Why an eye for Instagram is essential

The web has had little respect for established industries: just ask mom-and-pop retailers about Amazon or local newspapers about Google News and Craigslist. Closer to home, ask the hospitality industry about Instagram.

When Instagram went live in 2010, who could have predicted the photo-sharing website became a travel-industry force? AdWeek recently reported that more than 40% of millennials aged 18 through 33 consider “Instagrammability” when selecting their next travel destination. That number shows that hotels can’t just offer a clean, comfortable bed anymore to attract customers. While this may seem concerning to some, Instagram’s influence has been overwhelmingly positive from the hotel and resort design perspective.

Contributed by Rebecca Stone, principal and hospitality practice area lead, OZ Architecture, Denver

Instagram has pushed the larger flags to incorporate local features in what might otherwise been uniform, repeated designs. It’s exerted grassroots pressure to improve hotels’ connections to the local environment – architecturally, culinarily, and in terms of interior design. It’s led hotels to host and connect guests with local activities and events.

All that touches many aspects of hotel design and operation, and in particular on three key areas: lobbies, experiences and event spaces.

Magnolia's lobby art-installation of vintage vaults and bank machines
Magnolia’s lobby art-installation of vintage vaults and bank machines


Hotels continue to transform lobbies from the open areas with a smattering of couches to inspired small spaces – intimate enclosures where guests can be alone while being with others. Lobbies are also the locus of hotel-based activities and the launching points for hotel-facilitated outings. Instagram figures in here in two ways. One has to do with décor. As one hotel marketer put it, “More than ever, travelers want to stay somewhere unique and special. So if your hotel has lots of unique decor and interesting design elements, make sure they feature heavily to inspire your followers.”

Everyone from large flags to boutique properties are reassessing their lobby spaces with an eye on unique, eclectic and personalized environments with unexpected objects or spaces that differentiate the guest experience. In downtown Denver, the Magnolia recently created a lobby art-installation of vintage vaults and bank machines, honoring the building’s history as a 19th-century bank. It has become one of the most photographed spaces in the hotel.

In addition to unique and local interior design, hotels are creating new uses for lobbies. Sliding walls are letting lobbies spill out to terraces, pools and courtyards, which afford the added benefit of adding capacity for entertainment and social gatherings. Napa Verasa Westin’s lobby opens to a terrace with river views; the Wildwood Snowmass lobby acts as a public portal to the ski resort’s skate rink plaza and attracts guests and locals alike.

There are simple ways to differentiate, too. Self-serve wine and beer taps keep guests entertained without requiring the bar to be staffed. Simple activities such as pool tables, air hockey, wall Scrabble and even old-school board games are migrating from game rooms to lobbies, providing impetus for guests to hang out, socialize, and snap Instagram moments.

Lobby experience at Wildwood Snowmass
Lobby experience at Wildwood Snowmass


Activities in the lobby represent a small part of hotels’ broader efforts to connect guests with local experiences and culture. Going back to the desire to find a hotel’s position in its local community and give travelers a sense of place, hotel operators and general managers are embracing local retail, hosting local activities, and outsourcing programmed activities to local vendors. In doing so, hotels are increasingly becoming neighborhood hubs where guests and locals alike can enjoy exercise classes, concerts, art shows, interactive cooking/tastings, and more. Examples might include sip-and-paint with a local artist in the lobby; yoga on the pool deck led by staff from a local studio; wine tasting from a rotating slate of local vineyards; and locally brewed coffee in the lobby (or brought to one’s room upon request).

These notions extend to the business-travel experience. Instagrammers work, too (or, much more commonly, business travelers use Instagram). Hotels with a business bent are taking cues from WeWork, blending spaces together to encourage not only a place to focus, but also to meet with colleagues and even network.

To create a sense of place and a destination interwoven with the local fabric, well-executed detailing and close attention to quality are vital. Such details end up in Instagram feeds, and they tell a hotel’s unique stories and share – and sell – interesting experiences to future visitors. In fact, many destinations are starting to create small vignettes specifically for Instagram. For instance, Punch Bowl Social, the U.S.-based “eatertainment” restaurant group, creates small, funky installations in its restaurants, each one different, such as a wall with the sentence, “I love you so much,” written in graffiti. These are some of one of the most-Instagrammed places in these massive restaurants, giving visitors an opportunity to enrich their experience at the restaurant as they create – and share – a moment with their friends or family.

Event spaces

An event space isn’t to be confused with a conference room – architects rarely design conference rooms, narrowly defined, into hotels anymore. Conference rooms used to be of standard design, often buried in large hotel basements or stashed away in the back. However, today event spaces are located in some of the most striking spots a given location has to offer. Among the reasons why? For the photos, of course.

And unlike conference rooms of lore, event spaces are extremely flexible. They can accommodate family gatherings, intimate concerts, artists’ workshops, weddings, and, yes, conferences. Features here include roll-up walls, sliding doors that open up to adjacent spaces or the outdoors, flooring that enables flexibility in room layout, and large windows. Those windows are important, second only to architectural and interior character. Great indoor-outdoor views that are identifiable – such as beach, ski slope, or cityscape overlooks – are priceless on social media. They also translate into more event-space rentals and higher revenues.

Instagram has re-defined travel for vacationers, business travelers, families and seniors. The app emphasizes the unique over the standard, the local over the universal, and the colorful over the sedate.

Hotels – especially flagship brands – must compete not only with other flagship hotels, but with the increasing popularity of short-term rentals via the likes of Airbnb and VRBO. It’s more critical than ever that hotels offer more than the basics of an overnight stay and good service. They must think visually and intentionally build experiences with social media in mind.