THE AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG: Why a good hotel lobby should always spark the Imagination

To me, a hotel lobby will always be a place of fantasy. Where, after all that planning and travel, you are finally standing in the lobby, bags packed away in your room, and ready to explore. Chance meetings with locals are only a whisper away, and a new city is just outside the door and you can barely control your excitement.

But just because guests are raring to get out and explore, does that mean there’s no point taking too much time on perfecting the feel of the lobby as a developer? Obviously not. There's nothing like a great first impression. The lobby is a chance to make an impact on guests, but also on people coming to the hotel for meetings, who visit hotel restaurants and bars, or are meeting a visiting friend or relative. Also many travellers are business people who don’t see much except the inside of the hotel - they often arrive late and leave early.

The Ovolo Woolloomooloo, has an amazingly compelling lobby space, which complements its in house  art direction . Credit: Ovolo

The Ovolo Woolloomooloo, has an amazingly compelling lobby space, which complements its in house art direction. Credit: Ovolo

A number of people who visit or use hotels will never see a guest room there, so public spaces need to work hard to spark the imagination. You have the space - use it to give patrons like me their first taste of the culture of the city outside, and stay clear of the cookie cutter art visuals you would see in any major city, which leave you not knowing if you were in Sydney or Bangkok.   

A lobby is a place of practicality but ultimately, it should still spark the imagination! I want to walk into a hotel in Amsterdam and know I am in Amsterdam. I want to go into a Hong Kong lobby, and look around for a bit of obvious local culture. A local experience that is topped by adding a bit of luxury and service into the mix, connecting me to the city that lies outside.

As Robert Williams, a hotel industry expert recently told me, hotels that have traditionally been relaxed with their use of space now, “need to be smarter … with a retail-like focus being applied to each metre squared”.

Although Robert says food and beverage operations are the traditional way that hotels have looked to draw in the customers, it’s clear that they’re not all doing it well. But for the ones that are, a well run food and beverage outlet is a “great way for hotels to better connect with their local community” when they come to visit, plus it’s a welcome addition to the culinary scene for any locals.

What are other ways hotels can try be a place, not of isolation, but of connection? Where hotels can put customers directly in contact with local people and culture? Art Pharmacy Consulting has put together a few suggestions.

Make the lobby a destination, not a pass through point

This is one that a few hotels (but not all) are already onto. “‘Activation’ gets talked about a lot amongst hotels,” says Robert. “Perhaps too much.” But it can't be denied that activations, if done strategically, can have lasting benefits.

Places like Amsterdam’s Lloyd Hotel (where I stayed during Placemaking Week 2017 conference)  stretch their welcome to beyond the lobby. The spirit of Amsterdam as a creative spot is communicated in this 1920’s building, making the anyone in the building feel like they're in a ‘warm’ space. They’ve gone the extra mile and used over 50 designers and artists to create the feel of the hotel.

Each part of the hotel should support revenue making by being inviting and interesting.

Have your hotel be a touch point for local culture

Stakeholders need to make local art part of the design from the beginning to make the common areas a touch point of local culture. Clearly I’m biased here (‘Go Team Art!’). However, I’m also right.

Shared spaces in hotels  - such as bars, lobbies, restaurants and outdoor spaces - should not only be a welcome space, but one that is indicative of local culture, as well as the hotel’s brand. For many customers, the local culture is the reason why they are travelling. For business people, hotel stakeholders should make their space stand out for their regular trips.

Places like The Henry Jones Art Hotel in Tasmania endeavour, not only to use its heritage architecture, but to reflect the contemporary and historic art scene of Tasmania. This is something that makes its bar a destination for tourists and locals alike. They host contemporary art exhibitions that showcase Tasmanian art (works by Joshua Andree are currently in the space) and their website has an online art catalogue of works by Tasmanian artists on display in the hotel.

Video Credit: The Henry Jones Art Hotel - they also offer a

Confession time - I’ve always wanted to consult on an art hotel. Currently, I console myself by staying at them.

Know how to promote local experiences and culture

Position yourself as knowledgeable, and recommend tours that promote an honest local experience that keeps your guests coming back for more. The hotel can be a beautiful retreat, but it’s also a complement to the wonders of cultural life.

If you successfully incorporate local ventures that fit in with your branding, it can be a golden opportunity for facilitating guests desires with the profit of providing a cultural service that is in high demand. Taking the time to create and maintain commercial relationships with local cultural institutions is an innovative way to keep your culture hungry guests coming back for more.

Timo Bures, the General Manager at Chippendale’s The Old Clare Hotel, a hotel that features Culture Scouts walking tours for guests, says that it’s important to remember “we’re not the answer to everything”.

He reiterates that most guests come to experience Sydney - not just the hotel.

“The hotel isn't an exclusive fortress,” Timo adds. ”There’s some things we can’t offer our guests [and tours] are something different to do.”

“How long can your guest stare out of the hotel room window before they want to get out and see something?”