Socializing hotels becomes call-to-arms for LobbyFriend
Hotels have always strived to connect their guests: from ice cream socials to bicycle tours to Manager Happy Hours, these events are aimed squarely at providing a social sphere for visiting guests.
Hotels such as the W and the Ace have also perfected the concept of hotel as hip gathering spot with lobby scenes often eclipsing the hotel itself.
A new startup called LobbyFriend is aiming to make this sort of spontaneous social atmosphere de facto for hotels around the world. Dubbed a “temporary social network,” the app creates social networks around particular interests – in this particular case, the focus is on creating a temporary meeting point for hotel guests.
Downloaded as an app, the service not only translates into more engagement between individual hotel guests, but also allows guests to engage more with the destination (think city content and special offers) and with the hotel staff (think a more-private Twitter for guest requests and concierge services).
Co-founder Mohit Kumar is a regular business traveler, and often found the social scenes in hotel lobbies lacking.
Myself and [my co-founder] Jason are frequent business travelers and there was this one hotel we stayed it that was completely booked – yet the amazingly looking lounge at the hotel was empty in the evening… So we thought, how could we fill up such places, have a bunch of other guests there to network with, create a good ambiance, and of course, allow hotels to monetize the opportunity.
The monetization is a key component of this relationship, as LobbyFriend can offer deals from in-hotel offerings as well as nearby establishments looking to capitalize on a steady stream of travelers – a very lucrative opportunity given the captive nature of the audience. Local establishments will also be less concerned about brand erosion with discounted deals for transient travelers as opposed to local guests.
The overall idea is to create a social stream that becomes a core component of the guest experience.
Our solution was LobbyFriend. By having the guests connected to LobbyFriend and having social stream in the front lobbies of hotels and the in-room TVs - guests will constantly be exposed to things they could do on their own or with other travelers.
LobbyFriend is integrated into hotels in three main ways: on guest smatphones, on lobby screens, and on the in-room televisions. Guests can interact with the stream in tandem across the three main distribution points – such as on their phone in the lobby – or can simply use the phones or screens for further information.
Client hotels are likely going to be forward-looking and connected – currently the Tryp by Wyndham brand and the New Orleans Hotel Collection have signed up. A recently announced partnership with hotel communications provider Quadriga will most certainly speed uptake and make LobbyFriend the go-to social network app for hotels worldwide.
Tnooz talks more with LobbyFriend co-founder Mohit Kumar.
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
LobbyFriend 2.0 is providing a fully integrated social stream and network to hotels and guests via mobile and web. In the past, there was no effective way for guests and the hotel to maintain a direct connection throughout their stay – LobbyFriend changes that dynamic by offering numerous sources to stay connected to their guests inside or outside the hotel (mobile, web, TVs).
LobbyFriend is only accessible by those guests that are currently staying at the hotel and once the guest checks-out, their activity within the platform is also removed from the social stream. In the past, no platforms were able to isolate the people that matter the most to a hotel’s bottom line: the current guests.
This social stream is a combination of all the guest/staff activity within the platform (local advice, socializing, etc.), activity from Twitter/Facebook, third party travel/city related feeds, and deals from vendors nearby the property. This standard stream will provide guests live content which matters during their current trip – deals that are “live” right now, or concerts/shows, parades that are occurring tonight!
Hotels have been seeking ways to promote services directly to guests while they are staying at the hotel (last minute spa discount, happy hour at the bar…) and our platform not only delivers via the app or web, but also streams in the hotel lobby TVs and the in-room TVs. This ensures that any deal, hotel suggestions, or any last minute reminders are exposed to most guests staying at the hotel, even if they aren’t app savvy.
Guests often come back to the same hotel or advise their friends to visit if they had an enjoyable experience, provided they are able to establish a connection with the staff of the hotel. Through social media profiles and interactions through our platform, this relationship is built with the guests, allowing the hotel to benefit from positive feedback, return visitors, and stronger future referrals.
Our third party vendor platform will easily allow vendors nearby the property to easily select which hotels and deals they would like to send into the LobbyFriend stream which is available throughout the hotel property or in a guest’s mobile device. In the past, vendors would have to form relationships with the hotel managers to get promotion, now they could easily do this with our platform.
In order to succeed, we must ensure that the stream contains relevant content for guests to take advantage of, and that the hotel is able to monetize their extra amenities while building meaningful closer relationships with their guests.
Why should people or companies use your start-up?
- Hotels: Because we are offering a unique solution that hotels could benefit from increase revenues, build stronger relationships, and get connected to the current guests.
- Guests: Because our platform delivers content that matters directly to them, such as exclusive deals, advice on things to do/where to go, ability to network/socialize, and keep in touch with what’s happening in the city and at the hotel.
- Because of our teams experience and knowledge in the space of social media and travel.
- Because of our customer first focus, ensuring that hotels, guests, and partners are all benefiting from the power of our platform.
- Because we are working with reputable partners to ensure a perfect hotel and guest experience.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
- Our new partner Quadriga will help us distribute our platform globally.
- Through positive experiences with the platform by hotels and guests (word of mouth).
- Through hotel technology and hotel conferences globally.
- Through other key partnerships currently under negotiations.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
Our temporary social networking concept could be used at events, theme parks, sports arenas, essentially anywhere where a group forms for a limited amount of time with a common interest or activity.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Persistence: We’ve had ideas in the past which would easily get killed by some negative feedback or a lack of quick results when going out to market. Some times you just have to knock on the right doors or wait for the right person to come through to get the fuel to take the concept or idea to the next level. Never give up.
Patience to expand: When we first launched, we were anxious to deliver our platform to every part of the globe that we received demand from. We put the brakes on global expansion (realizing we couldn’t handle all the demand effectively) and focused on our first launch property to improve the product based on guest and hotel feedback – to launch strongly with a platform that is even more robust than our first version of the product. In our business, first impressions matter.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
There are too many travel apps unknown to travellers out there. We are using a different approach to make sure that any guest travelling to a different city or country is aware of LobbyFriend.
As a hotelier, you can now finally communicate directly with your current guests to promote services, provide advice, and build relationships via mobile devices (even while guests are out and about in the city) and other channels within the hotels.
LobbyFriend reminds us how much we cringe every time we hear the words “social network.” Most people aren’t interested in managing yet another stream of dubious value. However, LobbyFriend’s focus on the temporary nature of hotel stays is smart, as a guest’s information only exists on the network as long as they are on property. The service also makes it much easier to “stay like a local” and ask questions directly to the staff and other guests who may have more experience with the area.
The monetization component is also very intelligent, as it is both scalable and useful in an unobtrusive way. Just get in and want a meal – check LobbyFriend. Looking to meet someone staying in the hotel in a similar industry – check LobbyFriend. Want to see what to do late night in the city – check LobbyFriend. If well-executed and adopted, LobbyFriend could actually replace Google as the first search for hotel guests.
LobbyFriend could also be a boon for hotel concierge services, as they could be more widely accessible across the hotel property. Hotels could even implement one-click requests for reservations, show tickets, and other items concierges usually help with.
The system is also of value to the local merchant ecosystem- we’ll be curious for numbers regarding how much business LF can bring to said surrounding businesses.
The main issues that LobbyFriend faces are twofold. 1) adoption: can they get enough hotels to adopt this quick enough where guests already know what LF is? The knowledge uptake on using a new service for both hotels and guests is steep. 2) utility: will this “temporary social network” be useful and interesting enough to guests to have them use it regularly during their hotel stays? There’s something inherently creepy about it, but as long as everyone is opt-in and they are seeing some good value with the special deals, social connections and direct staff interactions, LF should be just fine.
One final note: hotels that implement LobbyFriend as a tool to plug service gaps are going to be sorely disappointed. No technology is going to make up for bad training, poor processes, or lackluster staffing. Fix these problems first, and then use a tool like LobbyFriend to make your rockstar staff even better.
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Nick Vivion is a reporter for Tnooz, based in New Orleans, USA.
His passion for travel technology led him to travel around the world shooting travel videos for Current TV and Lonely Planet TV in 2006 and 2007.
He shot on Mini-DV, edited on a white MacBook, uploaded and shared online as he traveled. His moxie for travel video has resulted in over two million views on his YouTube partner channel.
In addition to travel, Nick co-founded of one of the web’s most talked about LGBT media sites, Unicorn Booty, and has gone "blog-to-brick" with a bricks-and-mortar restaurant called Booty's Street Food in New Orleans – serving street food from around the world.