If you’re looking for a place to hang out with your buddies, may we recommend a hotel lobby? Yes, you read correctly. Hotels now want you to treat their lobbies as a hangout joint.

Long treated as dead spaces that hotel guests raced through on the way to the elevator, lobbies are being transformed into places to work, surf the Web or meet friends for a drink. The goal is to attract the younger set who have plenty of disposable income to spend.

Hotels are consciously investing in renovations to mimic the style and financial success of luxury and boutique hotels. Walls are being torn down to make lobbies feel less confined. Communal tables are popping up. Wine lists are being upgraded. And quiet nooks are being carved out that give business travelers space to work but still be near the action.

Hotel chains like Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood are wisely hoping that these vibrant lobbies will attract guests to stay and hangout longer. Reports are already coming in that state that the investments are beginning to pay off, not just in alcohol sales, but in their ability to charge higher room rates.

“People want to go where people are,” says Michael Slosser, managing director of operations for Destination Hotels and Resorts, a group of 40 hotels in the U.S. “They want to go to be seen, to relax and to people watch.”

The changes are meant to attract travelers like Michael Coscetta, a 31-year-old consultant from Wantagh, N.Y., who spends about 90 nights a year on the road. “Working in a hotel room feels claustrophobic,” says Coscetta, who instead takes his laptop and heads to the lobby or a nearby coffee shop.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. —the company behind trendy W Hotels—launched a $4 billion lobby revitalization of its Sheraton brand in 2009. Nearly half of the 427 Sheratons worldwide now have lobbies with communal areas, modern rugs, improved lighting and flat-screen TVs at the bar.

Additionally, Sheraton has tried to inject a bit of pizazz to all its lobbies by adding upscale wine lists, each rated by Wine Spectator magazine as it gives the hotel more revenue. In the first six months of this year, the hotel bar sold 18,000 glasses of wine. That’s 24 percent more than the same period last year. At $14 a glass, that adds up to $50,000 more in revenue.

Sheraton’s first lobby modernization came in 2006 when it partnered with Microsoft to provide free computers. Soon it was selling Starbucks to lingering guests.

“As people spent more time in the lobby, they were more willing to purchase food and beverages,” says Hoyt Harper, the senior vice president in charge of Sheraton.

Nearly 15.1 million, or half of Sheraton guests use the computers each year. Just 5.8 million use the gym.

“If they are comfortable in the space and surrounded by others, they will stay and spend more money,” says Destination’s Slosser. “They become not concerned about the price. They’re much more interested in staying there and enjoying their life.”

It’s nice to see the lobby, which has traditionally long been a space to swipe a credit card, get a room key and leave, being elevated to a more friendlier and communal level.

Source: Scott Mayerowitz | Making the hotel lobby a place to see and be seen | September 5, 2013 | Minnesota Public Radio

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