New Room at the Holiday Inn

An insider's peek at the chain's new look

Months ago, in a secluded warehouse outside of Boston, a crack team of designers from firms Continuum and ai3 assembled a top-secret prototype that would, according to internal data, change the Holiday Inn brand forever. It was an advanced, new kind of “environment”—one where guests could more easily connect. The consultants used 800 slabs of foam core to build it, then spent weeks analyzing foot-traffic patterns. What could this revolutionary, futuristic space possibly be?

It’s the lobby.

Actually, there’s a fancier name. Holiday Inn is calling it the “Social Hub.” When the new design replaces existing foyers starting next month, it will concentrate every communal amenity—business center, TV lounge, bar, game room—into a continuous, L-shaped space. “Consumers use Facebook, but they still need human contact. They want to be on laptops, but out in the open,” says Eric Nicolas, Holiday Inn’s director of global brand management. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Wait a minute. Haven’t hotel chains spent the past decade investing zillions in Web portals and Wi-Fi upstairs in the guest rooms? Indeed they have. But recent studies about millennial maladies like “Facebook fatigue” have suggested people are again longing for live interaction. “The pendulum is swinging back,” notes Patricia Wallace, a professor at Johns Hopkins who studies the Web’s social effects. “More people are seeking a hybrid lifestyle that combines the best features of the online world with more human contact.” Holiday Inn’s hoping that contact will happen in its Social Hub. “It’s funny,” says veteran hospitality consultant Clark Wolf. “We used to call this ‘meeting in the cocktail lounge.’”

     No reservations at the Inn for next year? Chill. We’ll take you on a tour right now.

Hotel business centers are often hidden away. Here, it’s right across from the front desk and paired with a tiny lounge featuring movable cube chairs. The configuration “was driven by guest behavior,” Nicolas says. “People run businesses from laptops now, and they also want access to food.” The sight line from here to the bar and restaurant is no accident.

To generate all-day revenue, the new dining area morphs from a to-go breakfast cafe to a lunch spot to a cocktail lounge—but the location at the crux of the L-shaped lobby is what’s key. “We need to catch the guest between the elevator and the front door, or we lose them,” says HI brand manager Jessica McDougall. The buzz from the restaurant also boosts the energy of the whole space, accentuating the “social” theme.

The perennial problem of budget travel: Where to put the kids while mom and dad eat? Holiday Inn’s answer is this e-gaming area, which is close enough to the restaurant to keep an eye on Junior, but sufficiently isolated to prevent the kid frenzy from disrupting the front desk. “This represents the way people live,” says Continuum designer Craig LaRosa. “There are no separate places where you eat, play and relax—it all happens in one space.”