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 management.

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."

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