The Hotel Lobby: From Unused Space to a High-Tech Hub

The hotel lobby is now so much more than a waiting room pre-check-in, or a  glorified corridor to get you to the elevator. As the changing values and expectations of 21st-century travelers have collided with the imagination and skill of design and tech experts, the lobby has become a desirable destination in its own right.

Part workspace, part social hotspot, the lobby is now competing with the ubiquitous coffee chain to provide an essential ‘third space’ that’s flexible enough to be used for almost anything. As an immersive social and productive area, the hotel lobby can host everything from dance lessons and adult coloring-in parties through to family get-togethers, or the workspace you wish you had in your office.

With enticing food and drink options, superspeed Wi-Fi and even wireless charging in the furniture, the modern hotel lobby is the venue that can satisfy so many of the passions and priorities of the zeitgeist.

Interior design trends in the lobby

Trends in hotel decor have shifted in the last few years. From elaborately decorated spaces designed to generate a ‘wow’ response when the guest comes through the door, the move has been toward neutral backdrops that allow the individuality of the customer to shine through.

Comfortably designed furniture, incorporating stylish yet durable fabrics, communicates a clear message: the lobby of today is a creative space designed to be used, not just seen, on the way through to the private space of the bedroom. In fact, many of today’s hotel users have no intention of going as far as the bedroom; they’re seeking the facilities and experience of the lobby so your hotel needs to be ready for them.

Technology in the hotel lobby

The complex interplay between all the elements of the hotel lobby – design, lighting, furnishings – creates a distinct atmosphere that customers can sense and, more importantly, evaluate. Do they like the vibe? Do they want to hang around? The smoother these elements work together the better, but now smart hoteliers must also assess which of the latest hotel tech trends to weave into the mix to encourage guests to feel at home, get connected and stay. We know that today’s travelers are experience-hoarders, and a hotel stay is something they want to savor: a potentially rich and memorable life event.

Hospitality tech is becoming more and more important as hotel chains look to gain an edge over their competition. Resilient and reliable technology, incorporated seamlessly into the modern hotel lobby is designed to make a guest’s life easier, more productive and more comfortable, as well as ‘future-proofing’ the hotel for ever-evolving guest expectations.

Hong Kong-based chain, the Shangri-La group are attempting a worldwide roll-out of digital concierge terminals in their lobbies during 2019. Digital check-ins are increasingly common, with digital room keys, room upgrade and food and drink orders all possible from your device, meaning fewer queues and more ease.

Freeing hotel guests from battery anxiety

When it comes to convenience and freeing the guest from ‘battery anxiety’, wireless charging is at the top of the list – and headed in the same direction as Wi-Fi.  Charging your device using a wire will soon seem as outdated as using an ethernet cable to log onto the internet.

We know that easy access to power is as basic a need as food and water for Millennials, and as LG’s research has suggested, a third of us are willing to drop everything to head home and charge up if it means we aren’t stuck with a dead device. Enabling guests to keep their power topped up conveniently means a longer stay in the lobby, which generally translates into increased revenue from the lobby cafe, bar or entertainment.

Deliver this service through smart wireless charging, and you have the chance, thanks to the hyperlocation and usage data it provides, to create personalized experiences for your guests. For example, when smart wireless charging is integrated with a hotel loyalty app, it could be possible to surprise and delight VIP loyalty guests who are charging in the lobby with their favourite drink.

Wireless charging furniture meets guests’ need for convenient power

The integration of wireless charging with furniture design crystalizes the concept of the modern lobby as the place where style and technology unite. As Chargifi CEO,  Dan Bladen says, when commenting on Chargifi’s collaboration with Hannaford, a Royal Warrant holder for bespoke joinery, fit out and refurbishment solutions: “Customer experience matters more now than ever before. Today’s consumer not only has a keen eye for aesthetically pleasing design but expects their daily experience to be as seamless and personalized as possible…”

He notes that as power and connectivity are now a basic requirement, the innovation, craftsmanship and multi-functionality involved in products such as booths, bar stools and coffee tables that can charge your device when it is placed on them, can help to keep your multi-tasking, connection-seeking guests in one space longer than ever without compromising on the design aesthetic.

Millennial mindset influence on the evolution of the hotel lobby

Trends in hotel lobby design have of course been influenced by Millennials – and 73% say they would like their hotel experience to feel as comfortable as their home. They value experience more highly than luxury products, have increased their stake in the travel market, and will make up 50% of all travelers by 2020.

For this demographic, free Wi-Fi is as essential as the air they breathe. In fact, one survey reports that 55% of these younger travelers would rather lose their sense of smell than their phone while Chargifi’s survey of over 2,000 consumers found that 25% of Millennials have left a venue because they couldn’t charge their device, so reliable and convenient connectivity and power should be at the heart of any hotel development.

Millennials value so-called “isolated togetherness”, something the hotel lobby can facilitate by providing spaces for people to work and play individually while still physically in the company of others. For example, this might take the form of work pods for ones or twos within the larger open environment, where a broader section of humanity gathers.

That said, it’s important to remember that a focus on one generation does not have to exclude others. Generation X-ers and baby boomers are increasingly adopting the ‘Millennial mindset’ when it comes to how they use hotels and the lobby has the capacity to meet a great many needs in one place.

How the modern hotel lobby accommodates families

When Stephen Lewis described growing up in the Taft hotel during its heyday in 1930s’ New York, he described evocatively the lobby as a playground, a place where he spent his childhood ducking between the legs of bell boys, dodging the concierge and even playing his version of elevator free-fall with the local kids.

For today’s children on vacation with their parents, the hotel lobby is less a physical environment to explore and more a place where they can comfortably and safely indulge their passion for online games and communicate with their peers wherever they are in the world. Parents keen to chat, read or work will value and no doubt seek out this space even more if it offers wireless charging, keeping devices powered up, and kids happy, so everyone can relax.

And hotels are getting more and more imaginative about engaging families: Marriott’s Boston Envoy Hotel has a huge pool table in its lobby that, on closer inspection, turns out to be a giant iPad with which guests can interact. Now that 44% of Millennials travel with their kids, there are any number of cool activities that hotel lobbies could offer to attract the attention of families looking to spend quality, connected time away from the pressures of home.

Watch out hospitality industry, Generation Z is coming…

Even taking all this on board, hoteliers can’t rest on their laurels. Generation Z (those born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s) are set to outnumber Millennials within the year. So what influence will the Generation Z traveler have on the lobby?

Generation Z are even more into interaction and collaboration than their Millennial siblings. They prefer visuals to text, having grown up expressing themselves with the emoji, and are born entrepreneurs: they want to produce not just consume.

In short, the trick to tempting Generation Z into the hotel lobby will be to involve them in its design, use and narrative. Generation Z are your partners-in-waiting so the very smartest of hotels will be thinking ahead and planning ways to build productive relationships with these future guests-come-collaborators.

Lobby life: work, rest and play

Whether your lobby is hosting families, freelancers or even Kindle book groups, freeing guests from worry about basic requirements like power and connectivity will enhance their experience while driving revenue. Deploying technology that makes guests’ lives easier, through smart experiences such as table ordering via device or customized offers to wireless charging guests, is the way forward.

Ultimately, when implemented with care and consideration, lobby design and technology can transform what was once dead space into a thriving and productive 24-hour work-play hub that delivers added value for your guests and your brand alike.

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