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How to Make an Entrance: New Lobby Concepts

Hotel lobbies were once a space travellers simply passed through en route to their rooms. However, over time they have become a place to mingle, socialise and even eat. Our content partner investigates the latest in lobby design, why they should serve travellers and locals alike, and the use of technology.

Italian Renaissance Hotel Lobby

'Ian Schrager, and subsequently W Hotels, raised the bar when it comes to lobbies. Today, they transcend the typical function of a lobby. People spend less time in their room and more time in the lobby. It has become the coffee shop, restaurant, bar, nightclub. There’s a layer of design and technology that ties it all together,'  Tim Rheault, creative director of LA-based innovative hospitality design firm, Rhetroactive.

In Good Taste

American hotelier Ian Schrager, former owner of international Morgans Hotel Group and now pioneering the Public hotel brand, which debuted in Chicago in October 2011, is renowned for pioneering several hospitality concepts – including the redefinition of the hotel lobby as a social space. However, the hotelier has become critical of the industry for being too avant-garde.

“It’s time to find a new aesthetic,” he tells Stylus. “When people decided to be more sensitive to design, it became over-the-top. The idea is to do something simple in good taste, be functional, glamorous and current. [The industry] got a bit overzealous with design and one-upmanship.”

Schrager suggests that travellers’ attitudes to luxury have changed, and this must be reflected in the future design of hotel lobbies.

“Luxury used to mean the most expensive things and opulent detail. That’s become irrelevant,” he says. “Good taste is what true luxury is, and what affords real status. People in the know want to go to a place that is functional, warm, simple and doesn’t feel too precious.”

Similarly, Tim Rheault, creative director at LA-based design firm Rhetroactive – which designed Galaxy Macau resort casino in China and is currently working on projects across the globe – suggests that while guests do expect an experience, it must not be too elaborate.

“Every aspect – staff, music, lighting, technology, art – should add to the experience, but it shouldn’t create sensory overload,” he explains to Stylus. “It should just take guests out of what is normally a mundane and sometimes frustrating process. For us, it’s what we’ve always done… creating immersive, highly functional spaces that engage all senses and get people to stay longer.”

Ross Hunter is founding director of Glasgow-based design firm Graven Images, which is responsible for the design of the socially inclusive lobby at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago – the hotel brand’s first US outpost, which opened in November 2011. He controversially proposes that lobbies are not even necessarily an essential for all properties.

“On the one hand, you could actually have a hotel without a lobby,” he tells Stylus. “New technologies make it feasible to go straight to your room without on-site check-in. It just depends on what kind of experience you want. Not every home has a hallway."

Federico Ciampi | Reception & Lobby Area Leading to The Dandy Bar

The Lobby as a Microcosm of a City

Schrager sees the hotel lobby evolving even further and increasingly becoming a focal point not just for visitors, but for locals too. “I see lobbies becoming less and less separate from being the best that a city has to offer – the best restaurant, coffee house, gathering place. The best of everything a city has to offer should be there, under one roof,” he says. 

That has certainly been an influential factor on the design and service at luxury Indian hotel brand Leela Palace’s New Delhi hotel, which opened in April 2011. Tamir Kobrin, general manager of the hotel, tells Stylus: “The lobby is a gathering point not only for in-house guests, but also ‘Delhites’. People come for a unique experience. The lobby is a reflection of us and what we are trying to portray in terms of Indian hospitality, the ‘Europeanesque’ service, and escapist experience we offer.”

Sleep & Eat Virtual 2020 | Hotel 2035

While opulent, Leela’s design is the antithesis of the oversized lobbies favoured by international hotel brands during the latter years of the 20th century. Instead, going forward, Leela proposes a more intimate approach, facilitated by the removal of administrative processes and the creation of smaller spaces.

“Lobbies will become smaller, intimate, with as few formalities as possible. There will be fewer phones, less reception, less administration. It will increasingly become a hospitable experience rather than an administrative one,” says Kobrin.

Richard Hatter, general manager of Hong Kong-based teaching hotel Hotel Icon, which opened in April 2011, similarly believes that the traditional front-desk functions will disappear from the lobby. “I see remote check-in as an emerging trend,” he says. “Check-in should not be restricted to the front desk. We can conveniently check-in guests at the pool, restaurant, or even en route from the airport.”

With traditional functions of the lobby, such as check-in, now outdated, the space is increasingly being used foralternative concepts that appeal to consumers’ fast-paced lifestyles, such as grab-and-go delis. US hotel conglomerate, Starwood’s budget brand Aloft, which opened its first outpost in Montreal, Canada in 2008, arguably led the way, offering guests, as well as locals, the opportunity for a no-hassle purchase of a variety of fresh snacks, 24 hours a day. Marriott’s Surfers Paradise Resort & Spa in Queensland, Australia, which reopened in October 2011 following a $20 million (£12.5 million) refurbishment, has similarly acknowledged that even leisure travellers’ free time is not infinite.

Neeraj Chadha, the hotel’s general manager, explained: “People have busy lifestyles, even when they are on holiday. Java+ is the perfect place to grab good quality food before heading off to the theme parks, or to take with you as snacks during the day.

“People multi-task. They used to work and then have time for leisure. Now they do both at the same time,” Chadha adds. “The challenge is to meet the wants and needs of the different types of guests, be it leisure, corporate, family.”

Sleep & Eat Virtual 2020 | Hotel 2035

The Utility of Technology

While Leela’s philosophy is opposed to a technology-focused lobby in favour of providing highly personalised service – with Kobrin referring to technology as merely a “barrier between client and staff” – other hotel brands are utilising technology not only to provide a highly efficient experience, but also an enjoyable social one. 

For big mid-range hotel brands such as Switzerland-based Movenpick Hotels & Resorts and Starwood’s Sheraton brand, technology provides the opportunity to differentiate their hotel lobby experience.

Roger Macfarlaine, Movenpick’s information technology vice-president in the Middle East, believes guests demand animmediacy of access to information that is only facilitated by providing the latest technology, and even suggests hotel lobbies should become more like airport lounges.

“Over the past 12 months, our Middle East hotels have introduced iPads at guest relations and concierge desks to enable such an exchange and immediacy of access to information and digital content,” Macfarlaine explains. “It would be great to see discreet charging stations and power columns located conveniently close to lobby seating, similar to an airport lounge. These small touches evoke a positive emotive response.” 

Meanwhile, Sheraton has teamed up with Microsoft to create The Link @ Sheraton in the hotels’ lobbies. Sheraton’s global brand leader, Hoyt Harper, explains: “Our customer insight told us that when guests have free time they want to get out of their rooms but they don’t always want to leave the hotel. 

“We created the Link @ Sheraton experience by Microsoft – a social space in the lobby where guests gather all parts of the day or evening. We use technology as an enabler by providing state-of-the-art desktops and free Wi-Fi. It is a space where guests can be alone but not lonely, and they can stay connected to the people, places or things most important to them.”

However, as Yenn Wong, owner of Asia-based JIA Boutique Hotels (which takes its name from the Mandarin word meaning ‘home’) explains, in a boutique environment, and even on a larger scale, the balance between technology and personalisation is a delicate one. 

“The challenge is to ensure efficiency and ease of use for the guest. The challenge is the balance between software and hardware, people and machine, maintaining the personal touch,” Wong told Stylus.

This story was produced by Decorex Content Partner