If you travel frequently, you might have noticed that hotel lobbies have become more social, and it isn't just the free Wifi. As we become more interested in working in shared spaces, the hotels are trying to become more like the coffeeshops and other hangouts where we work. The trend is happening from lower-priced discount hotels to the higher-end properties, and includes A-Loft (Starwood's lower-end designer label), Hyatt (both their restaurant-less Hyatt Place, and extended-stay Hyatt House brands), Marriott Courtyards and Hilton's Home2 Suites extended stay brands. The idea is to remake the sterile hotel lobby into a "social hub" that is more living room than just a place to check in and grab a free newspaper and wait for a cab. Call it the Facebooking of the hospitality industry.
Besides the free broadband, these new lobbies feature things to keep guests around, such as free happy hours, huge touch-screen TVs running information portal pages so guests can find the weather at their next destination, and comfortable seating that looks more like your own living room, albeit one that has a lot more room and tables where you can perch your laptop or goodies from the breakfast bar.
The Hyatt House hotels have new seating that takes its cues from the airlines, and I mean that in a good way. There are built-in charging plugs and a place to rest your laptop and other e-tools.
I've seen this first hand at the Hyatt Places that I've stayed and while I am not the social butterfly - particularly at the end of flight that was hours delayed - it is a nice thought and something that I would look for in the future. If you don't want to watch TV alone in your room, now you have an alternative.
For the past several years, Marriott Courtyards are deploying what they call "GoBoards" or interactive concierge touch screen portals. Here is the technology behind the fancy displays. Now you don't even have to pick up the free USA Today newspapers anymore.
The A-Loft hotel brand is also experimenting with a few of their hotels a "smart check in" feature. If you are a Starwood Preferred Guest program member, you are sent an RFID keycard in the mail. On the day of a planned stay, a text message is sent to your mobile device with a room number and you can go directly to your room, without having to stop at the front desk. The technology is in place at A-Lofts in Brooklyn and Harlem in New York City, Lexington, Mass., Dallas, Jacksonville, Fla., and London. The Oslo Comfort Xpress hotel has automated lobby kiosks that dispense RFID room cards.
I've stayed at a couple of hotels that have RFID cards, and they do seem a bit more reliable than the standard magcards that have been used for several years.
Perhaps the next step will be to use your smartphone itself as the room key with its NFC feature. Some European hotels are experimenting with this now.