Five Hot Tips on Designing Your Hotel Lobby

By Roger G. Hill Chief Executive Officer & Chairman, The Gettys Group Inc. | October 28, 2008

Walking into a hotel lobby is like shaking the hand of someone you just met. It's all about the first impression. Just like people, hotel lobbies embody distinct personalities. A lobby can be aloof, inviting, intimidating, or unbelievably cool. As an hotelier, you cannot stand by your front door greeting all the guests that make their way onto your property, but you can choreograph initial experiences by transforming your lobby into an oasis.

The best lobbies create a refuge for the tourist, for the business traveler, for the couple enjoying a weekend getaway. Lobbies blend the best of form and function - they anticipate the needs of your guests and introduce your sense of style. Within moments of entering your hotel, guests brand your hotel as trendy, chic, cheap, or luxurious. They step into this public space immediately upon crossing the threshold - so, take this opportunity to make a powerful first impression on your guests.

In today's competitive hospitality industry, hoteliers constantly work to come up with elements that turn their next visitors into repeat guests. In especially tough economic times, travelers are tightening their budgets. In response, hoteliers need to identify smart solutions that keep guests booking stays.

Focus on what pleases your guests - create a special oasis.

  • Analyze your potential guests: If you are going to create a lobby space that draws in new guests, it is essential to develop a good understanding of who your guests are. If your target demographic is a family on vacation, think about putting an ice cream stand or a play area in your lobby. If your target demographic is vacationing couples, consider a romantic lounge within the space. Your goal is to delight your guest with a welcoming area they never knew they wanted - and can't imagine missing on their trip.
  • Create a unique environment: You want your property to stand out, to offer something different. The lobby is the perfect area to establish your hotel's personality. Make a statement, develop a particular style, and set the scene for your guests. Make your lobby more than a passageway from the outside world to their rooms. Create an environment that makes your guests want to stop, see, and do things. Give them thought-provoking or inspirational art to look at, mood-appropriate and well-designed lighting, and an environment that invites them to linger and relax.
  • Tie experience with function: Not only must your lobby house the traditional check-in desk, waiting area, and concierge stand, but it should serve as a social gathering place with auxiliary seating and tables. Develop a space specifically for business travelers that houses laptop ports, printers, and phones. Offer kiosks to check-in to flights. If space permits, section off another area for guests looking for somewhere to socialize with others. If possible, tie this space in with the hotel bar, and place chairs and tables in a configuration that invites your guests to mingle. Think beyond the traditional lobby, and even the simplest enhancements create added ambiance.
  • Incorporate revenue streams: Create a lobby that provides a variety of shops and services. When guests conveniently enjoy amenities they want right in your lobby, you get one more chance to increase the revenue as well. Even a boutique property can serve coffee, stock a snack bar, and sell gifts or toiletries. Guests appreciate the convenience of in-house offerings and unexpected retail experiences, eliminating the need to shop elsewhere. Give them one more reason to stay in the hotel and experience every aspect it has to offer.
  • Analyze the layout and architecture: Take a close look at the structure of your lobby. Something too large may seem uninviting, while a small, cramped space discourages guests from lingering. Because lobbies are typically wide-open spaces, take advantage of the area and create zones that seamlessly flow together to create a cohesive experience. Each zone can serve a purpose and fulfill specific guest needs. Also focus on the architecture of the space. Work to match the era of the hotel with the lobby and play with the style as you introduce furniture and accessories. A luxurious hotel begs for a lavish lobby. A family resort destination might feature child-size tables, chairs, and activities in the lobby. Tie these elements into the architectural style of the space. I'll give you an example on how we put these tips to use for good effect. The Blackstone, a Renaissance Hotel in Chicago, is nearly 100 years old, and it's registered as a landmark property. From the start, we knew we couldn't change the architectural elements and would be working on a historic property.

However, even though the space is a landmark, today's guests are very different than the guests of the 1920's. Lucky for us, the lobby was already a unique environment, and we worked with the architectural firm to restore the grand fireplace, mahogany accents, and plaster ceiling. But we avoided the trap of slavishly following the original details by incorporating modern art, with a stunning, edgy installation above the registration desk. We worked with the architecture and layout, but we weren't stifled by it.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.