Hotels design chic, social conference rooms to lure new business

Savvy hospitality companies are remaking hotel conference spaces, modeling them after elegant lounges to attract executives--and improve how they mingle and exchange ideas.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor

When you think of a typical hotel conference room, you may think drab decor, generic furniture, uncomfortable chairs. Savvy executives in the hospitality industry are trying to change this dull stereotype of the hotel meeting space by taking cues from fashionable bars and restaurants. Or the more stylish lounge or lobby areas of, well, hotels.

So reported Julie Weed in the New York Times earlier this week. "Hotels are remaking their meeting rooms into more social spaces and places for impromptu connections and small gatherings," Weed wrote, citing Stephani Robson, a senior lecturer at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration who studies how design affects hotel guest behavior. But it's also likely that the concept is a marketing strategy to differentiate hotels from one another--although cool and comfy conference spaces are quickly becoming a trend. The Times article cites a wide variety of hotels, ranging from the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in Virginia to the FG Royal Hotel in Riga, Latvia, to the Westin Times Square in New York City, as examples of the wave.

Notable design makeovers of hotel conference rooms that have taken place in recent renovations include

  • conversational seating clusters versus the typical boardroom table only
  • permanent bars where food and drinks are served in a social-style setting during meetings
  • quieter heating and cooling systems (to make the environment more pleasant for in-room meeting attendees, as well as less distracting for remote video or conference-call participants)
  • flexible layouts and walls for quick reconfiguration
  • more decorative objects on display and elegant rug and furniture details for a more welcoming environment and to prompt discussion

Some analysis missing from the Times article: hotels could be adding new amenities to their conference spaces to compete more directly with meeting venues and convention centers located outside of hotels themselves. In addition, it seems to me that the trend toward permanent bar and restaurant features within hotel conference rooms also suggests a collective quest for an added stream of catering revenues. But the trend toward more welcoming and stylish meeting spaces is interesting enough, as it illustrates that design is clearly considered a vital element in driving new business.

Image: A meeting room at the Hyatt Capital Gate in Abu Dhabi, courtesy Hyatt

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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