Electronic Kiosks Herald The Death Of The Travel Brochure

Couple travelling by car, man driving, woman reading map
Getty Images, Flickr

Remember when you would walk into a tourist information center or a hotel lobby and collect armfuls of glossy brochures advertising everything from theme parks to wax museums to dinner-and-a-show venues? For a lot of travelers, those brochures are already a thing of the past, thanks to iPads, smart phones and the ease of searching for whatever you need online. But a new electronic kiosk is set to put the final nail in the coffin of the good old travel brochure.

The kiosks, which were developed by tech company City Corridor and are popping up in hotels and businesses across the country, are outfitted with large touch screens. Travelers can view information about attractions, see restaurant menus, print out maps and even make reservations through the kiosks. Some kiosks also are programmed to print out information in several different languages to cater to foreign visitors.The machines also feature a slot for credit cards so you can buy tickets to attractions on the spot. That’s great news for businesses who say they’ve seen their sales increase as a result. Unlike a travel brochure, which a tourist might pick up and then forget about, the kiosks (much like the Internet) let them click the buy now button while their interest in the attraction is still hot.

The creators of the kiosk say the machines also will be helpful for advertisers, who will be able to get feedback about the number of visitors clicking on their ads or downloading their discount coupons. The electronic kiosks will be fitted out with cameras so businesses and advertisers can track the types of people using the machines.

The Dealmakers’ Ballroom: What the future holds

Right now, at the hotel a few blocks from where you live or work, there’s a good chance that something exciting is happening. It isn’t a dropped tray in the restaurant or a housekeeper walking in on a tryst. It’s far greater: the future is being planned, defined. Two partners are putting the finishing touches on a presentation to venture capitalists. A person who has spent years developing a product is pitching it to the person who might be his first customer.

Some of these meetings will amount to nothing, a lifetime’s effort yielding nothing but a story. Others, however, will produce everything from satisfaction to incredible amounts of wealth. From the crowd of startup jockeys occupying space in hotel lobbies, jobs will be created, and countless lives will be changed.

If you want to see the future from conception, it’s happening now – and it’s happening in a hotel lobby.The entrepreneurs gathering behind the shroud of people in motion may not be allowed to meet in the spaces they have claimed, but they are using the skills they have developed or been taught to evade detection with the ultimate goal of seeing their dreams come to fruition. They are staying below the radar and working diligently to pick the right hotel lobbies for the tasks at hand. No move is unplanned, with the hope that one conversation – one of many, most likely – will deliver the desired outcome.

It’s a strange situation, no doubt.

The next time you pass through an urban hotel lobby, don’t bolt for the elevator bank or the front door. Take your time; look around. Try to discern the pockets that form among the guests. You might just see the next big thing long before it happens.

This is a week-long series from the writer of White Collar Travel about the role hotels will play not only in the recovery of our economy, but in giving an early home to the businesses that will define tomorrow.

The Dealmakers’ Ballroom: Pick the right lobby for your meetings

If you want to hold a business meeting in a hotel lobby where you really don’t have any reason to be, it’s worth doing a little homework. Pick a hotel without doing a little reconnaissance, and you could suffer an embarrassing moment in front of a potential client or investor. You’ve worked hard enough for the meeting – and a faux pan may ensure that you won’t get another.

Invest some time in choosing the hotel lobbies you want to use (and you should definitely use more than one). Take a day to wander the city and look for big hotels that have spacious seating areas. Conduct follow-up visits to see how the traffic flows through the lobby on different days and at different times. In general, get to know your environment.

Once you have a feel for the hotel lobbies that could define your future, it’s time to take a closer look. You want to make sure you have everything you need at your disposal. Keep the following in mind when selecting hotel lobbies to use for business meetings:1. You need power
Make sure the lobbies on your list have plenty of power outlets. You may have a laptop with a long battery life, but you don’t know how long you’ll need. If you’re running around from one meeting to the next, you may not have time to stop to recharge in between. The best hotel lobbies for business meetings not only have lots of power outlets but have them (a) near seats and (b) in parts of the lobby that are out of the way.

2. Stay connected
You may not think you need internet access for your meeting, but it’s good to have a connection in case you need to look something up. Also, you’ll probably arrive early, and that connection will make you productive while you wait. If you can score free wi-fi, that’s fantastic. A good backup is a hotel that has a service anyone can tap into for a fee. What’s $10 when you’re future’s on the line?

3. Lots of motion
A busy hotel where nobody spends much time in the lobby is ideal. The action around you will camouflage your activity, but you won’t be taking up space that a paying guest might want. Hotels near financial or business centers are great places for this dynamic.

4. Busy employees
A staff that is regularly and fully engaged with guests won’t have time to think about you. A hotel lobby that has employees actively engaged in efforts to look busy is dangerous. A bellman looking for something to do could find a reason to hassle you.

5. Make sure there’s a “Plan B” nearby
This is what I loved about the Westin Copley Place Hotel. It was adjacent to a Marriott with a large lobby, and there was a Starbucks right around the corner (and across the street). Within a short walk, there were countless other hotels you could use.

This is a week-long series from the writer of White Collar Travel about the role hotels will play not only in the recovery of our economy, but in giving an early home to the businesses that will define tomorrow.

The Dealmakers’ Ballroom: Where the future is conceived

The seeds of economic recovery will be sewn in the travel industry. No, it will not be the hotels that pump new jobs out onto the market, and it certainly won’t be the airlines, which seem locked in perpetual battle against any positive influence the economy can have on them. Rather, the future will come from inside the hotels – specifically their lobbies. Historically, this venue has been the den of entrepreneurs with high hopes, small starts and an opportunity to pitch their wares. When lobby action heats up, you can forget about the unemployment rate or the value of the dollar against the euro – the economy will begin to come back.

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent most of the past decade not paying too much attention to hotel lobbies and the people in them … you know, like every other traveler does. Lobbies constituted a space between the present and the goal, whether you were entering the hotel or leaving it. To me, they were nothing more than a space to be traversed. My perspective changed this year, and I haven’t been able to get out of my head that every time I walk to my guestroom, I might be passing my next boss.

Hotel lobbies are an obvious choice for business professionals and startup jockeys. They tend to be large, have plenty of seating and afford a considerable degree of anonymity. People come and go all the time, and they generally mind their own business. Even the hotel staff will leave you alone, as long as you stay as unnoticeable as possible and don’t disrupt the guests (it also doesn’t hurt to buy a drink at the bar every now and then). The confluence of these factors means that the entrepreneur can flip open his laptop and walk a potential client or investor through his hopes and dreams, all crisply and clearly detailed in a PowerPoint presentation.I have been to my share of hotel lobbies. My most recent experience came only a few weeks ago, at the Union Square W Hotel. A friend of mine (no names, it’s still early in the proces), invited me to discuss with her and her partner a new business venture they were exploring. On the corner of E 17th St. and Park Avenue South, I dropped my cigar to the street and nudged it softly with my toe through the sewer grate underfoot. With that one fluid motion, my mind raced back to Boston, almost a decade earlier.

The carnage from the collapse of the dotcom economy was still visible back then. Two years after the NASDAQ took its initial plunge and a year after Enron hit the skids, the tech industry up there was in disarray. Networking events held by the Massachusetts eCommerce Association had become job-hunting dens, populated only with buyers – there were no sellers to be found. Of course, entrepreneurship is born of economic woe, as bright minds unable to find a paycheck from someone else are forced to turn to the dreams they’ve nurtured quietly for years – decades, even.

It was against this backdrop that I let my cigar butt fall to the ground where Dartmouth, St. James and Huntington converge and pushed through the revolving doors to the Westin Copley Place Hotel. I met a familiar face in the lobby at the top o f the escalator. No names, of course, even this far down the road – but, he was tall, a tad gaunt and had the obvious look of the academic he had once been. Doc, I’ll call him, had developed an unusual and interesting bit of software – the kind of thing that would have mattered only to a relatively small community of people with deep pockets – that he was trying to peddle in a market that didn’t favor anything with a price tag.

I joined Doc on the couch in the Westin lobby, which was buzzing with the activity of tourists and locals milling around the adjacent Grettacole salon and spa, and he began to discuss his appreciation for hotel lobbies. They offered plenty of space at the right price, and the comings and goings of people who aren’t permanent provided a sufficient screen behind which to hide from employees. He’d held meetings in countless lobbies, he explained, and had no plans to abandon the practice.

I was in no position to criticize. Having just started a consulting firm of my own, I’d done the same thing on a few occasions. My partners and I routinely met in public spaces, including the Amtrak/commuter rail station on Route 128, but none compared to hotel lobbies, which were closer to home, far more comfortable and within stumbling distance of an endless list of restaurants and bars. If the conversation went well in a hotel lobby, you could always go celebrate with a drink afterward.

Doc and I used the same hotel lobby regularly for more than a year, sometimes to meet with each other, and often to pursue our own separate agendas. I ran into other entrepreneurs there, as well. So, I wasn’t surprised when I was summoned to the W at Union Square this year – twice (by two different entrepreneurs).

When I strode into the lobby this year, in the comfortable position of being pitched rather than doing the pitching, I took a look around. The couches weren’t packed, but you certainly wouldn’t get one of your own if you wanted to sit for a moment. There were individuals working alone, fixated on computer screens and scribbling on notepads. I also saw a few groups, huddled around glowing screens, looking over each other’s shoulders and whispering ideas. They could have been business travelers and guests of the hotel, putting their heads together for a quick strategy session before dashing off to see a client, but I sensed otherwise. Memories don’t fade all that easily.

Finally, I saw a hand wave and quickly made my way to the meeting I was about to attend. In a strange way, it felt like home. Within seconds, I was tete-a-tete-a-tete with two people ready to change the world. I felt 30 pounds lighter, nine years younger and almost like I had a full head of hair again.

If you feel down about the current state of our economy, stroll through a big city’s hotel lobby. It might be hard to feel better, but you can be sure a few people in there are working on the cure for what ails you.

This is a week-long series from the writer of White Collar Travel about the role hotels will play not only in the recovery of our economy, but in giving an early home to the businesses that will define tomorrow.

The Dealmakers’ Ballroom: Understanding the hotel lobby phenomenon

Where will the future of our economy – from the global economy, even – come from? Forget about garages in Silicon Valley, illicit side projects in Manhattan cubicle farms and the online tinkering that happens in the Harvard dorms. Instead, take a look at hotels. Specifically, peek into the lobbies.

As travelers, we pass through the hotel lobby. The only reason to stick around is because you’re waiting to meet a local friend or your kid forgot something and had to run back up to the room. Sure, there are lobby bars that give you a reason to hang out for a while, but that’s not really the lobby. I’m talking about the couches and chairs that may be festooned with the day’s newspaper but don’t come with drink service or any other raison d’etre.

Yet, as hotel guests walk from the front door to the elevator bank, especially in major cities, there are always a few people lingering, alone or in groups. They talk in hushed tones, pluck away at laptop keys and occasionally shuffle papers. These transients look like any other business traveler … because they have trained themselves to blend in.

The reality is not what it seems.Hotel lobbies offer great places to meet. You can usually pick up a wi-fi connection, people come and go without asking questions and there’s plenty of traffic to conceal the fact that you don’t belong. And, you don’t. If you’re among these hotel-squatters, you’re not a guest of the hotel, and you probably shouldn’t be availing yourself of the free meeting space. Nonetheless, it happens all the time – and good things come from it.

Cash-strapped entrepreneurs have been using free spaces to meet for years. I first saw (and took part in) the practice in late 2001, when the Boston area was reeling from the dual pressures of the dotcom market’s implosion and the economic effects of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. I was starting a business at the time, and I was meeting with other entrepreneurs to discuss potential partnerships. Though we met in Starbucks locations, train stations and any number of public places, hotel lobbies were always the most comfortable.

And of course, I didn’t want to bring any potential business partner to my apartment (or my neighborhood, for that matter).

All that was almost a decade ago, and I haven’t spent a whole lot of time meeting in hotel lobbies since then – until this year. In the past few months, I’ve already been to two business meetings at the W Hotel Union Square in New York to talk to entrepreneurs with grand dreams and carefully managed execution plans. It occurred to me that the ashes of the financial crisis are awaiting their Phoenix, and I may have met it.

Hotel lobbies do serve a purpose, even if not for the hotel or its guests. This week, we’ll take a look at how entrepreneurs use these vast, free spaces to take their shots at becoming your next employer.

This is a week-long series from the writer of White Collar Travel about the role hotels will play not only in the recovery of our economy, but in giving an early home to the businesses that will define tomorrow.