RIP: The hotel business center

Oh, how times have changed. Once a heavily trafficked and hallmark feature of all cutting edge business-oriented hotels, the business center has indeed seen better days, to say the least. In fact, based on my most recent encounters, such spaces are dead zones; their only significance nowadays to show how much mobile devices have forever changed the ways we interact with our environments.

Born in the early days of personal computing, the hotel business center had its peak in the mid-1990s. At its zenith, the facility was a high priority for road warriors who needed to refine presentations, print materials, prepare travel itineraries or work on other business matters, all while hotel staffers stood at the ready to assist wherever they could.

Businesspersons from all the world have come to pay their respects, some with bouquets of flowers and freshly dampened handkerchiefs while others ceremonially shovel dirt and obsolete fax machine parts onto the open grave. The advent of mobile devices, tablets and streamlined laptops proved to be the hotel business center’s downfall, rendering it as obsolete as the stapler and three-hole paper punch. Many have come to blame the millennial’s preference for new third space lobby modalities, but it’s likely that the sheer convenience of a smartphone and its numerous apps are the main culprit.

And yet there is still hope for this fledging facility. Deep within the catacombs of many brand franchise agreements lays a mandate for a business center and one with a primary physical location to boot. And so, even with its dwindling usage, this particular hotel amenity limps on in many properties. Despite these compulsory (and outdated) brand standards, the transformation of the hotel business center into a more contemporary space is all but assured.

There are many steps that can thus be taken to pay your respects to the deceased while preparing the future. If you are not restricted by your brand, plan an alternate “portable business center” for your guests. Purchase one or two “loaner” laptops (one Mac and one PC), making their safekeeping and distribution the responsibility of your concierge or another equivalent team position. A standalone printer can be stationed at a front desk location with Bluetooth or wireless linkages readily available to these laptops.

However, the big question now is: What are you going to do with this defunct space? Usually, a hotel business center was designed to be highly visible (think glass walls and door) and already secured to protect those (at the time) valuable computers.

Depending upon its size and location within the property, here are some options for you to consider. Be creative, as this is in effect, free space.

–       Grab-and-go café open on-demand with coffee, snacks and other consumables changed based on time of day

–       Wedding/catering sales center displaying your finest table settings

–       Local art gallery with optional staffing and all items listed with telephone numbers/web links for those interested in purchase details

–       Pop-up store reserved for local/regional crafts

–       Mini-spa outlet for massages, manicures or other sample treatments

–       Reception area to host small- to mid-sized events

Lastly, if your archaic brand franchise agreement stipulates a business center, inevitably you will have to decide whether it is time to test your metal. Examine and document the profitability of this space before you present your alternatives. See if they are prepared to walk in order to protect a facility that no longer meets today’s hotel guest. In all likelihood, they will be enthusiastic about breathing new life into an obsolete amenity.