Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Changing Nature of Hotel Lobbies

Hotel Chatter: To stay on top of the hotel game, we find it useful to check in with people behind the Front Desk. For this week's Concierge Interview with John Williams, who is the president of travel planning service, New York Guest, we were curious about the changing nature of hotel lobbies. Some are spectacles, some are popular hangout spots. But are they actually useful?

To find out, we sat down with John in (where else?) a lobby. Specifically, The Algonquin, whose concierges are staffed by New York Guest.

To start things off, what are some good lobbies to enjoy during fall in New York?

Go to the Mandarin Oriental—watch the leaves change in Central Park, or go to Dizzy's Club. Royalton is pretty good.

What about newer hotels?

With the new properties, a lot of them don't have space [for those types of lobbies]. They're not built that way anymore. It's a lobby: get 'em in, get 'em up to their room. So you really have to go back to the old-style properties like [The Algonquin].

Do you think the lobby should function as a "social hub"?

There was this guy who used to be the General Manager of the New York Palace, and he would be in the lobby every day from four to six. He had a desk for himself just to engage with the guests, get to talk to them and find out how their experience was. Unfortunately, he had a heart attack and died. But that was his thing. [In order to] bring this big property down to a personal level, he'd go down to the lobby every day.

How important is that sense of personality these days?

I think it's more important now, because there are so many properties and there's so much competition. Before 2007 when the recession started hitting, everyone talked about their comp set. Every day now, your competitors are changing. What used to be no longer is. Properties that didn't exist are now in your comp set and the other ones are gone. It's [important] to find out what's going on with your guests, where are they coming from, and what are they looking for. You've got to stay on top of that because technology is changing how the information is getting to them. [It also affects] what you need to have so that they continue to come.

How does a small boutique hotel go about distinguishing itself?

It's the people behind the brand. New York has some great personalities. The people you wouldn't think of hiring, they're some of your most under-utilized and unique people. Don't go based on looks. There's a lot of great talent out there.

Are you referring to places like the Ace?

There's a pseudo-brand that has personality, it's got a bit of an edge to it. The staff is a little bit more hip and open, they like to show off their tattoos and their hair, but they fulfill the experience. That's a really unique New York property. Even down to the rooms, which are really well-thought-out. But it's not a conservative approach. They took off their ties and jackets and unbuttoned and said, 'We're here.'

Is that an example of a hotel setting itself apart form the competition?

Absolutely, especially in that area—they call it "NoMad" or whatever. It's got a great following, because the 20- and 30-somethings are talking. It's cool to go back to hotels. For a while, people didn't go to hotel to have drinks. Now everyone's asking: where's the new rooftop? Where's the new lobby? Where's the new bar?

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