Jean-Michel Gathy is a true legend in the hospitality industry, in which he has been working for over 40 years. The Belgian-born designer extraordinaire who now resides in Malaysia is known not only to have created the elegant interiors of some of the most luxurious properties around the globe but also to have introduced to the world of hospitality some of the most groundbreaking interior design features. Gathy has pioneered the use of tents for luxury accommodations, over-water hammocks, and the world’s longest elevated pool (yes, the one at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore) for brands like Aman, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Setai, One & Only, and Cheval Blanc.
Most recently, he and his architecture and design company Denniston were appointed as the master planners for the ultra-luxury The Island at Amaala development located along Saudi Arabia’s northwestern coastline.
This year alone, Gathy has five highly-anticipated hotel openings that he’s worked on—two Four Seasons properties in Tokyo and Bangkok, a new One&Only hotel in Montenegro, Jumeirah resort in Bali, and Aman hotel on New York’s 5th avenue.
Needless to say, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, his professional plans were disrupted in a major way.
“I have lost projects, I have had to change projects or make adjustments [to old projects],” Gathy recently told Departures.
Of course, some of these design adjustments may be more visible to others.
“For example, the number of people [allowed] in a lift. While before you get into a lift and it [a sign in the elevator] may say ‘maximum weight 2,842 pounds equals 14 people,’ nowadays, it will say ‘four people’ maximum. And instead of six lifts, the local authorities may require you to have nine lifts. So you’re going to have new health regulations. The governing bodies who are responsible for health, civic life, and social life will be more restrictive and they are going to impose upon architects, designers, and developers these anti-COVID plans.”
He added that other changes we may see soon are new materials being used for interior features such as doorbells, key controls in the rooms, and seats, as well as better air conditioning filters, and different treatments for the water in the swimming pools. Hotel restaurants are also reconsidering the number and size of tables they have indoors as well as the distance between them.
Gathy also shared that luxury hotels are now adding more housekeepers to their staff because they need additional manpower to sanitize the surfaces in each room.
But he is adamant that, in general, guests’ experience will not change in any major way in the long term (“maybe only for the next year or two”) when they visit a luxury resort and that, with time, people will get used to the extra safety measures in the resorts.
“You know, I remember when I was a young boy and seat belts were introduced, it was such a mess. Everyone was saying ‘oh, you can’t tell me what to do in my car.’ But today, we have proven that millions of lives are saved around the world thanks to seatbelts. And you know what? When you get in your car today, you never question it. I think it will be the same for health checks [in the hotels]. So extra health and security checks will be slightly inconvenient at the beginning but they will become part of life.”
Gathy also predicts that new healthy measures will lead to new products that will ultimately make our lives better.
“I think that probably within two years, this problem will sort of be absorbed by new inventions, by new regulations, and by new products,” he added. “But we’re going to learn to live with it.”