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: How to use a hotel lobby and not get caught

You’d figure that hotel management might be a tad irked by squatters. The entrepreneurs who take up space in hotel lobbies generally aren’t paying a dime, and there’s always the risk that they could get in the way of hotel operations or wandering guests. And, let’s get back to that part about not paying a dime. The entire reason a hotel exists is to turn a profit, and just about every aspect of a hotel is designed to engage you in the process.

Even with this notion of essentially robbing the hotel of a profit opportunity, entrepreneurs use lobbies all the time to conduct business. I never had a problem when I was a part of this scene, and at a recent meeting, I was told ahead of time to let the front desk know who I was and where I would be, to make it easier for my cohorts to find me. This goes beyond merely taking up space – it involves broadcasting our presence and engaging the staff to help us out. I opted not to take this step, preferring to roll the dice when it came to identification (and had no problem finding my contacts, thanks to Twitter profile pictures).

Back in my day, we weren’t so bold. In fact, we made an effort to blend in, even though simply being quiet and not bothering anybody would have been enough to keep us out of trouble. Those among us with paranoid streaks (including me) shared tips on how to stay below the radar.

So, if you’re thinking about getting a new business off the ground and need some cheap meeting space, here’s how you can use a hotel lobby without getting busted (not that anyone will really care about your presence anyway).1. Dress for success
If you look like a business person, you’ll probably be treated like one. You don’t have to don your best duds for the occasion, but you should at least step it up to business casual. Dress like you could be at the office of some Fortune 500 company. This increases the likelihood that you’ll be mistaken for a guest who is traveling on business.

2. Maintain a small footprint
Taking ownership of a large portion of table space or stretching out on the couch will invite unwanted attention. Remember: this isn’t your space – you really shouldn’t even be there at all. When your fellow business folks show up, keep your meeting contained. You don’t have to sit on each other’s laps, but you should avoid the temptation to sprawl out.

3. Use your inside voice
This is smart for two reasons. First, you don’t want to broadcast your strategy, particularly if (a) you actually have a good idea and (b) you’re in the early stages of developing it. Running your mouth at an inappropriate volume could effectively deliver your entire business to a would-be competitor. Also, you really don’t want anybody to know why you’re in the hotel lobby. Get loud, and an employee may decide that the hotel doesn’t need your non-revenue-generating presence.

4. Clean up after yourself
Again, you don’t want anyone to know what you’re working on – nobody needs a head-to-head competitor that’s seen his playbook. Also, a great spot is worth revisiting. If you plan to have meetings at a particular hotel lobby again, you need to show that you aren’t going to create work for the staff that isn’t being offset with money you spend.

5. Stay at the perimeter
Plant yourself as far out of the way as you can – out of sight, out of mind. Further, you won’t be taking prime real estate that a guest could want, which means you won’t be interfering with the hotel’s effort to make money. Simply not screwing things up for anyone else can buy you plenty of latitude from the staff. Don’t give anyone a reason to care, and they won’t.

6. Spend some cash every now and then
Give a little. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than rent, and the space is much less embarrassing than where you live (especially if you have roommates). Stop at the restaurant for lunch or the bar for a drink every now and then … and tip well. Don’t go into any details about why you’re choosing these venues; just spend some money and let the staff know that it’s appreciated.

7. Have a rotation
Show up at the same hotel lobby every day, and you’re bound to generate some suspicion. Mix up your routine. Test out several hotel lobbies, and vary your meting spots. You’ll undoubtedly have your favorites, but you don’t want the employees to know you by name.

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.

Momentum around meeting cancellations

Meetings and conventions aren’t just falling … they’re actively being canceled. While it’s easy to write this off as the erosion of a wasteful corporate perk, it translates to genuine financial crisis for the travel industry.

Over the past six months, 402 conventions and meetings have been canceled in Las Vegas alone. According to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, this translates into a loss of $166 million for the city … and that doesn’t include lost gambling revenue. It’s no wonder that the city has to be inches from paying guests to visit.

Cancellations at Orlando haven’t been as bad, but the problem is merely one of degree. This year, the city has sustained an economic impact of $26 million from the canceling of 114 meetings scheduled for 2009. Because of all this, 146,000 rooms are expected to be vacant this year … rooms that were supposed to be occupied.

It’s been tough in other cities, too.

All in, this has translated to more than $1 billion of lost revenue in the first two months of the year from meeting cancellations, according to the U.S. Travel Association. The number is even worse when you factor in spending on rental cars, catering and local attractions.

So, for anyone who doubted the potential for more than 200,000 jobs to be lost in the travel industry this year … just do the damned math.

MeetWays finds your halfway point

You are visiting Washington, DC. Your best friend just moved to Baltimore. You have a free afternoon and want to get together, but neither of you knows much about the area — except that getting from one city to the other is a giant pain in the butt. That’s where MeetWays comes in handy.

This new website lets you plug in two addresses (or just ZIP codes) and it finds the halfway point for you. Even better, it can find specific points of interest near that halfway point, like a pizza place or a movie theater, so you can figure out the perfect place to meet up when you and your friend are coming from different directions.

Using the example above, if I say that I’m in DC and I want to meet my friend from Baltimore to go shopping, I type in the two addresses and “mall” in the Point of Interest field, and it gives me directions to four different shopping centers in Laurel, MD.

MeetWays is a nifty little tool that can definitely help you save time and avoid stress in your social calendar. You don’t even have to be in different cities for it to be useful. So many people only know their own little neighborhood hangouts, so MeetWays could be good for folks with cross-town friends, too.