Despite communal hotel lobbies being all the rage these
days, smartphones have simultaneously ushered in an era in which face-to-face
interaction is increasingly falling out of fashion.
According to Amar Lalvani, CEO of the Standard hotel parent,
Standard International, this preoccupation with the personal device has
profoundly changed the way guests behave in public spaces, creating less
opportunity for what he calls "interesting and beautiful human moments."
"In the old days, not too long ago, the hotel lobby was
a place for spontaneous interaction," Lalvani said. "You'd see what
someone was reading and ask them about it, or you'd buy someone a drink and
strike up a conversation, and that was lovely when that happened. Those types
of moments are going away because of how people interact with their technology."
In an effort to get guests off their screens and engaging
with the real world, the Standard International team came up with, somewhat
ironically, a digital solution.
Launched last October, the group's app, the Lobby, is a sort
of virtual public space that encourages in-person encounters. The free app is available
at the Standard High Line hotel in New York and can only be used by registered
hotel guests during their stay. All interactions are anonymous unless a guest
chooses to share any personal information, and all communication history on the
app is automatically deleted once a guest checks out.
"You check in to the real hotel, and the Lobby creates
a virtual hotel," Lalvani said. "You can say, 'I'm feeling hungry,' 'I'm
feeling like a drink' or 'I'm feeling like listening to music at the Boom Boom
Room tonight,' and you can start making connections with people. We kept it
very, very simple, almost like an old-school chat room, because the point is
not to overdo it with the technology. We want to get people to actually put the
app down and have a real connection."
The Lobby does promise a few more safeguards than a
traditional online chat room. The Standard High Line authenticates users, and
the app features the ability to block users and report bad behavior to
Lalvani said the app has generated quite a bit of guest
interest, and Standard International is planning to eventually roll out the
Lobby across the full Standard portfolio of five U.S. properties in New York,
Los Angeles and Miami.
When it comes to measuring the Lobby's success in more concrete
terms and assessing the number of in-person connections made, however, the
Standard is happy to remain in the dark.
"One of the most interesting things we've done with the
Lobby is we've made sure that we're staying out of it," Lalvani said. "We
want people to feel very comfortable using it, so this is not about data
capture or marketing or things like that. We just provide a safe place for
people to find each other and, if they so choose, interact with each other in
whatever way that they see fit. We're always thinking about how we make hotel
experiences better. The real magic is having people engage with each other."