Guests seem to have an increasing desire for thriving social spaces, and hotels are providing just that.
One of the greatest innovations in the recent years is the emergence of hotels as social hubs, which taps into the way people behave.
People attract people and dividing people is never a good idea. People love energy, especially millennials, and they’d rather be at a packed bar than at an empty fine dining restaurant. The chairman of one of the world’s leading luxury hotel chains regularly instructed his managers to make people sit at the front of the restaurant rather than the rear to make the restaurant look buzzing from outside. Private and segregated spaces might have worked for conventional luxury hotels; however, norms are changing fast with the new age travelers willing to explore and indulge in new experiences. Public areas without boundaries are helping guest engagement and are transforming otherwise dull lobbies into a buzzing destination.
Walk into the lobby of the Edition on Bond Street, London and you will run into the bar counter even before the discreetly-located reception. Who likes to see people queuing up in the lobby (reception) anyway! There’s hardly anything conventional about the lobby of the Edition which has a bar counter, lounge seating, a high communal table with iMacs and even a pool table. Music gently picks up pace after 6 p.m. and the lobby feels like a pub by 10 p.m. This clever use of the lobby ensures that every corner of the hotel generates revenue and is a break away from otherwise mundane lobbies. I remember the GM of a luxury hotel in Bangkok complaining that people hold meetings in the lobby for hours without even ordering a glass of water. Well, no GM can have that complaint about the London Edition. “Work, play, live” is the norm at the Edition lobby, which is the hotel’s third F&B offering, in addition to a restaurant and a Bar.
CitizenM in London takes this a step further with a “work, play, live and dine” space, where the lobby, lounge, restaurant, bar and work areas are designed as an extension of each other. There is virtually no lobby in CitizenM London. Spaces flow into each other without boundaries and yet every space has its own identity. The rooms are minuscule at 16 square meters, with the bed surrounded by walls on three sides and a tiny bathroom. However, the buzzing public areas of the hotel more than make up for the uncomfortable rooms.
Removal of formal check-in/check-out desks with the help of technology will also contribute to lobbies being a ‘destination’ than just a ‘transitional space’. Not only will this eliminate the barrier between the guests & staff but will also create a better experience and help reduce the development costs of hotels.
In addition to creating a vibrant and ‘experiential’ space, this philosophy also plays a vital role in limiting the building footprint. Real estate is expensive; it is today’s gold. It is important to make smart use of every square foot of available space. Even the conventional luxury hotels should adapt, in their own way, the new reality of how people behave and their desire to socialize. One of the most revenue generating bars in India is called Social in New Delhi. As the name suggests it thrives on people’s love of socializing.
Emaar Hospitality Group has taken ‘experiential lodging’ to another level by creating a design led, ultra-efficient, contemporary midscale brand, Rove. With its unique and quirky social spaces such as the ‘Instagram-able’ wall of curiosity (a wall with a collage of local artwork), self-accessible designer luggage room, playful meeting rooms (with a ping pong net on the meeting tables), “shipping container-like” entertainment zone, restaurant dining tables which double up as work stations, Rove is a huge hit amongst millennials and families alike.
Having said that, one should be careful that this philosophy of creating social hubs and open-ness doesn’t meet the same fate as the modern “open offices.” Organizations are increasing realizing the adverse effects of so-called open offices on productivity and employee satisfaction. Modern open offices are simply a bad copy of the first ever open office designed by the legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1906 in the Larkin Administration Building. In Wright’s office, there was a considerable distance between workstations ensuring that people are not talking into each other’s ears and have their own private little space. However, modern open offices are not anything like the one designed by Wright. Most organizations believe that an open office encourages productivity, collaboration and creativity. However, recent studies have proven otherwise. One of the reasons why organizations started copying this concept was to use it as a tool for minimizing real estate and squeezing in more people per square meter. But studies have shown that modern offices need more partitions and not less.
Hotels need to be careful of not meeting the same fate as open offices. Work, play, live (and dine) areas are an incredible way to bring people together, create social hubs and simultaneously save on real estate and manpower. However, interpreting and implementing this idea in the right manner and paying attention to details while designing such spaces is the key, instead of just using it as a tool to save on real estate.
Himank Goswami is an architect & a luxury hospitality design professional based in Dubai, UAE. He is presently associated with Emaar Hospitality Group and leads the group’s part portfolio of luxury & boutique hotels worldwide. Emaar Hospitality Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Emaar Properties, a global property developer with a market cap of US$ 14.6 billion and revenue of US$ 4.32 billion. Previously, he spent 10 years with Oberoi Hotels & Resorts which was rated twice as the best hotel chain in the world and led the award-winning chain’s global part portfolio of luxury hotels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/himankgoswami/
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