teams with the brands and operators are often a great resource to confirm appropriate design schedules.
In the words of poet Robert Burns in “To a Mouse,” “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Unfortunately, this phrase too often describes construction projects. No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may—and in construction projects, will—go wrong, so be sure to include financial and schedule contingencies. Such cushions will help deliver a successful project and pave the way for future success.