Although transient bookings are strong and the hotel industry as a whole is bouncing back from the downturn, group demand has been sluggish to recover. With less large-scale meeting and convention business on the books, hotels are getting creative and developing new ways to put their spaces to work as essential small-meeting venues.
“There really is a seismic shift underway in terms of how people are working,” says Mark Gilbreath, founder and CEO of LiquidSpace, a booking-on-demand platform that partners with hotels to push out event and meeting space to consumers via mobile phones and the Internet. “Technology has opened the door, and then very quickly, people’s perspective and behaviors around how and where they work have evolved.”
According to research firm IDC, the number of mobile workers—those without a fixed office space—will reach nearly 1.2 billion globally this year. Gilbreath explains that as the mobile workforce grows, more companies are consolidating their real estate portfolios and giving employees the chance to work remotely. Employees, especially those traveling for their jobs, get work done in coffee shops, restaurants, or co-working spaces. But hotels are catching on to the trend and beginning to market their spaces as superior options for both local companies and business travelers.
“I think that what hotels have woken up to is the fact that they have these environments—both open space areas as well as enclosed meeting rooms—that are largely going underutilized,” says Gilbreath. “But there is a customer that might already be in the hotel or on the street nearby who would relish the opportunity to engage with those spaces and use them to work more productively.”
In January, Marriott teamed up with LiquidSpace to launch Workspace on Demand, a service where consumers can reserve small meeting space, as well as lobby seating areas and communal tables using LiquidSpace’s mobile app and online booking platform. The service rolled out in more than 30 Marriott, Renaissance, and Courtyard properties in cities including Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Atlanta, and St. Louis. Last September, Marriott also partnered with Steelcase, a workspace design firm, to launch Workspring at the Redmond Marriott Town Center hotel in Washington state. The concept consists of five studios of varying sizes that are designed to accommodate three to 75 attendees.
Westin also launched a workspace concept last spring that gives groups of up to four people the ability to work in a connected, productive environment. The concept, called Tangent (formerly known as Project Hive), was piloted at the Westin Boston Waterfront, the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel, and the Westin Grand Munich, and will be available in more than 40 hotels worldwide by the end of the year. Tangent workspaces—which can be booked by the hour via LiquidSpace—are equipped with TVs, printers, sound systems, Xbox360, floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, office supplies, video conferencing, and high-speed wired and wireless Internet.
Offering these private, dedicated workspaces to locals and business travelers creates a new revenue channel for hotels. And the investments needed to start are minimal, says Gilbreath. He notes that most LiquidSpace users are simply seeking a private environment to conduct business meetings or a quiet space that will boost productivity. “It doesn’t have to have lunch service. It doesn’t have to have coffee service,” he says. “The core requirements are connectivity and an appropriate place to sit to do task-based work.”
Besides generating revenue, on-demand workspaces can also help hotels generate positive guest experiences. Gilbreath explains that it’s another service offering that sets a hotel apart, and he expects to see more hotels promoting innovative workspace concepts in the near future. “I don’t think it’s a questioned strategy anymore,” he says. “I think hoteliers are wrestling with how they operationalize this and push it down to their owners and franchisees. No one is expecting mobile work to go away.”