Are We Approaching the Death of the Hotel Lobby?

One of the most beautiful parts of watching Wes Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel is looking at the grand, palatial hotel lobby design, which is centered on the check-in desk. But with more and more hotels being forced to make hotel check-in contactless through QR codes, key cards, and iPads, the hotel lobby is poised for some big changes.

For one, Marriott International recently announced its contactless technology, which will seamlessly allow guests contactless services from check-in to concierge and dining (breakfast is now from a vending machine). Cloud-based apps are streamlining customer care through apps for independent hotels too. It begs the question from a design aspect: How will hotel lobby design change? “Outside of the luxury segment, gone are the days of grandiose, sprawling lobbies,” says Branigan Mulcahy, cofounder of Virdee, a virtual reception technology company. “The large front desk will become a pod. Check-in stations will be positioned throughout the lobby. Staff members will be walking throughout the lobby ready to assist guests.”

The pandemic brought the rise of self-service culture and QR code scanning, but could the hotel lobby still function as a smaller greeting place? It can’t disappear. “The lobby is still an important place to make a good first impression,” says Mulcahy. “What we see changing is the role of the traditional, large-scale front desk. Smartphone-based check-in with mobile keys and modern versions of check-in kiosks will enable a different approach.”

Rather than an employee seated at the check-in desk, expect corporate hotels to enlist “ambassadors” who rove around the lobby assisting with virtual check-in. Meanwhile, hospitality design will change to include less lobby seating, more vending machines, and modular furniture that’s easily sanitized.

“The biggest trend we are seeing is bringing in a residential sensibility,” says Glen Coben, who designs for luxury and boutique hotels with Glen & Company. “People are craving community, but in a less pretentious environment. They’re looking for an escape but we want them to feel like they’re at home.”

Rather than an employee seated at the check-in desk, hotels may begin to enlist “ambassadors” who rove around the lobby assisting with virtual check-in. 

Photo: Getty Images/Yoray Liberman

Other industry experts believe that this isn’t the end of the check-in desk. “For hotels whose customer service is a focus of their identity, I don’t think check-in desks are going away, but are being redesigned with safety in mind,” said Jessica Shaw, director of interior design at the Turett Collaborative.

“The desire for in-person interaction will never go away, so most likely, hotels will adopt a hybrid model, with both kiosks and in-person attendants, or those on the cusp of technology may opt for an all-automated experience.”

Weekend trips are less likely, as longer stays are becoming more popular. This creates more demand for apartment-like, residential-style room rentals. Amenities will likely change too, as hotels will offer flex workspaces and meeting rooms that can be rented by the local community, according to Michael Strohmer, the principal and architect at HKS, which works with luxury hotel brands.

“The core of a hospitality experience has always been to provide personalized service, which is one of the greatest attributes to the industry,” says Strohmer. “Face-to-face personalized service will remain important—a welcoming first impression never goes out of style.”

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