The city is the place where everything can be measured, monetised, calculated. But the city is also the place of possible freedom, of the power to break free from habits, to leave a social group and freely develop one’s own individuality. And just as the fathers of modern sociology were exploring this innovative concept, as “metropolitan” man was taking his first steps in a world made of lights, colours and sometimes solitude, the second mainstay of modern society – that of leisure and free time – came into being. It brought with it a series of physical hospitality structures – houses, hotels, as well as caravans, bungalows and even entire tourist villages – which, unlike the historic concept of inns, were conceived and designed from the outset to enable the traveller (now client) to quench his thirst for entertainment, escape and relaxation.
Nowadays, can leisure still be seen purely as escapism? Given the way in which they have developed and evolved in recent decades, are tourist hospitality structures still adequate, still in step with contemporary lifestyles? Or are we perhaps on the threshold of a new and possibly revolutionary way of using our free time that will inevitably have repercussions in terms of the characteristics required of the physical accommodation structures? These and other questions were explored in the meeting entitled “The future of tourist hospitality: questions and answers from buildings to the local area”, held today at Cersaie in Bologna as part of the programme “Building, dwelling, thinking”.
Contributions were offered by a range of speakers, beginning with architect Michele Ghirardelli, professor at the faculty of Architecture of the University of Ferrara, and Andrea Babbi, managing director of Apt Servizi Emilia-Romagna. These two different viewpoints, on the one hand the architecture expert and on the other the institutions responsible for promoting tourism as a key factor for stability and growth of the regional economy, were expanded on by people working in the field, by hoteliers, entrepreneurs and designers who have to respond to this need for tourist hospitality in their daily work.
Claudio Montanari, professor at the Higher School of Tourism Science at the University of Bologna, Rimini campus, analysed the changing needs of modern hotel guests and stressed the need to focus on comfort, uniqueness and authenticity. Next to speak was architect Fabio Mariani, renowned hotel designer and hotel sector entrepreneur, who outlined a project for a hotel created in Prague by remodelling a nineteenth century building. Andrea Babbi then analysed the current trends in the Italian hotel sector, urging manufacturers to produce more standardised product lines capable of combining quality with low cost, noting that around 20,000 hotels are likely to perform renovation work over the next 5 years with a total estimated investment of almost 6 billion euro.
Next to speak were architects Luca Emanueli (head of Sealine lab at the Ferrara Architecture faculty), Mario and Paolo Lamber, from Studio Sabl and 2045 Architetti, and designer Mario Piva. Emilia-Romagna is a region where there is no lack of innovative responses in the field of tourism hospitality, from the ever larger numbers of eco-friendly hotels built along the Riviera to the farm tourism businesses that in recent years have been springing up in even the remotest corners of the region’s inland hills. But the emergence of the most modern hospitality structures – at least for Italy – such as B&Bs and similar establishments likewise reflects the changes that are under way in today’s society.
The building – whether a large tourist village or a small structure – naturally remains the focal point of any discussion of the new modes of tourist accommodation. And yet the building must increasingly be conceived, designed and built or rebuilt in such a way as to be integrated into a geographical area in accordance with the area’s urban, environmental and sociocultural characteristics. Architectural considerations aside, the metropolitan man described by Georg Simmel – the German philosopher who wrote the celebrated essay on the “spirit of the city” – has changed radically in recent years. He is probably a very different man from the one who considered free time as a triumph, leisure as pure escapism. The challenge facing all players in the sector is that of designing accommodation structures in such a way as to cater for increasingly diversified needs, ultimately conceiving the building as a catalyst for transforming possible freedom into a desire that can be fulfilled.