The Future of Hotel Lobbies

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April 20, 2021
Hotels | Kiosks
Ted Horner - Ted@hornertech.com.au

   Even before COVID-19 and its emphasis on contactless interactions, the importance of both the lobby and reception desk was changing as different demographic groups have made different demands. Technology has been at the forefront. First there were kiosks. Now we have mobile solutions that let guests use their own phone to check in or use a digital key on their to phone to access the guestroom.

   For many years the baby boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1965) has been the largest and most profitable demographic for the hospitality industry. As the leading edge of this generation enters or approaches retirement, their expectations are changing along with the properties they visit and the amenities they use. 
   Once labelled the lost generation, members of Generation X (Gen X) are now solidly in their prime earning years. These folks, born between 1965 and 1980, are considered agile and self-reliant with a good work ethic. They’re highly educated and are now moving into leadership roles in the business world.  Gen Xers pushed hotel brands to satisfy their desire for flexibility and convenience. This industry responded by creating multiple brands geared toward this demographic.
   The largest remaining swath of current hotel guests are millennials, or Generation Y. Although those born between 1981 and 1996 now comprise a large part of the economy, they were most heavily impacted by the Great Recession and the current COVID-19 downturn. They tend to be more idealistic and flexible than their predecessors. They’re also more tech-savvy and highly educated. Hoteliers responded to millennials’ needs with technological upgrades.
   Collectively, these groups have experienced the biggest technological shift since the Industrial Revolution. Computers and mobile phones changed not only how they learn, but how they interact and conduct business. Embracing technology and addressing the sensibilities of the boomer/Gen X/millennial cohort has led to many innovations that are now commonplace among today's hotel properties.
   As of 2020, the initial wave of Generation Z has arrived. The oldest among those born anytime since 1997 are either completing college or approaching five years in the workforce. As compared to Generation X and millennials, Generation Z has grown up fully immersed in technology. They’re multitaskers who are comfortable communicating via screen. In fact, they value that interaction over traditional face-to-face interactions. 
 
   Tour the Lobby of the Future
   The next decade will see hotel guests shift from the boomer/Gen X/millennial cohort to one heavily weighted with Generation X, millennials and Generation Z. Now is the time to consider what this shift might mean to the hotel industry in terms of how we design our lobbies and reception areas.
 
   Personalized Check-in Experience
   Waiting in line as the first on property experience has always been a problem. Millennials and Gen Z have grown up with technology, and as a group will be no more patient than their Gen X or Boomer predecessors. The future lobby will either de-emphasize or completely remove the reception desk as we’ve known it.

    Guests can elect to check-in ahead of time either by using a self-service kiosk on arrival or with a guest services member, or via a tablet in the lobby. For several years now brands such as Hilton have offered a digital check-in service for their Hilton Honors members. These guests can choose their room before arrival, and then use their phone to access it. 
 
   Unique Experiences and Amenities
   Lobbies have shifted from transactional spaces to activity centers. Demographers have noted that millennials consistently value experiences. Indications are that Gen Z will continue that trend. Lobby design will focus on multifunctional spaces offering a variety of experiences.
   The trend toward hyper-local experiences will continue. When traveling on business, millennials are likely to expend their stays to create mini vacations. Increasingly, millennials and Gen Z are looking for unique, share-worthy moments. Expect lobby standards to evolve with eye toward geographic personalization. 
 
   Flexibility
   Hotel designers will continue to juggle multiple generations’ needs.  While Generation X pioneered the concept of work/life balance, demographers tell us millennials are willing to work longer hours in exchange for flexible schedules and the ability to work outside the office. Gen Z is expected to continue along this path as well.
   Building on this, lobby designs will blur boundaries between restaurant, lounge, lobby and business center. The result: co-working spaces with technology, food, beverage, and business amenities available throughout.
   Finally, the need for work/leisure flexibility will continue to influence lobby designs as operators look for ways to activate spaces throughout the day. Design teams can already adjust lighting and audio/visual systems by time of day. New technologies such as virtual reality overlays, augmented reality and electronic artwork packages allow lobby spaces to morph to meet each guest's preference. For a great example of next generation lobby design and technology, check out CitizenM.
   At the end of the day, there’s no single answer to the question “What will future lobbies/reception areas look like?” But we can say that one-size-fits-all solutions will be replaced by services and amenities that address guest's demands for unique and tailored experiences.

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