Hotels take a fresh look at communal spaces
From hip lobbies with a coffee shop ambiance to shared living spaces linking guest rooms, hotels are turning their focus to inviting community areas.
For corporate travelers, it may mean sending a few emails from a co-working alcove complete with power and USB outlets, while leisure visitors may linger around tables stacked with board games or post photos to social media from the lounging zones.
“Today’s travelers often place greater value on convenience, sense of place and community than they do on the traditional luxuries offered by hotels,” says David A. Black, Americas Hotels Lead, JLL Project and Development Services. “That’s one reason why hotel companies are developing so many soft brands that have an emphasis on communal areas with spaces and experiences that bring people together in new ways.”
The forthcoming Tru by Hilton is just one of the growing number of hotel brands encouraging its guests to spend less time in their rooms and more in specially designed communal areas. Aimed at Millennials — or people with a “Millennial mindset” — who want to connect with other travelers, the hotel’s innovative space called “The Hive” embodies the brand. Instead of a traditional lobby, guests have access to four zones — work, play, lounge, and eat — all designed for interaction and engagement.
Moxy Hotels, Marriott’s new boutique hotel brand, offers an industrial-style lobby with fun games on hand, along with coffee and full-service bars. And while not everyone will fancy the hotel’s signature feature, a communal ironing nook, Moxy Hotels is banking on Millennials appreciating its fresh approach.
“Some of this communal space is nothing new,” says Lauro Ferroni, JLL’s Global Head of Hotels & Hospitality Research. “Hotels have always had lobbies, pools, bars and restaurants. But now the design and features of these communal spaces are being driven by hotels wanting to appeal to younger travelers.”
Going beyond the idea of a pool and sun-loungers as an outdoor communal space, one New Jersey hotel, The Asbury, has created a perennial backyard barbecue zone with Ping-Pong tables, live music, craft beer (served from a converted VW van), and food trucks.
Getting travelers together
The growing popularity of home rental platforms, such as Airbnb and HomeAway, and boutique hostels is also driving hotels to find new ways to accommodate larger groups of friends and families traveling together.
Marriott’s mid-range brand Element, which is aimed at guests staying beyond a few nights, is testing blocks of private rooms built around a communal kitchen and living room. “Really it’s about a much more shared economy these days. It’s much more about socializing and a sense of community when you travel,” says Toni Stoeckl, a Global Brand Leader at Marriott, in an interview with KTLA earlier this year.
The challenge for hotels is designing their communal areas in a way that appeals to their target guests – and provides them the requisite amount of privacy.
“Although there has been a growing focus on the Millennial traveler, hotel brands can’t afford to ignore their more “seasoned” travelers,” says Black. “That’s why design solutions must be flexible enough to provide both communal spaces which appeal to the co-working, co-living generation as well as spaces which appeal to baby boomers. It’s not a one size fits all approach.”
In addition, people traveling in a group have different needs and expectations to those traveling in a couple.
“When you’re traveling, the communal experiences could turn out to be the most memorable part of the trip,” says Ferroni. “Yet you’re also going to have a lot of people who will say right off the bat that they have no interest in trying something like this, whether they’re business travelers who need their own space to get the job done or leisure travelers who want some time on their own.”
Is communal the way forward?
With the concepts of co-living and co-working taking off, bigger and more innovative social areas in hotels could well be in the cards – especially for brands targeting younger segments of the market.
Within the U.S., Ferroni believes it’s a concept that will take root in the bigger cities.
“I think it’s going to gain traction in large gateway markets like New York, Miami, or San Francisco where you have a large share of people coming from Europe who might be more comfortable with this concept,” he says.
Hotel executives might not be sure whether this is the next big thing, speculates Ferroni, but he says that it would be foolish for them not to give it a try. “They’re looking at it from a trial-and-error standpoint. Large hotel companies that want to be innovative can’t afford to ignore the potential of shared spaces – even if Millennials are not their key audience.”