By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky
Prior to the pandemic, many had forecasted the business center to be a dead concept for hotels. Relegated to some back corner of the lobby or hidden from the main thoroughfares by a maze of windowless corridors, this amenity has suffered a slow death in the face of laptops, smartphones and all forms of paperless documents. Amongst many other changes, COVID-19 has meant fewer corporate travelers gracing our halls and a further diminishment of utility for this facility.
But as travel recovers, the business center may experience a renewed demand. That is, with so many remote workers, work-from-a-hotel (WFH) incentives and the need for physically distanced office spaces, a retrofit of this amenity may end up being a great long-term project to enhance your value proposition for all travel segments.
Before you start your analysis of how to reinvigorate your business center, you must understand what attracts modern, post-pandemic travelers to these spaces, and this is neatly summarized through the buzzy terminology of one’s ‘third place’ or ‘third space’. With the first place being one’s home and the second being the office, the next mixes the two.
Prior to Covid, a big part of the USP for Starbucks, aside from great coffee, was offering a cozy respite from the home and the office. Now, you can make a similar argument building upon the success of WFH concepts whereby people will continue to look for hybrid travel options with worktime being easily accessible via dedicated spaces. Another good term to know in this regard is the ‘living room’ denoting a hotel space that takes on aspects of a members lounge with comfortable, expansive seating and grab-and-go food options.
As vaccines get rolled out and restrictions are lifted, guests will continue to opt for hotels that approach this kind of living room concept where they are comfortable to socialize (from a distance), relax in front of a communal television while reading or type away on their laptops in semi-seclusion. Anything goes, and indeed many of these spaces adjoin some semblance of bar, restaurant or sundry to make dining or imbibing all the more convenient.
Hence, the new business center can work by taking on aspects of both the third place and living room concepts. The foremost problem many hotels face, however, is that the geographic minutia doesn’t pan out. That is, many business centers aren’t immediately accessible to other areas of interaction like the main entrance, the front desk, the lobby bar, the primary dining outlet, the elevator corridors or any other frequently trafficked footpaths. If this is the case, then the best option may be renovating the spaces closer to check-in to fit into the living room mold – this depends on each property’s floorplan.
On the other hand, if the current mothballed business center is reasonably exposed to where your visitors are most likely to walk, then it may be prime for a less expensive makeover that involves an open floor concept and cozy, modular furniture, all with the laptop and mobile device in mind rather than the static desk and printer configuration of old. Importantly here, proximity to a phone charging station is a crucial design factor.
And with Covid safety guidelines in effect for many years to come, a business center rethink must not only buffer individual work areas but also incorporate online booking resources for proper contact tracing and controlled access. Perhaps there’s even an opportunity to upsell usage of this space as part of a package or on a by-the-hour basis.
Finally, if the living room concept or office space conversions aren’t in the cards for your particular property, then it’s time to get creative. Maybe you don’t need a business center and this room can be transformed into another dedicated meeting room that can be sold either as part of a group booking or via a third-party site. Maybe you convert it into additional BOH office space to help keep more of your team working onsite but with better physical distancing between desks.
Beyond only corporate guests, how might this space be modified to add a new feature for leisure guests? There have been many business centers that have become libraries, games rooms with cards tables and a full stack of board games or even arcades with billiards and foosball. Ultimately, there are plenty of options to help leverage this amenity as part of a bigger post-pandemic product relaunch. Business center or not, you have the space, so it’s just a matter of figuring out how best to use it for the travelers you hope to attract in the recovery phase.
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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.