How hoteliers manage limited access to public spaces
 
How hoteliers manage limited access to public spaces
25 SEPTEMBER 2018 8:12 AM

For hotels offering exclusive spaces like rooftop bars and pools, the issue of controlling who can access these areas—and other parts of the hotel—can pose a difficult logistical challenge.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hoteliers are seeing multiple benefits from offering exclusive spaces like rooftop bars and pools—some of which are only available to hotel guests—but controlling access to these facilities can be problematic without the proper infrastructure in place.

For many guest-only and limited public access spaces, sources said a combination of methods, including both security hardware and dedicated staff, is needed to maintain the integrity of the “velvet rope.”

Based largely on the property and its architecture, tactics for controlling facility access might include dedicated elevators that only travel to a specific floor, and/or keycard mechanisms in general-use elevators that only permit access to special floors when the guest inserts their key. Some hotel staff could also serve as hosts and hostesses who grant access to special elevators, based upon predetermined criteria for entry.

“Depending on the style of hotel and rooftop space, controlling the flow and occupancy levels can indeed be a challenge,” said Shannon Foster, corporate director of operations for Pivot Hotels & Resorts. “Hotels want guests to feel a sense of exclusivity and security, and having bar patrons utilize guest elevators to access these spaces is not an ideal experience for the hotel guest or the patron attempting to locate the bar. Ensuring only hotel guests are receiving pool access can also be tricky.”

Keyed entry
There are numerous reasons why a hotel stands to gain from offering an exclusive space like a rooftop bar or pool, depending on the intended user. For facilities that are open to the general public, a trendy rooftop bar or pool area is a great way to bring in locals and drive F&B and facility spend, while promoting the hotel. Or, when a special area in a hotel is only accessible by guests, it adds an element of exclusivity and privacy that many guests appreciate.

“When we originally opened, we allowed access to our library to all, but we quickly discovered that our in-house guests deserved a special area of reprieve only accessible to them,” said Beth Smith, VP of sales and marketing at The Hotel Emma in San Antonio, which has a private club floor within a 3,700-volume library. “We get a lot of non-guests touring Emma due to our history, architecture and unique industrial repurposing design, which made us rethink what areas of the hotel could be that special place for our in-house guest.”

The solution at the hotel, Smith said, was to only allow guests with keycards access to the library via the elevator. The hotel’s guest floors, fitness center and third-floor pool are also restricted to keyholders. It’s a common approach employed by many hotels in similar situations, and for the most part, it works. This method is especially effective in hotels where providing a dedicated elevator to a rooftop bar or pool isn’t an option.

“We like to provide extra security to the guestrooms, as well as the other in-house guest-only areas,” Smith said. “It acts as a security measure that most of our guest really appreciate.”

Human intervention
Some exclusive hotel spaces aren’t strictly for guests only, which can complicate the issue of controlling access to various hotel areas. The problem can be further compounded if access is controlled according to certain times throughout the day or days of the week. This is often the time when hotel staff need to be involved beyond simply relying on keycards to determine who is allowed where.

To manage this issue at The Robey, a historic 89-room Chicago hotel that was created by merging two separate but adjoining buildings, management opted to place a hostess station in the second-floor lounge. From there, a staff member determines who is permitted to take an elevator to Up Room, its exclusive bar located on the 13th floor. There are special times of day when only guests can enter the space, and in general, staff must keep a close eye on how many patrons are packed into the bar’s relatively tight space.

“People check in with the hostess and then she will let you up,” said Santiago León, GM of The Robey. “She will communicate with the hostess upstairs and let her know she’s sending up this many people under this name and then once they arrive on the 13th floor, the hostess will greet them and seat them. There’s no perfect solution for this, and it means even hotel guests have to go down to the second floor and check in with the hostess. It works well because we control the flow of people in the building.”

Access to the elevator leading to the Up Room rooftop space at the Hotel Robey in Chicago is controlled by a hostess on the second floor. (Photo: Karrie Leung PR)

A dedicated solution
When possible, an ideal way to control access is to offer a dedicated elevator used solely to reach exclusive bars, rooftop spaces and pools. It might not be an option in small and/or older properties, but it is something that is particularly important to consider when building or renovating a hotel that will offer these kinds of facilities. It could also be helpful, albeit costly, to program the elevator to offer specific types of access at one time of day, then change its parameters at other times.

“Having a dedicated elevator that transports patrons directly to the rooftop bar is always the ideal solution, especially if the rooftop bar also has guestrooms on the same floor,” Foster said. “Programming an elevator with restrictions is possible, but it is a costly expense, as the more parameters you put into elevator’s programming, the pricier it will be.”

Still, all the added expense and potential hassle of providing special hotel spaces like rooftop bars and pools can pay off in the long run. Hoteliers looking to create such spaces need to plan for the logistics in advance, experts said, but that doesn’t mean they should shy away from the undertaking. The unique character and buzz these spaces add can easily offset the downsides.

“I do think it brings value to the project to have these spaces,” León said. “Certainly, it’s very attractive for local people, and for the hotel guests, although they can get annoyed at times, it’s also part of the sexiness. You don’t want to go to your typical hotel, where there’s a crappy restaurant and a mediocre bar; you want to go somewhere hip, and that’s why they come here. There are people who want to come here just because of Up Room.”

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