I’m a sucker for a nice hotel. There’s nothing better than coming back to a stylish and relaxing oasis after a long day of sightseeing or a tough day at work. In recent years I’ve heard from a lot of people who are growing more and more disgruntled though with the average hotel experience. I couldn’t agree more and when I was working a traditional 9-5 job there was nothing worse than going to a meeting at a run of the mill, depressing hotel.
I recently had the chance though to experience the emerging new era of social technology and comfort in hotels when I was invited to an event at the Marriott Marina del Rey. I was a guest of Marriott Hotels and Resorts and was compensated for my time, but all thoughts and opinions are absolutely my own.
Technology has moved fast, thanks in large part to the emergence of the smart phone and our ability as business people and travelers to access the internet almost wherever and whenever we want. I’ve checked into FourSquare while on a safari in Namibia and uploaded photos from a desert camp in the middle of Jordan. The point is that we as travelers expect to be able to check our email and be online at all times and even consider it a right. Sadly, most hotels have not kept pace. The number one complaint of travelers is the lack of free internet access, usually a major problem at the some of the best hotels in the world.
I obviously hadn’t stayed at a Marriott in a while because now at every Marriott Hotel anyone can access free Wi-Fi in the hotels’ Great Rooms. The Great Room is the next generation of common space that’s a hybrid of its ancestors. Gone are the long, depressing hallways leading from reception to the elevators and the pointless lounge space near a stuffy, usually empty bar. The Great Room features tons of seating, from oversized, three-seater chairs to upscale picnic style tables. At the center is a modern bar space with a professional mixologist who does more than serve beer, he’s a real cocktail expert. Add to that a cool new menu and a fun space where you can be productive has been created. Productive is the key word; outlets are everywhere in the Great Room, making it the perfect place to get some work done while watching a game or hanging out with friends.
I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent along in windowless business centers and I for one won’t be crying over their disappearance. Sure, Marriott hotels still have areas to use a computer and print some boarding passes, but since most of us travel with laptops the real focus is on the comfy Great Rooms. Better yet, these bright and airy common spaces aren’t just for guests. Anyone can come in, have a seat and jump online, just as I’ve done a million times at places like Starbucks and yes, even McDonalds. As a traveler I’ve come to depend on establishments where I know I can always find free Wi-Fi, no matter where in the world I am. The fact I don’t have to pretend to have just bought a Big Mac and can now instead just relax in the Great Room of a nearby Marriott thrills me to no end.
Hotels aren’t completely there yet though and two changes are still needed: creating similar experiences for guest rooms and creating an amazing app for potential and current guests. The style and comfort of a hotel room are important to me, but so is the ability to recharge my various electronic devices. I travel with an iPhone, iPad, computer, three or four cameras and who knows what else. Usually hotel rooms are in no way equipped to deal with the tech needs of the modern traveler and they need to catch up. Changes to the rooms are key in retaining current and potential guests.
Most companies also ignore the importance of a quality mobile app and they do so at their own risk. A growing percentage of people access the internet through a mobile device of some sort and most of that is through apps. All companies, not just hotels, need apps that are more than just portals to their web sites. Hotel apps in particular need to be equal part destination planner, hotel finder and a way for rewards members to check their status and get upgrades. For a hotel app to be great it needs to be the total package and at no point should I have to leave the app to go to the web site to do anything. I know that’s a hard pill to swallow for many hotels but it’s vital for long term success and the happiness of their guests.
Back in the day of Mad Men and dirty martinis, hotels were hot spots for travelers and locals alike. The lounges and bars were always packed and restaurants were fully booked for months. Travelers didn’t need to leave the hotel, because all of their needs were taken care of for them. In recent decades this has sadly changed. Hotels lost sight of how travelers have evolved and most properties have been little more than a place to sleep. I’m thrilled that some brands are once again embracing the idea of serving as a social center for their guests, an effort I believe is being led in large part by the innovative changes at Marriott Hotels and Resorts. I’ve always been a big fan of the company and now I have a reason to return.
What do you think? If hotels had great tech-friendly lounges like this one, would you use them?