The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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February 24, 2014

Hotel lobbies encourage guests to hang out

Arlington, Va. — It’s midafternoon at the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, Va. Flattering sunlight floods the airy modern lobby. A few people linger over lunch or work together in hushed conversations. An employee tidies the already tidy bar. Subdued music emanates from strategically placed speakers.

I’m tempted to abandon my plans to return to my messy cubicle or my messy home office and just camp out here for the afternoon. Which is exactly what Marriott would like me — and you, fellow guests and worker bees — to do.

If you were to wax metaphoric about lobbies, you might say that they’re the living rooms of hotels. But what if your living rooms aren’t, well, lived in?

“If you think of a hotel lobby, you think of a big empty space, and that’s what the tradition has been,” says Bjorn Hanson, a dean specializing in hospitality at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management.

“Our lobbies have historically been transitional spaces,” agrees Paul Cahill, senior vice president for global brand management at Marriott Hotels & Resorts/JW Marriott Hotels. People check in. People check out. Maybe they hang around for a few minutes if they’re waiting for someone.

Now, though, hotels are taking a page out of everything from frat houses to wine bars and art museums to transform their lobbies into destinations designed to attract both guests and non-guests for extended periods of time.

Over the past few years, Marriott, for instance, has been rolling out its “Greatroom lobby” concept. The Crystal City Marriott was one of the earliest conversions.

To encourage guests to linger and passersby to pop in, the restaurant and bar moved to the ground level; they’d previously been one floor up. The centerpiece of the new space is a combination coffee shop and bar (insert joke here). A few large TVs surround it. The seating options include one high and one low communal table, two-tops with tall chairs, high-backed chairs with low-slung tables and a row of chairs along the bar.

And there are two 21st-century amenities that will almost guarantee bottoms in those seats: free WiFi, rolled out in all Marriott lobbies about a year ago, and lots of electrical outlets, often incorporated into the furniture.

More hotels have shifted their emphasis to public spaces because they’ve scaled back the size of their guest rooms. That’s because of limited real estate and the removal of bulky furniture that used to house equally bulky televisions, among other reasons, according to Hanson. Besides, guests these days aren’t as interested in holing up in their rooms by themselves, and hotels don’t want to see that, either.

“You want them to be pulled out of their room and into these public settings where they can be part of the community,” says Vanessa Guilford, design director for the New York-based Pod Hotels.

Hoyt Harper, global brand leader for Sheraton, says that hotels can capitalize on the fact that guests want to sit in a well-equipped space that allows them to “be alone but not lonely” — which quite succinctly describes the gadget-laden millennials who now represent a significant portion of the traveling and working public.

“People don’t work the way they do 9 to 5 in an office cubicle anymore,” Guilford says. At the Pod 39 in New York, the lounge — slightly set off from the more functional check-in/check-out lobby area — has tables equipped with outlets. There’s also free WiFi.

In addition to varied seating and an 18-hour bar that changes its offerings throughout the day, Hilton Hotels and Resorts’ lobby experience at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in Virginia features a technology lounge. Here, guests can work at PC or Apple computers, set up shop with their own laptops at a communal table or park themselves in front of a four-panel LG “video wall.”


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