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Mix and Mingle

Instead of passing through hotel lobbies on the way out the door, guests are hanging around, working, eating, drinking, and mingling, as these spaces continue to evolve into 24/7 social hubs. Open floor plans with modular and flexible seating, cozy fireplace nooks, restaurants and bars, technology lounges, grab-and-go markets, media rooms, and more have turned lobbies into the heartbeat of hotels.

Travelers are experiencing this growing trend across all segments, from Starwood’s select-service brand Aloft to extended-stay properties like Home2Suites by Hilton and Hyatt Hotels’ new concept Hyatt House. In the luxury and upscale full-service segment, Le Méridien announced a Hub lobby concept in June that builds on its coffee culture.

Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in Virginia became the first Hilton property to introduce the brand’s new social lobby design DNA in April. The $45 million reinvention project, which is nearing completion, is part of a three-year, $3 billion property renovation plan currently underway across Hilton Hotels & Resorts’ global portfolio.

“We were trying to create a space that people would feel a need or desire to collect in, instead of circulate through,” says Larry Traxler, senior vice president of global design services for Hilton Worldwide. While many see the social hub trend as living room inspired, Traxler feels Hilton’s concept is more reminiscent of a kitchen. “It becomes this place where you go for sustenance, entertainment, and communication.”

After Holiday Inn completed its $1 billion relaunch, the company turned its focus to its new lobby concept, unveiling the first Hub at Holiday Inn Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., in June. “All of the details make it feel more residential and not that you’re in an industrial, stark hotel environment,” says Verchele Wiggins, vice president of global brand management for Holiday Inn.

Melissa Messmer, a chief designer with SR3 Design in Beverly Hills, Calif., confirms that hotels are taking a more residential approach to lobby design. “Instead of creating one big open space with separate seating groups, we’re staring to break down the larger lobby into smaller rooms,” Messmer says.

The result is a cozier lobby that guests feel more at home in. “That’s what people want—that home away from home feel,” she says. “I think with the trendy coffee bars that you see out there like Starbucks creating that living room atmosphere, people are really staring to want that when they travel.”

Traxler says the lobby at Hilton McLean Tysons Corner features furnishings and decor guests would want to have in their homes, while meeting hospitality demands in terms of use and abuse. As more and more people installed state-of-the-art multimedia centers at home, Traxler says hotels lost traction to outdo the residential world. “Hotels need to start focusing on aspiration again,” Traxler says. “People used to go to hotels to see things they wanted to have in their homes and I think that went away for a while.”

MASS APPEAL
Since hotels attract singles, groups, people who want to interact with other travelers, and folks who prefer to be alone, Hilton’s McLean property lobby has a multi-use design. For instance, guests can find single and double seating along the perimeter, whereas the bar has communal tables that encourage socialization. “We wanted to focus on creating pockets of space for each of those types of people,” Traxler says.

To draw locals into the hotel in addition to guests, the design features an 18-hour central bar element that also acts as a sculptural beacon. The large proscenium arch that anchors the bar provides human scale within the lobby space, and helps blur the kinetic activity of the elevators in the background. The restaurant was relocated to the front of the building, so the energy and activity of the lobby would permeate into the space, and vice versa.

The technology lounge also looks onto the main lobby space, and draws business travelers out from the confines of their guestroom. The center is equipped with PCs and iMacs, printers, and plenty of power sources to plug in laptops and other gadgets. Guests can use the flat-screen TVs to catch up on news, or for presentation and meeting purposes.

With the Hub at Holiday Inn, the company wasn’t attempting to create a home away from home, but something reminiscent of home that would allow guests to let their guard down and relax. To bring a new concept to fruition that would meet the changing needs of its guests, Holiday Inn partnered with ai3 for interior design and architecture and Continuum for experience design.

“Most of us probably are guilty—I know I am—of having one room in the house where everything takes place,” Wiggins says, which is why the Hub integrates the lobby, bar, and restaurant into a cohesive and flexible space that better reflects how people live.

The open reception area has a desk that mimics a residential kitchen island and a massive mirror opposite the desk extends from floor to vaulted ceiling. A few steps away is the ebar, a business center with guest computers and bookshelves. Just beyond is the heart of the space, the bar/restaurant, which also has subtle details that reference residential interiors.

Other social areas include a media lounge where guests can watch TV or pull a magazine or game from the bookshelf, and the egame center, where two Wii video game consoles are a big draw. “Eating and drinking is an important part, but relaxing is too, as well as having fun,” Wiggins says.

DAY TO NIGHT
To meet guests’ needs day into night, transitional features from seating to lighting are more prominent in social lobby designs. “You’re seeing spaces that are becoming transitional and have their own personalities as they transform from day to night in their usage,” Messmer says.

At Hilton’s McLean property, for example, the bar has panels that close to conceal all liquor bottles and it functions as a barista zone in the morning. In the evening, a glass cube that displays breakfast pastries turns opaque with a flick of a switch, and becomes a design element along the bar. “The bar can change its entire complexion in about two minutes,” Traxler says.

The Hub at Holiday Inn also has panels that mask the bar’s liquor contents in the morning, when the breakfast chef station is the focal point. At night, the station transitions to a communal table with stools and the panels reverse to draw attention to the bar. Similarly, the to-go area displays juices in the morning, whereas beer and wine are offered at night.
With so many options at their fingertips, guests who typically left the property are now finding reasons to stick around. “You really feel like you can take your game face off and relax,” Wiggins says. “You really want to sit and hang out.”

POSITIVE RESULTS
Holiday Inn will have two more test labs for the Hub by early second quarter 2012 in Clark, N.J., and Atlanta Airport North. Guest satisfaction scores at the Gwinnett property have been well above brand averages, Wiggins says.

On a per-occupied-room basis, third quarter 2011 results revealed that food revenue grew 20 percent year-over-year and beverage by 50 percent year-over-year, Wiggins says. She adds that the 24/7-market revenue went up 75 percent year-over-year in the third quarter, and in September alone it more than doubled year-over-year.

Although the company is still working through the details of its implementation plan, Wiggins says Holiday Inn intends to have a system-wide rollout of the Hub. The time frame of the rollout is yet to be determined.

Traxler says Hilton McLean Tysons Corner’s SALT scores year-over-year are up dramatically since opening the new lobby. “If we see a 2 point rise in guest satisfaction, it’s a big deal. We saw 10 point rises,” he says. In the first month, food and beverage revenue increased significantly year-over-year, Traxler says, and it has stayed consistent.

The lobby isn’t a prototype that can simply be “copy and pasted” into any Hilton property worldwide, Traxler says. It rather serves as an idea of how adjacency should function and demonstrates the logic behind having a hub of activity. The lobbies need to be customized based on a property’s location, size, demographics, and other factors.

Traxler says Hilton has taken the core tenets of the social hub in McLean and worked them into pipeline projects and renovations. He estimates there are 20 to 30 properties where the idea is ready to unveil or already in operation.

Prime examples of how scaled down aspects of the concept can be applied to focused-service brands in Hilton Worldwide’s portfolio are Hampton Hotels’ Perfect Mix lobby and Hilton Garden Inn’s refreshed lobby design, both which promote and encourage guest socialization.

Before the lobby reinvention in McLean, Traxler says people would wait in the lobby for a ride or use it as a meeting spot to head elsewhere. Over the course of the renovation, it has grown in activity and energy. “All elements feed life into that lobby space,” he says.

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