Acoustic design

September 07, 2023 •

6 min reading

How good acoustic design can enhance guest experience and comfort

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There is a growing interest in acoustic design, the process of considering and carefully curating the acoustics of rooms and buildings within architectural or design plans. Nowhere is this concept more important than in a hospitality setting for hotel guests and those socializing or holding meetings in hospitality establishments. We've all experienced the frustration of struggling to hear someone who is less than a meter away due to poor acoustics. Hospitality businesses are beginning to recognize that superior acoustics can be a powerful differentiator.

Picture yourself in a trendy, crowded restaurant with a vibrant atmosphere. You're excited to catch up with a friend or have an important conversation, but the noise level is so high that you can barely hear the person across the table. You try to listen, but the ambient noise drowns out your words, turning what should be an enjoyable experience into a struggle for communication.


Reducing background noise: A growing consideration for concept designers and hospitality professionals

Whether it's a restaurant, a lobby, or a coworking area, the acoustic environment plays a crucial role in shaping our interactions and how we feel. However, it's a topic often forgotten in hospitality concept design.

Surprisingly, it wasn't until about two decades ago that architects began recognizing the importance of acoustics. Dr Issam Ezzeddine, principal design architect at the National Engineering Bureau, highlighted this during the "A Good Night's Sleep" roundtable in Dubai, stating that there was a complete lack of understanding, experience, and emphasis on acoustic design.

Unfortunately, this negligence comes at a cost to guests, staff, brands, and, ultimately, the bottom line. The impact of poor acoustics can be felt in diminished customer experiences, strained staff interactions, and a negative reflection on the overall brand image. Professionals recognize the importance of acoustics in hospitality design and prioritize the creation of environments that enhance rather than hinder our interactions. By addressing this often-forgotten aspect, we can create spaces that truly cater to the needs of both guests and businesses, leading to better experiences and greater success.

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The impact of acoustic environment on customer wellbeing

Sound is everywhere, and sound affects our bodies. When sound becomes unwanted and disruptive, we call it noise. Noise affects our comfort and experiences, especially the high frequencies, for instance, a ringtone, nails on a keyboard, and even certain bird songs.

The main consequence of noise exposure is the increase of our cortisol level – also called the stress hormone – which impacts our blood pressure, blood sugar level, and cognitive performances, and long-term exposure to high cortisol-level decreases immune system functions. In addition to disrupting our mood and general feeling, it directly affects how we experience a service. The most stringent example shown in studies is that noise directly interferes with our brain's capabilities to process food information. Indeed, a loud background reduces the perceived intensity of sweet and salty flavors and increases the perceived intensity of bitter and sour flavors. Therefore, if the food is important in your restaurant, acoustic should be too.


Identifying sources of noise pollution in the hospitality industry

Noise pollution poses a significant challenge in the hospitality industry, with each outlet having its unique sources of noise. The impact of poor acoustics is not limited to lobbies or restaurants; guests can encounter issues in various areas throughout the hotel. The origins of noise are diverse and area-specific. They range from simple conversations and laughs to cutlery and similar noises.

Hoteliers look to diversify and improve their offerings to satisfy the changing demand. For instance, the interest in business centers and coworking areas is growing. In meeting rooms, speech intangibility is essential. In a context where guests are likely to be international and speak different languages, reverberation can create a communication barrier in addition to affecting your guests' well-being.

In a similar setting, the spa and wellness area require careful consideration of the chosen materials to maintain a calm and relaxing atmosphere despite the potential cost.


Creating spaces with optimal acoustic qualities

Creating spaces with optimal acoustic qualities requires a holistic approach integrating acoustic design from the initial concept stage. Collaboration between architects, interior designers, and acoustic consultants is crucial to balance aesthetics and functionality.

The room assessment process begins with creating a 3D plan of the room and considering the existing materials. This allows for a comprehensive understanding of the space and its acoustic characteristics. Acoustic consultants then use computational software to determine the right amount of acoustic material required to achieve a certain level of performance, primarily measured by the reverberation time (RT).

Strategic placement of acoustic panels, diffusers, and absorbing materials becomes essential in implementing the acoustic design plan. For instance, installing acoustic ceiling treatments can effectively mitigate noise coming from above, while incorporating panels on walls can reduce sound reflections and enhance speech intelligibility. Careful consideration of the flooring, furniture, and decor materials also significantly reduces noise and improves acoustics.

By integrating this approach with the expertise of design professionals, hospitality spaces can be transformed into environments that offer both visual appeal and optimal acoustic qualities. This collaborative effort ensures that the aesthetics and functionality of the room are balanced, resulting in an exceptional acoustic experience for guests while maintaining the desired ambiance and atmosphere.


Acoustic solutions – innovations for a better guest experience

Various acoustic solutions are available to hospitality professionals seeking to improve the sound performance of their properties. Panels are a popular choice due to their easy installation and overall performance, these are a few examples of the different panel materials in available today:

  • Wooden panels are commonly used as they're both sustainable and add a natural touch to the design.
  • PET panels can be manufactured and certified using recycled plastic bottles, addressing an important environmental concern; single-use plastic.
  • Another type of acoustic panel is made from mycelium material and textile residues, creating an eco-friendly and original option.
  • Another 100% circular solution is Archisonic® Cotton, which combines cotton waste from the fashion industry with natural minerals from Tuscany.

These advancements in acoustic panel materials contribute to the growing sustainable design trend. They demonstrate the effort to combine aesthetics, acoustical performance, and sustainability in the hospitality design industry. By incorporating these innovative solutions, professionals can enhance both the acoustic qualities and the overall sustainability of their spaces, positively impacting the guest experience and the environment.


When acoustic design meets sustainability story-telling

Design not only serves aesthetic purposes but must also tell a story. The choice of materials, sourcing, and longevity are the new priorities for hotel designers. Sustainability used to be all about energy savings, but this is not enough anymore. The growing importance of sustainable building materials and FF&E represents a great opportunity for acoustic solutions providers.

Hoteliers should consider both acoustic and circularity to enhance the guests experience through thorough and aesthetic designs, and build up a storytelling which will go beyond what the competitors are currently doing.

New generations are aware of greenwashing strategies and expect more from their favorite brands.


Sven Erni – EHL Alumnus and CEO of Impact Acoustic

Fast movers like Impact Acoustic are changing the status quo and accelerating the transition toward circular acoustic designs. They believe they have a responsibility to make a positive impact on the guests and our planet.


3 reasons why hospitality professionals should consider acoustic design solutions

1. Improve guest satisfaction and wellbeing

Creating spaces with optimal acoustic qualities ensures a more comfortable and enjoyable guest experience. By reducing noise levels and enhancing speech intelligibility, guests can fully engage in conversations and savor their dining experiences without unnecessary distractions for example. Overall, good acoustics will make the guests feel more comfortable resulting in higher satisfaction.


2. Improve staff retention

The hospitality industry is known to be difficult and demanding, and employees are harder to find and keep year after year. Staff turnover is among the highest across all sectors. This is due to the nature of the work, the long hours, and the difficulty working when others enjoy (e.g. weekends, holidays, evenings). A positive acoustic environment also benefits the staff. Reduced noise levels create a more pleasant work environment, leading to higher job satisfaction and increased staff retention rates. Happy employees are more likely to deliver excellent customer service.


3. Improve brand image

Acoustic design is an essential component of brand identity. By prioritizing acoustic comfort and providing a peaceful atmosphere, hospitality businesses, especially in the luxury segment, can enhance their brand image, projecting an image of quality, care, and attention to detail.

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Acoustic Design: an invisible differentiator

In the fast-paced and competitive world of hospitality, acoustic design should not be overlooked. By identifying noise pollution sources, understanding the impact of background noise on customer experience, and incorporating soundproofing and sound absorption techniques, hospitality professionals can create spaces that prioritize acoustic comfort and enhance the overall customer experience.

Investing in acoustic design not only benefits guests but also improves staff wellbeing, enhances brand image, and contributes to the long-term success of hospitality businesses. With a thoughtful approach to acoustics, the hospitality industry can create environments that leave a lasting positive impression on guests and ultimately lead to greater success, while contributing to making a positive impact on the planet.