The hotel industry is so jealous of workspace-rental giant WeWork, and now’s the time to act on that envy.
I spent last week in Los Angeles at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit, which is by all accounts a typically conservative, investment- and development-oriented conference.
I was pleasantly surprised this year to hear so much conversation—even from typically stuffy (sorry guys) finance executives on general sessions—about innovations affecting the hotel space.
The one everyone talked about this year? WeWork.
Are you familiar with this company? WeWork has been around for almost eight years, so it’s old by startup standards, yet of course it’s just now entering the mainstream hotel industry conversation.
Think of it as the Airbnb for desks—you can rent a desk, a meeting space, a conference room, you name it, for one person or 1,000, for one hour or for a month or more, in 59 cities globally. WeWork locations are dedicated buildings—so you can’t list your hotel conference room on the service (more on that later).
No, this isn’t the first time a shared workspace concept has been invented. But what seems to set WeWork apart is its focus on community and that startup mentality. The company boasts it’s not just renting a desk; it’s renting a (you guessed it!) social experience. Members have access to things like wine and cheese tasting events, off-site activities and concerts. Images of the workspaces show hipsters from all backgrounds and age groups lounging on midcentury modern sofas with MacBook Airs propped against their sustainably harvested hemp male capri pants, laughing together while they brainstorm and sip espresso and make money. This is the hotel brander’s dream demographic!
(Quick disclaimer: Nobody is incentivizing me to talk about this. I live in Cleveland and we don’t even have WeWork spaces here yet!)
“People are social, they’re tribal. That’s part of what makes things like WeWork so successful,” said W. Michael Murphy, head of lodging for First Fidelity Companies on the ALIS IREFAC panel. “Go to big hotels … and go into the lobby at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. at night and it’s jam-packed with people, strangers sitting next to each other at these communal tables. It’s like the return of the old-fashioned lobby. We’re seeing it’s a huge yearning (among guests).”
Hoteliers are so close to having this concept for themselves that they can taste it!
I think they’re jealous of the WeWork culture and they want a piece of it, and in this case, jealousy can drive positive innovation. I can just hear owners saying, “but we’ve renovated our meeting rooms and they’re gorgeous, with state-of-the-art technology, and we have an awesome restaurant right downstairs, yet the request for proposal process is so crazy these days that our rooms are sitting empty when they could be generating money for us by hip millennial startup entrepreneurs who have a meeting here then fall in love with our hotel!”
Brands—like Crowne Plaza and Ace Hotels among others—are getting close by retooling their conference rooms into tech- and F&B-heavy “social meeting spaces.” Hoteliers are aware these trends are here, too, and they’re getting there. Hotels already are ahead of the game; they have the design, they have the tech, they have the space.
But the key piece for hotels, of course, will be getting these spaces onto their online distribution channels so people can book them seamlessly and the hotel can monetize them. I’ve talked to marketers in the past who say this is no easy task, yet it’s the most critical one. Without it, you can have the greatest and most tech-tricked-out lobby, but you’ll be nothing more than a Starbucks, allowing people to work for the mere price of a cup of coffee—only in the case of hotels, you’ll be letting people work for free in the lobby without even paying for a guestroom!
And when you think about it, that wouldn’t be the first time the hotel industry left money on the table in an amenity creep situation.
It’s time to finally get the technology right: Integrate meeting space into the distribution platform and property management system, and offer it through your hotel.com app in real time.
This isn’t easy but it’s critical. Clearly, other industries are already doing it.
As Murphy said, on that same panel at ALIS, “WeWork is fantastic … because it’s leveraging off of somebody else’s real estate investment.”
Why not leverage it for yourself?
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