When it comes to hotel stays, first impressions really are everything—and that is why the lobby remains one of the most critical spaces in a hotel’s arsenal for charming guests and inspiring repeat visits. In fact, the lobby is currently experiencing a resurgence in importance as guests seek out more social and work-related interactions in hotels’ public spaces.
A good example? San Francisco’s Hotel Kabuki. Guests are greeted by bonsai trees and decorative screens—traditional backdrops for important visitors in Japanese homes. Visitors can gaze into the Koi pond or sip sake at a complimentary tasting as they unwind and settle in. Guests looking for a place to unplug will undoubtedly return to a place that exuded peace and tranquility the moment they arrived.
Current trends and market research indicate the best lobby designs create a multi-functional experience that distinguishes the hotel as a memorable destination and suits the needs and wants of the modern traveler. Here’s how to create loyal customers upon first sight:
Prioritize customer service. The swankiest furniture or tech gadgets in the world won’t make up for the sour taste left by bad customer service. Every hotel employee—and especially those who greet guests upon arrival—should be trained to interact with guests in a positive, authentic way. High-quality customer care not only makes guests happy, it can also create a lasting, favorable impression of the hotel as a whole.
Create a multi-purpose space. Today’s travelers include highly social tourists as well as an increasing number of business travelers. In order to suit the needs and tastes of these diverse groups, many hotels are creating multi-use lobbies that accommodate space for both casual and formal talks, as well as places for business travelers to work on laptops. These spaces should be distinguished via thoughtful segmentation—a few chairs arranged in a circle won’t suffice.
Introduce visitors to the area. Gone are the days of dusty brochure stands—instead, hotels are turning to high-tech means to convey to guests that they’ve chosen a high-quality destination. InterContinental, for example, developed an app featuring concierge-led video introductions to specific destinations, including an overview of local restaurants, shops, and sightseeing opportunities. Starwood’s Aloft Hotels experimented with projecting a holographic image onto a life-sized cutout of a person, from which guests could download and save relevant information. Curating guests’ introduction to the local landscape positions hotels as part of an immersive destination experience.
Greet all the senses. The hottest trend in lobby design involves thoughtful interaction with each of the five senses. From the feel of chairs’ upholstery, to tasty treats, to the lobby’s visual design, these elements help create a memory that starts the moment guests walk in the door. In addition to choices relating to touch, visuals, and sound, many hotels infuse lobbies with subtle fragrances—some hotels have even created signature scents. The idea is to “sensory brand” a hotel in such a way that guests remember the experience without being bombarded with logos or ads.
Listen to the music. Background music is a powerful component of a lobby’s ambiance and can either tie together a cohesive brand experience or create a discordant one. Music is such a powerful way to engage with guests on an emotional level that Westin Hotel & Resorts has created its own signature music program. Meanwhile, Andaz West Hollywood teamed up with The Roxy to create a series of recorded live, acoustic performances. The goal is to select music that meshes with the volume, fixtures, and overall vibe of the lobby. When designing a lobby’s “soundscape,” it’s also important to take note of potentially discordant sounds such as echoes or tinny walls.
Blur the boundaries between indoor and outdoor. In keeping with the sensory trend, many hotels are bringing nature inside by integrating the lobby with decks or terraces, or by incorporating nature-inspired design elements such as stone decorations and indoor waterfalls. These features create an elegant, relaxing ambiance that invites guests to kick back and stay awhile.
Get connected. Hyper-connected tourists and working business travelers are more likely to stick around the lobby if it allows them to remain plugged in. Strong Wi-Fi, conveniently placed electrical outlets, and charging stations will encourage guests to remain in the lobby while staying connected.
Make it social. Incorporating social media into the lobby environment declares a hotel’s relevance and makes a potentially lifelong connection with travelers. At the Four Seasons Dallas for example, the hotel utilized “social walls” consisting of screens that presented social media posts by the hotel’s guests. The initiative reached an audience of approximately 100,000 social media users. Marriott Hotels partnered with MIT to create Six Degrees, an app that connects guests to each other via their LinkedIn networks. These ideas both capture guests’ attention the moment they walk in the door and encourage future engagement.
Go green. Sustainability is increasingly important to today’s tourists, and it behooves hotels to reduce their carbon footprint both for the good of the planet and the good of guest surveys. Lobby features such as green walls, natural building materials, and snacks sourced from local purveyors can position a hotel as being ahead of the curve.
Showcase local art, crafts, and design. Today’s travelers seek a deep connection with the places they visit, and local touches can help establish the hotel as part of that cultural experience. Sculpture, photography, and other visual art produced by local artists can differentiate a hotel lobby as a space that’s unique to the destination.
Greeting guests via an immersive lobby experience is a great way to establish a hotel as a destination worth paying attention to. Distinguishing the hotel’s brand as one-of-a-kind with local touches and signature, multi-sensory embellishments will ensure that guests retain positive memories of their stays for years to come.
About the Author
Fiona Moriarty is a content strategist for Hipmunk, a hotel and flight metasearch.