The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

September 5, 2013

Making the hotel lobby a place to see and be seen

NEW YORK (AP) — Hotels want you to stay a while — in their lobbies.

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.

Large, traditional hotels are spending billions in renovations to try to mimic the style and financial success of luxury and boutique hotels, which have always drawn free-spending crowds to their lobbies. 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.

Companies like Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood are betting that more vibrant lobbies will leave guests — especially younger ones — with a better feeling about their stay, even if their room is bland. Hotel owners say 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.

Steve Carvell, associate dean for academic affairs at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, says younger guests "very much want that sense of not feeling alone, even though they are."

U.S. hotels are forecast to spend $5.6 billion on capital improvements this year, up 10 percent from 2012 and more than double the $2.7 billion spent in 2010, according to a study by Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University's hospitality school. The bulk of that money pays for new beds, showers and other room improvements. But Hanson says a "proportionally record amount" of money is going to reconfiguring lobbies.

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