Where’s your third space?

You have probably heard of the phrase “third space” or “third place,” and you’ve probably given some thought to how it applies to your property. To summarize, the third space describes a place where people congregate outside of the home (first space) and the office (second space).

They are defined as public or neutral centers where we can unleash our social animals by exchanging opinions and stories — places where intellectual discourse and civic engagement is encouraged. If hotels strive to be not only places of rest but also progressive community leaders, then they must promote the ideals of the third space. And if you can engineer parts of your hotel — the lobby, the restaurant, the bar or the café — as flourishing third spaces, then it will play to your advantage for both higher occupancy levels and hotel cachet.

As stock as they now are, the examples of Starbucks and Panera Bread cannot be ignored as examples of successful third spaces. Both franchises have experienced exponential growth in the past two decades principally due to their superb products but also because of the atmosphere their stores exude. At Starbucks, for instance, the vibe is not one of “grab and get out as quickly as possible” even though that is a very likely consumer action. Rather, the universal application of warmly colored furnishings and humble décor at their shops encourages customers to sit and enjoy their beverage or snack. Follow their lead: designing an F&B outlet with the third space in mind will boost sales.

The reality today is that third spaces are almost as important as the home and the office because they are the places that individuals frequent to enrich their lifestyles. It’s what you do and where you go that largely defines who you are, after all. Working in hospitality should mean more than just looking at numbers. We should aim to nurture our guests and offer them a common area to develop their own identities. This isn’t a quality captured in most accounting ledgers, but it will certainly have an emotional impact on your travelers, reflected by increased loyalty and positive word of mouth.

Given that more and more people are working from home — thus combining the first and second places — the desire to offset any monotony of visual stimuli will only be exacerbated. Visiting a local hotspot, for instance, can service the need for the external, novel stimulation. The word “hotspot” should not be underestimated in this regard as crowds of merry revelers will often provide more stimulation and enjoyment than a quiet, sparsely occupied setting. Simply put, people want to be where the action is.

In addition to this tech-dependent trend (as digital communications have accelerated the merger of first and second spaces), neutral third spaces such as cafés, bars and restaurants are now much more likely to double as conduits for casual business meetings and interviews. Of course, this shift in consumer behavior and use of space dovetails the rise in buying power of the Gen X and Millennial generations. With more surplus cash comes increased spending and more time allotted for public gatherings — both outcomes that make these two demographics key proponents of the third space, especially as they continue to mature.

Gen Xers and Millennials are also the ones most associated with Internet fluency, electronic communications and social media usage. I mention this because, technically speaking, these digital interactions are a form of social discourse. We now live in a very social world, and accept it or not, smartphones play a significant role in our collective culture. Hence, a solo person accessing the Internet for this express purpose while in a neutral setting is, in today’s standards, a third-space participant. He or she could be on their phone anywhere, but they choose to be in, and contribute to, a social ambiance. The takeaway: the more smartphones proliferate, the greater the need for third spaces.

One last general point to discuss is the cross-pollination effect between guestroom bookings and the in-house third space. As mentioned before, people want to be where the action is. If a hotel gains a reputation as a hotbed of activity, then locals will help by referring this property to incoming travelers seeking a social atmosphere.