Question: Which best describes a hotel lobby today—a café; an office or conference room; a cool destination for snacking, socializing, and relaxing; or all of the above? The answer is, of course, all of the above. The newly redesigned lobby has become the hottest hangout day or night—wherever you happen to be.
Hampton Inn’s “Perfect Mix” lobby concept is a prime example of this industrywide phenomenon created to meet growing consumer trends. Instead of the traditional vast, open lobby facing a front desk, this new concept blends informal lounge-style seating spaces with work-friendly areas and available food and beverage options. Music and lighting have been carefully considered to produce a warm atmosphere that encourages mingling. The multiple-use “Perfect Mix” lobby offers a comfortable place for travelers, and even local area residents to feel welcome anytime—beyond the traditional breakfast hours.
Kurt Smith, Hilton Worldwide’s vice president of product quality and innovation for focused service brands, explains, “The intent of the ‘Perfect Mix’ lobby is to really promote socialization, and the lobby is transformed throughout the day. So, in the morning it’s well-lit and bright, and in the evening the lights are dimmed. The atmosphere changes from morning to night. We wanted the lobby to be an added amenity for the guests, so they can view it as an extension of their rooms.”
Utilizing a zoned approach to define spaces and seating, the lobby is changed to appropriate mood settings over the course of a day, offering consumers opportunities to work, socialize or simply unwind. Currently, Hampton Inn boasts 425 hotels with the “Perfect Mix” lobby, and all properties are expected to incorporate this distinctive lobby design by 2012.
Tom Horwitz is principal of FRCH Design Worldwide, the firm that collaborated with Hampton Inn to develop the “Perfect Mix” lobby. “Due to the way the hotel industry segments, stratifies, and classifies the various hotel products, there really isn’t any singular definition of a ‘regular’ lobby,” he says. “But for the midscale category, it meant creating an inviting, comfortable, and usable space for our guests, for any point in their stay. We knew that when a guest ‘gets more than they expected,’ they’re happier, more loyal, and sometimes willing to pay more for a better experience.”
Horwitz points out that he was pleasantly surprised with the popularity of the larger community tables by people of all ages. Most important, he was impressed with guests’ intuitive understanding of the new lobby design, and how to make the most of it, immediately.
Hampton Inn’s “Perfect Mix” lobby concept features 13 components that give each property the opportunity to design and reveal a customized guest experience. They include: the front desk; a coffee serving table; library shelves; flat screen TV; pendant and accent lighting; breakfast cabinets; accessories; and more. Versatile seating, such as high tops or couches with low tables, further set the scene.
With the flexibility of design choices, no two Hampton Inn lobbies are alike, but they will all share common elements. For example, every hotel will have soft seating but each property will blend unique fabric and styles. These distinctive interiors will all feature consistent elements across the brand.
Summarizing this social lobby trend, Horwitz says, “Well, the obligatory big entry table with flowers may be gone forever. Designing passive lobby spaces that just look pretty, but don’t ‘work hard’ are probably gone forever. Any brand that didn’t wake up and get in the ‘lobby revolution’ of change, has probably fallen behind in a lot of important performance categories.”
Other hotel companies are transforming their lobbies into rich, multifaceted areas as well. Marriott’s “Great Room” lobby initiative was conceived in 2007 when the brand conducted consumer research that showed its lobbies were not fully accommodating guests’ needs.
Matthew Von Ertfelda, Marriott’s vice president creative strategy and execution says, “We found that public space in many typical hotel settings was underutilized, overlooked and under-activated, so we set about to come up with a strategy and program that was designed to recognize and cater to unmet consumer needs.”
During this process, Marriott examined how to better accommodate guests, and how those requirements evolve throughout the day. The result was to design an extremely adaptable space that would convert from a.m. to p.m. and accommodate business needs, informal team huddles, solo guests, and socializing. The Marriott lobbies also include a bar with food offerings within the space to anchor the “Great Rooms.” Taking the service to a higher level, the wait staffs in the “Great Rooms” are referred to as “roving personal assistants,” and carry handheld devices to instantaneously submit orders to the kitchen.
Recognizing that guests are expecting high-tech capabilities, the “Great Room” is a place where visitors can easily plug in or access wireless Internet.
“The goal was to take underutilized and under-activated public space and activate it through design, food and beverage offerings, and other devices that allow atmospheric change within the space, such as music, lighting and other elements that would help to transform the lobby throughout the day and provide guests and local residents with a compelling reason and value proposition to stay in our hotel and lobby,” Von Ertfelda says. “We spent a lot of time thinking deeply about what drives consumer wants and needs.”
Today, the company has more than 150 certified “Great Rooms” in Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Renaissance Hotels, and JW Marriott Hotels around the world.
“Lobbies are becoming social centers. For hotels to survive in the future, they need to recognize that the social spaces within the hotel are becoming real differentiators,” Von Ertfelda says.
Consumer response has shown that hotel companies are on the right track. Adored by professional consultants who travel frequently and work from virtual offices, hotel lobbies have offered valuable gathering spaces, and in some cases, have become the preferred settings for casual business meetings.
Joanne Jordan, co-founder of Food/Shelter Public Relations, says, “Personally, when on business, I use lobbies to check e-mails or de-brief after meetings with colleagues. I have even suggested new business prospects meet me in their hotel lobbies, as they provide sort of a home court advantage for them, and creates a less intimidating atmosphere than a conference room for me.”
With so many professionals now conducting their businesses virtually, a contemporary hotel lobby is a perfect meeting spot, but business travelers are more discriminating than ever before. Just any lobby won’t suffice these days.
Mary K. Mahoney, principal of consulting firm J. Robinson Group, explains, “What I look for is a lobby environment that is warm and inviting for casual meetings.
“The lobby must have free wireless, good lighting, electrical outlets, and business services nearby (not on a different floor a mile away),” She continues. “The availability of refreshments is key and music needs to be soft and not disruptive. Comfortable furnishings conducive to conversation are important for laptop presentations.”
As business professionals are selecting lobbies as their unofficial “office of choice,” it’s no wonder that hotels are making efforts to introduce the ideal, desired atmosphere. With numerous flexible options of doing business today, lobbies have evolved into a convenient and accessible place to work.
Misty Lynch, a financial journalist and editor, agrees that a pleasant atmosphere is essential, as she often conducts interviews in hotel lobbies. She says, “Generally, some nice modern couches with smaller nooks are best. Loud music or TVs blasting are not ideal for business, as it can be distracting. Overall, I like a lobby that is more understated. If there’s too much grabbing my attention, then I’m less likely to return there on business.”