By Kacey Bradley
As industries in every sector of business continue to increase their reliance on technology, many traditional practices have seen a decline in popularity. Why waste paper on a fax when an email works better? Why spend on office overhead costs when your employees can work remotely from their home computer?
But some aspects of business just can’t be replaced by technology — not yet, anyway. One of these aspects is face-to-face interaction: networking, brainstorming, or teambuilding. Yes, there are technical substitutes for those activities — websites like LinkedIn for professional networking, or conference call software like Skype that allows employees to work together in real time. But these tools just don’t seem to beat the benefits of in-person meetings. That’s why companies still choose to invest money in corporate events and send their employees on business trips, and that’s why hotels are improving their accommodations for business travelers and conference hosting.
Many hotels, including Marriott and Hilton, have created full-function apps that are perfect for professionals on the road. Instead of breaking out the laptop and finding a spot with Wi-Fi to make a reservation, travelers can use the app for booking. But that’s not all — some companies have included room service features in their apps, so the guest can place requests with a few taps on his or her own phone. And some apps even include concierge-type information on restaurants and night life near the hotel.
The apps also benefit the hotels themselves by promoting customer loyalty and retention. Many hotels have rewards programs, and customers can track their points on the app. Hotels can also send notifications and offer exclusive promotions through the app that a guest wouldn’t find on other booking platforms.
Business travel can make for some lonely times, as professionals leave their family and friends behind and meetings provide their only social interaction. So hotels are redesigning their lobbies to be more than just a place to sit while you wait for your taxi. They’re now focusing on creating a space that encourages networking and socialization. Instead of spending a solitary evening working in their room, guests can come downstairs, work alongside other travelers and make connections with other professionals.
Some hotels have already done away with the desks and chairs that often take up the corner of a guest room in favor of leaving more space. The new lobby designs include computers and printers, and charging outlets for laptops and tablets. Strategically-placed furniture creates individual work stations within an overall open floorplan. These new work-conducive lobbies also provide a place to gather and socialize for groups who have travelled with the same company. Or professionals can hold meetings that only involve a few people and don’t require a conference room.
To many businessmen or women who’ve spent a day travelling and sitting in meetings, going back out for a meal may seem like a drain, especially in a city that they’re not familiar with. This is when the idea of a nice meal at their hotel’s restaurant crosses their mind. Hotel restaurants are often known for being overpriced and unimpressive, but redesigning this concept is another step hotels are taking to accommodate professionals and encourage networking with other travelers.
Some hotel companies now hire a separate designer for the restaurant, instead of using the designer of the hotel itself. This creates the restaurant’s own sense of space, instead of feeling like a monotonous continuation of the lobby. And, as with the lobby, a smart design invites professionals to use the restaurant for business lunches or company gatherings. The hotel itself benefits, of course, from having a well-established restaurant by keeping its guests’ spending inside the hotel.
Events and conferences provide a large part of hotels’ business, and there are many best practices hotels are implementing to draw companies to use their resources. As technology plays such an important role in business projects, hotels must stay up-to-date with sufficient support for it. A well-functioning projector, easy plugin station where a laptop or tablet can be connected, and multiple electrical outlets are some basic features that hotels can outfit the room with to accommodate meetings.
Hotels can also facilitate networking by hosting their own events for businesses. For example, a hotelier can invite local companies to participate in a job fair, which also attracts professionals who want to network and build their career. As a bonus, the hotels’ facilities are publicized through the event and may draw new clients who would like to use a conference room in the future.
These are just a few areas where hotels are improving networking opportunities for professionals, whether they’re for traveling employees or local firms. As long as in-person interaction continues to be important in the business world, hotels must not only keep up with these demands, but exceed expectations.