The design and function of hotel lobbies have changed with time. A century ago, the lobby was a place to gather and be seen. Following World War II, the space became little more than a path from the front door to the elevator. Today, we are seeing a lobby renaissance, due in no small part to guests’ desire for interconnectivity. What this means is that hotels are now incorporating more technology into their lobbies to better please guests. How are they doing this?
A Brief History of the Hotel Lobby
To understand the shift in hotel lobbies, a brief history is needed. In the 19th century, hotel lobbies were seen as exclusive socializing spots for the middle and upper classes. In the book, Hotel Lobbies and Lounges: The Architecture of Professional Hospitality, Tom Avermaete and Anne Massey described these spaces as “an enclave and a microcosm of the privileged in a rural environment, a backdrop for luxurious, conspicuous consumption.”
However, the hotel lobby’s status as a socialization hub changed, thanks in part to the rise of mass production. The 20th century ushered in the automobile and mass tourism, and the image of the hotel lobby changed from one of public display “into a highly standardized and rationalized machine offering efficient accommodation for (often) large numbers of travelers.”
Yet, as most things do, the pendulum began to swing back in the ’80s and has continued to today. More recently, these changes have given rise to a new term—the “Facebooking of the hospitality industry.” And as guests seek out their social interactions via gadgets and mobile tech, many hotels have been learning how to accommodate them.
How Are Hotels Incorporating Tech into Their Lobbies?
Leading the charge to retool lobbies is Courtyard by Marriott, which for almost eight years has given guests access to its virtual concierge service “GoBoard.” The GoBoard system is intended to be the main information hub for guests, allowing them to send directions from a touchscreen display straight to their mobile devices, check real-time flight information, discover hotel amenities and local points of interest, and other information a guest might need.
“We were looking for ways to make our lobby more of a ‘hub,’ a place where our guests could work without having to be stuck in their room, or socialize, or simply relax… and we felt that technology was a key part of a lobby refresh,” Marriott International Senior Director Joseph T. Blencowe told Corporate Tech Decisions.
Going for a more integrated approach, Holiday Inn introduced its Open Lobby configuration, which tries to mimic how people use space in their own homes by including flexible seating areas, iMac computers, and even pop-up cinemas. The Open Lobby seeks to combine the front desk, lobby, restaurant, bar, lounge area, and business center into one open, cohesive space.
“It is a casual, unpretentious space designed to make everyone feel welcome whether traveling alone or with a group, with kids or with colleagues,” said Tom Rowntree, vice president brand management and quality Europe for Holiday Inn.
According to Holiday Inn, this blending of technology and entertainment is meant to attract a new breed of business traveler, one who’s “not constrained by traditional office working routines” and prefers “creative coffee-house-style environments where they can be inspired by meeting other travelers while they work on their own laptops and smartphones.”
Lobbies of the Future
As offerings have changed to meet guests’ tastes, the lobby could continue to evolve as new technologies come online. Students from MIT have already envisioned what those spaces could look like—tables with imbedded video screens that change effortlessly from coffee table to workstation, or communal charging mats that offer data on fellow users, for example.
Renewed interest in virtual reality may also bridge the gap between physical space and social technology. And as these unique lobbies become more visually unique, virtual experiences are becoming a hot topic among hotel marketers.
Again on the forefront, hotels like Marriott are beginning to offer experiences like Travel Brilliantly, where guests put on an Oculus Rift VR headset and travel to locations in London, San Francisco, and Hawaii, where the hotels’ spaces are presented in 360-degree detail.
“Giving consumers who are searching for a hotel on the web the ability to go inside and see how wonderful the pool, the view and the lobby are is great. That’s a powerful marketing tool,” travel website Tnooz.com editor Kevin May told the Guardian.
As guests continue to crave new and innovative ways to be social, the lobby will remain a cornerstone to providing that experience. And offering the latest tech amenities could be how clever hotels distinguish themselves from their competition.
About the Author
Abi Mandelbaum is co-founder and CEO of YouVisit, a fully integrated platform for creating, distributing, and monetizing virtual reality and other immersive experiences across all devices, including headsets, mobile, and desktop.
Photo: Holiday Inn Portland Airport