Transform Your Guest Experience with Experiential Design: A Live Panel with Casa Bonay, Egnazia & Grupo Habita

At L.E/Miami 2023, we hosted a panel discussion on the art of Experiential Design with Inés Miró-Sans (Co-Founder of Casa Bonay), Aldo Melpignano (Founder & CEO of Egnazia), and Carlos Couturier (Co-Founder of Grupo Habita). Includes holistic strategies for hoteliers to craft authentic experiences that build connections with their guests.

Experiences matter. In today's ever-evolving hospitality landscape, guests at boutique and luxury hotels expect more than high-end amenities; they seek authentic and immersive experiences.

At L.E/Miami 2023, we had the pleasure of hosting a panel discussion on the art of “Experiential Design”. The panel brought together industry visionaries Inés Miró-Sans (Co-Founder of Casa Bonay), Aldo Melpignano (Founder & CEO of Egnazia), and Carlos Couturier (Co-Founder of Grupo Habita) to share their secrets to crafting inspiring experiences.

Here are three key strategies for any hotelier or hotel team to use for crafting inspiring experiences that build authentic connection with guests:

1. Immerse Guests in Your World

Casa Bonay invites guests to experience Barcelona like locals do. "We activate things with food because we are from Barcelona– we love to eat,” say Ines Miro-Sans, Co-Founder of Casa Bonay. “This is what we really enjoy, and this is what we really do once we leave the hotel." They collaborate with designers, artists, chefs, and filmmakers to create experiences that are personal and authentic, reflecting the vibrant character of Barcelona. "By focusing on cultural activations, we allow guests to immerse themselves in the essence of the city."

The key to creating an immersive guest experience begins with understanding your brand's essence, values, and what makes you unique. Embrace your unique identity, and use it as a guiding star for all your experiences. Then, find creative ways for guests to experience life through your unique lens.

Ines continued, “We always try to do these activations with people we know. We never get a chef that we have no relationship with, him or her. And that's, I think, what makes us special, that activation, because you can see it's like friends’ gathering for a nice meal, right? It's personal.”

"Amenities are an integral part of our attention to detail. Let me give you an example. In our minibar, we stock over 335 different references, much to the dismay of our GM. We include items we love and that are representative of the city, such as Barcelona. But we also feature things we simply enjoy, even if they are not directly related to the location. For instance, we might have a particular brand of tea that a friend introduced to us. These unexpected amenities surprise and delight our guests, as they don't anticipate such personalized touches. Additionally, we strive to keep the prices of minibar items similar to those outside the property."

Ways to apply Experiential Design at your hotel and immerse guests in your world:

Make it Personal: Infuse storytelling into each experience. Show them what your community has to offer.

Keep it Local: Collaborate with community partners such as local artists, chefs, artisans, musicians, to bring the authentic flavors of your region to life.

Curated Experiences: Design experiences around the things you value, with opportunities for guests immerse themselves in the local culture and heritage.

2. Practice Cultural Stewardship

Carlos Couturier, Co-Founder of Grupo Habita shared how  they take great care to introduce guests to the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Mexico in a thoughtful and respectful way– inviting travelers to get to know the rhythms of the destination, participate in life, and open to new perspectives.

“Places that are just honest places, where you feel like you're living the experience of a local–  all the creativity comes from local architects or designers or chefs. Everything is sourced locally.

And we're inviting guests in the morning, for example, to go and pick the eggs for their omelets from the free range chickens, and the herbs from the bush so they feel that they're involved.They lend their hands and their energy to be part of the service in a way. We call them free range humans! We want them to be free range humans."

Aldo Melpignano, Founder & CEO of Egnazia added: "At Egnazia, we wanted to promote the region and create human connections and communities. At the heart of our property is a piazza where most activities take place, fostering connections with the local community and promoting their activities. Unlike many other hotels, our scale is significant, accommodating over 500 guests and employing 700 staff members. We also collaborate extensively with the local community, organizing festivals and bringing in traditions.”

Ways to approach cultural stewardship in your experiential design:

Foster Authentic Local Connections: Collaborate with local artisans, designers, chefs, and cultural organizations, integrate them into your world and your guest experiences.

Facilitate Thoughtful Cultural Experiences: Organize events that allow guests to engage with the local community and participate in traditional cultural activities.

Embody A Sense of Place: Curate your hotel's design, decor, and amenities to reflect the local culture and heritage, including artwork, traditional craftsmanship, to create an ambiance that celebrates the unique identity of your destination.

3. Cultivate the Subtle Art of Detail

Experiential Design is not limited to grand events and excursions; it can be expressed through subtle touches that reflect your brand's identity and values. As Carlos stated, “It’s about finding thoughtful ways that let your guests know who you are and what you stand for.”  

Carlos offered another example from Hotel Terrestre in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca:

"We offer a check-in ritual that invites guests to take off their shoes and put their feet in the sand (that covers the lobby floor), setting the tone for a deeper groundedness with nature throughout. The purpose of Hotel Terrestre is to help guests rediscover our planet and embrace a new perspective."  

This small yet meaningful detail creates a connection with nature and reinforces the hotel's focus on environmental consciousness throughout their stay.

Aldo Melpignano added, "When designing experiences, I think about well-being and the small things that touch people and make them a little happier."

Paying attention to the finer details, such as personalized amenities or unexpected surprises, can have a significant impact on the guest experience.

Carlos shared, that at Hotel Terrestre, "We don't have AC, TVs, or plastic, allowing guests to enjoy nature, discover themselves, and embrace a specific way of living. At night, guests can experience the Sky, Sun and the universe, emphasizing the ideal life for humans on this planet. The purpose of Hotel Terrestre is to help guests rediscover our planet and embrace a new perspective."

Ways to integrate thoughtful details into your experiential design:

Find Little Moments that Reflect Brand Values: Weave your brand's identity, values, and unique selling points into everything you do. Small thoughtful moments of authenticity create a genuine connection with guests and enhances their overall experience.

Design Personalized Touchpoints: Pay attention to the finer details that can make guests feel special and create a memorable experience. Personalized amenities, unexpected surprises, and tailored gestures can go a long way in leaving a lasting impression.

Curate Meaningful Rituals and Experiences: Rituals and experiences that engage the senses and establish a deeper connection between guests and their surroundings. These experiences create a sense of discovery that contribute to a more meaningful stay.

In Conclusion

Great experiential design starts with a strong sense of "self" and your brand personality.

It is important as a hotelier to be in touch with who you are. Know your locality, values, and community, and be empowered to share your unique perspective with guests.

"When designing experiences, I think about well-being and the small things that touch people and make them a little happier.

Whatever your property is, find your niche, do what you think you can do very well, and sort of master it; think about how it touches and enriches the life of the people involved. Both the guests, both your team and the clients. Fantastic," said Aldo.

Thoughtful Experiential Design can create harmonious experience at your hotel, where all elements conspire to tell your story and convey a felt sense of being well taken care of.

"People communicate their creativity in different ways. Some people do it through art, through music. We do it through hotels. I think we need to keep on evolving,  recreating and reinventing what we do," added Carlos.

Thank you to all the participants for such an insightful discussion about Experiential Design.  Inés Miró-Sans, Aldo Melpignano, and Carlos Couturier, we really appreciate you sharing your valuable perspectives. Thanks also to This Is Beyond for organizing a fantastic week at L.E/Miami 2023! See you all soon.