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Innovation: Hotel lobby, a living place

Lobbies have always been places for welcoming guests and providing them with information, meeting their needs and solving any problems they may encounter. Once occupied exclusively by reception and the concierge, the reception area has been undergoing changes and is becoming a place for meeting and relaxation. Increasingly connected to the bar and restaurant, it has large sofas, libraries and sometimes even small groceries to make the space more friendly. While the idea has been developing for several years now, the implementation of such a space requires non negligible costs and a reorganization of work for hoteliers seeking innovations.

Providing a more welcoming reception

After the façade, the lobby -or entry- is one of  the first things guests see upon entering a hotel. So it is naturally in the hotel’s best interest to make a good impression. And yet, imposing front desks often looked like bank counter, separating customers and receptionists quite formally. Inversely, the open lobby, which opens onto common areas such as the bar and restaurant, offers a real living space. This is true for exemple at the Comptoir Campanile where the entry and dining room blend together. Guests feel free to do as they please: eat a bite, drink a glass, surf the Web, play on a game console or watch television. Satisfied with the first customer responses, Louvre Hotels Group announced last October that a rollover of the concept was planned for Kyriad and Tulip hotels in 2015. Some hoteliers are having difficulty taking this leap, estimating that it is too similar to an inn or hostel style. Others estimate that their structure does not lend itself to this and that the costs of outfitting it would be too high.  Some properties in the upscale and boutique segment hope to preserve a more classic reception but do not hesitate to integrate it into a vast and cozy space. The Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter welcomes its clients in a lobby where spaces are organized around a vertical garden. At The Serras Barcelona, a brand new 5-star property in Pablo Picasso’s former studios, the front desk disappears. Time is taken seated around a desk in leather armchairs to proceed with check-in. The library located on the mezzanine overlooks the lobby and the informal restaurant, which conveys the idea of luxury and comfort without any fuss. The lobby of the brand Mama Shelter also offers an unstructured space that also includes reception, complimentary newspapers, a mixed bar-zone area, a DJ mixing table and even temporary exhibitions.  The same type of open lobby may be found in the future lifestyle brands of major hotel groups: VIB by Best Western and Canopy by Hilton whose first hotels will open this year. Some go further and offer original services that are not expected in hotel lobbies. For example, “the Farmer’s Fridge” at the Marriott Chicago O’Hare, an automatic distributor for organic products, with mixed salads, fruit salads and juices. Farmer’s Fridge is a start-up in the Chicago region. This shows the need each property has to stand out, provide a personal and local touch. And the reception area is the perfect place for this since that is where clients gather.

Technological use of the lobby

While complimentary high-speed WiFi has become indispensable in lobbies, some hotel professionals offer increasingly performant tools to facilitate the integration of clients arriving at the property and their access to services. At the Mercure London Bridge, the front desk was replaced by more convivial big wood tables. The internal software is housed in iPads in order to offer staff mobility. At the Hyatt Regency Chicago, in addition to iPads, kiosks are available to visitors so they may recuperate their key more easily. This makes it possible to limit waiting time in the lobby. Hyatt Hotels Corporation implemented this procedure. With a web-check-in option available via Internet, future residents may check in before arrival at the hotel. This option is accessible from 9am for Platinum and Diamond members, and from 1pm for Gold card members and all other clients. B&B Hotels also has a remote check-in program exclusively for members of its e-club program. Another example is the brand Radisson where it is now possible to check in 24 hours in advance via Smartphone using a barcode sent to the client by email. The guest may scan it in one of the kiosks in the hotel lobby in order to receive a key directly without having to see a receptionist. The American company NCR Hotel Solutions, offers this type of solution adapted to hotels with more than 150 rooms. In addition to kiosks, the company offers to outfit lobbies with large, interactive digital panels. They are able to display a plan of the property and information relative to hotel services. But the lobby can also be a space for innovation where the latest gadgets are tried. Thus, the Dutch company Itesso, suppliers of solutions stored on the Cloud, offers its hotel partners (IHG, Best Western,  Ramada Worldwide, etc.) the possibility of using Google Glasses to accelerate check-in at hotels. At the InterContinental Miami Hotel, iPads are embedded in tables in the lobby and make it possible to order something from Starbucks, which has a POS at the hotel. Finally, in Japan, the hotel Henn-Na, which will open this July 17, will be entirely managed by robots that will occupy a great deal of space in the hotel.

Towards digital concierge services?

The arrival of the hotel Henn-Na raises the question of the future of the receptionist’s and concierge’s job. The latter is already increasingly rare at hotels. A multitude of more competitive tools compete with the post. The business Hotelcloud offers properties the possibilities of creating their personalized software application to allow guests to access to program on all platforms. With rates ranging from 149 to 229 € per month, this option should satisfy independent hotels and franchised properties that generally only presented brochures provided by tourist offices as information. Several 4- and 5- star properties offer the service Hotelcloud: Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Hotel, the Tour d’Auvergne (Paris), the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino (Cairns, Australia) and The Norman (Tel-Aviv, Israel). The application also links the latest local blog trends. One of the competing firms, the French firm Lounge Up, offers a similar concierge service, particularly at the Holiday Inn Porte de Clichy (264 rooms) and the Mercure Opéra Garnier (144 rooms).

Hotel chains have also taken charge by associating with innovative startups. Thus, in the United States, Radisson developed a partnership with Runtriz to launch a concierge application for Apple and Android. Radisson iConcierge makes it possible to hire a taxi, call room-service and reserve a table at the restaurant without going through the lobby. For Novotel, the application is called Novotel Virtual Concierge. It also provides information on weather and air traffic. As a result, lobbies will need to find a nex balance between electrical outlets and interpersonal inlets.

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