At one time, hotels catered to an older sensibility. It was pretty obvious, what with common areas styled in leather armchairs and hunting portraits, or spare-looking lobbies that were basically an after-thought. (After a long client meeting, who wants to socialize down there anyway? Let’s just order room service and watch old episodes of Murder, She Wrote.)

It also explains why so many upscale hotels charge for Internet access, while cheaper ones give it away: They’re intended for traveling business executives with expense accounts, or older guests with discretionary spending ability. Good luck if you’re a tech warrior, though — room layouts are often geared for clientele who maybe (just maybe) travels with one device. Power outlets tend to be few and oddly placed, probably by sadists who love making us scrounge behind headboards or TV wall units.

I want to take a stand against the status quo and let loose a rallying cry. Are the more social, tech-savvy, design-minded masses invisible? Don’t we too deserve equal consideration? Can I get a “hallelujah” up in here?

Well, it seems I already have. And interestingly, it comes from the hotel industry itself.

“Young” Is The New Black

When travel spending surged 20 percent among the 20- to 30-something demographic in 2010, the hotel industry took notice. It meant this segment had become the fastest-growing target customer. And though some were already indulging in some designer brands or boutique hotels with fresh takes on the hotel business — Marriott’s W, Starwood’s Aloft and Hyatt’s Andaz immediately spring to mind — there were others that were left scrambling.

Catering to younger patrons would be no simple task. The “home away from home” vibe that attracted the 50- to 60-year-old set wasn’t going to work for multiple-gadget-toting, design-oriented, socializing young adults. What they want is innovation. They want to be wowed by creative accommodations. They want to socialize. And they want a place that can handle their gadgets, as well as their incessant need for blanket Wifi.

The “they” I’m talking about here is us — and we are very, very demanding.

To compete with new ventures and hot new businesses, stalwart establishments had to brainstorm ways to step into the 21st century. For example, The Plaza in New York now puts iPads in every room. The gadgets control lighting, air conditioning and room service orders, and they even deliver a digital edition of the newspaper.

Lodging executives are also redesigning existing lobbies to make them more suited to socializing. Toss the hounddog portraits and Oriental carpets — think comfy couches and Art Deco décor. Hoteliers also realize that 20- and 30-somethings go out at night, sometimes to multiple venues for dinner, drinks or dancing, so some have installed multiple restaurants, bars and clubs onsite with different themes and activities.

As for newer hotels, they’re increasingly integrating tech-savviness from the get-go. Take Gerard Greene’s Yotel chain — a bastion for pseudo-futuristic creativity, it was inspired by the airline industry. His Midtown Manhattan outpost does away with the front desk in favor of a kiosk for check-ins (just like JetBlue). Upstairs, tiny rooms take their cue from in-flight cabins, where guests can also enjoy large Monsoon shower heads and enormous floor-to-ceiling windows inside. Outside, there are social spaces complete with power consoles and entertainment systems that can be hooked up with guests’ devices. There’s even a Yobot robot that automates luggage storage for you, as needed. And, of course, Wi-Fi is everywhere in the building.

Hotel execs are also getting wise to our social media habits. When we’re unhappy, we Tweet about it, write a nasty review on Yelp or post a scathing status update. When a single negative report can be broadcasted to thousands — potentially even millions — of people, you know that management has to get on top of that. Starwood, for one, hired a 20-person team just to look out for and deal with online complaints and comments.

The Base Minimum Hotel Experience Should Have…

Not every hotel can revolutionize itself, but there are some bare-bones requirements it probably should have, at least to keep up with the times. In truth, I think we’ll see features like these become standard:

  • Free hotelwide Wi-Fi
  • Modern, well-designed lobbies
  • State-of-the-art fitness areas
  • Easily accessible power hook-ups for multiple devices
  • Stylish bars, restaurants or clubs, with social spaces in or near the lobby

Have any others to add to the list? Or if you’ve got a story about the best hotel stay you’ve ever stayed at, share it below. We’d love to know about any unique or tech-forward hotels deserving of a mention. (Or if you’ve got a horror story instead, feel free grouse about it in the comments.)

[via New York Times]