Hotelier Uses Digital Communication to Create Human Connection

Author: David McMillin       

A boutique hotel brand is creating a virtual lobby experience in the hopes of getting more people to look up from their screens and converse in the physical space.

Amar Lalvani, CEO of Standard International — a group of boutique properties — believes that hotel lobbies face the same challenge as event environments when it comes to screen behavior. “What happens in a hotel lobby,” Lalvani told Fast Company, “is everyone is looking at their phone.”

To motivate guests to put down their smartphones at his hotels in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and London, Lalvani is first asking them to pick them up and use the company’s new Lobby mobile app. It sounds counterintuitive, but the concept is rooted in the belief that digital introductions can lead the way to actual human handshakes. “We’ve created a platform that connects social networking to a physical space all for the purpose of putting your phone down and making a human connection,” Lalvani told Fast Company.

There’s an element of mystery built into the app. Guests can create a fake name and reveal details about their real identities. If the digital interactions go well, the hotelier hopes that users will make plans to put their phones in their pockets to talk instead of to text. Think the idea sounds like a dating app? Fast Company’s Melissa Locker raised the same question to Jimmy Suh, chief commercial officer at Standard International. “If someone wants a hook-up, there are plenty of hook-up apps out there,” Suh said, “and people will have a much bigger pie on Tinder or Grindr.”

Regardless of how guests use the app, the company’s approach to using digital technology represents the opposite approach the majority of hoteliers have taken for app development. Most hotel apps aim to replace — rather than encourage — human interaction: Instead of stopping by the front desk, your phone can become your key. Instead of calling the concierge, you can submit a request to a bot. Those apps are silent traveling companions, and while they do help eliminate some travel frustrations, they don’t do much to make being away from home feel less lonely. Perhaps Standard International’s concept can inspire guests to have a travel experience that takes them a world away from the screen. After they download the app, that is.

Looking for more information on designing better mobile apps? Check out “Why Event Organizers Need to Start Thinking Bigger With Their Mobile Apps.”

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