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Hotel bars, restaurants, and lobbies have long been places where people gather to see, be seen, meet, and mingle. And as popular culture has demonstrated to us in countless films, TV series, and books, they often serve as the ideal backdrop for a meet cute, too.
Now, thanks to the advent of mobile technology, hotels are leveraging their longstanding supporting role to an active role encouraging more meetings among their guests and the locals living nearby.
For many of these hotel brands, facilitating these connections is part and parcel with their efforts to be “experience platforms” or to be known for more than just being a place where you stay when you travel. Leveraging technology in this way helps them serve as modern-day community centers for travelers and locals alike, and helps them fill their lobbies and bars with paying patrons.
Marriott’s Moxy earlier this month announced a brand partnership with Bumble, a location-based app primarily known for dating, but also extends to business networking, which markets itself as a “female-first networking app.” The venture designates participating Moxy hotels throughout the U.S. as “BumbleSpots,” where Bumble app users are encouraged to meet one another.
Sydell Group’s Line hotel brand also announced a partnership with Bumble this November, although its partnership is more targeted toward female users of Bumble BFF, the company’s friendship-oriented social networking app. To promote the partnership, Line hotels in Austin, D.C., and Los Angeles are hosting Bumble BFF exclusive brunches showcasing in-house hospitality and dining talent from each hotel that Bumble BFF users can attend.
Also earlier this month, Generator, a brand known for its boutique-like hostels, announced the debut of GenFriends, a proprietary mobile app that includes a “swipe” feature to “match” with other travelers, as well as the ability to join groups of other guests with shared interests.
In early November, Life House, a new boutique hotel concept that recently opened its first property in Miami, debuted its own Life House Platform which includes a social network feature that connects guests with one another.
In October, The Standard introduced an app of its own, called Lobby, where guests check in virtually and can chat with and make plans to meet fellow guests.
“I think there’s no replacement for going to a bar and things like that,” Schrager said, “but I wouldn’t mind doing that swipe left, swipe right for people in the hotel.”
The concept of a “Tinder for hotels” is not a new one. In 2014, an app called HelloTel debuted and marketed itself as just that, although today, the app seems to no longer be available.
So why are so many hotel brands — even four years later — embarking on a quest to serve as matchmakers for travelers and locals alike?
“The travel industry has a unique opportunity to match new people with other people,” said Rami Zeidan, CEO and co-founder of Life House. “Everyone is traveling, and doesn’t necessarily have a home base or safety network of friends in a given location. Hotels have a particularly unique opportunity to connect people. So how do we solve for community through technology?”
For solo travelers, especially, a social network feature can help them feel less isolated, said Jason Rieff, chief marketing officer of Generator. While Generator’s GenFriends app isn’t just for solo travelers to use — it also includes other functionality such as offering discounts and serving as a mobile key — the company focused especially on the needs of solo travelers when developing it because it is Generator’s fastest growing market. Rieff said the company has seen a 17 percent increase in the number of solo travelers staying with Generator since 2015.
Both Life House and Generator have each developed their own proprietary apps, both of which are not necessarily meant to encourage romantic relationships, but to simply encourage social interaction among guests. GenFriends emphasizes shared interest groups for travelers to join, and Life House’s Social Network encourages guests to interact with one another, as well as designated local residents who have been verified by Life House.
“It’s more awkward to be on a non-romantic social network meeting people, but when you travel, it’s more organic because everyone is outside of their home,” said Zeidan. “And this is more than just offering a hostel-like vibe with communal spaces. There’s space for this in the luxury space, and for business travelers, too.”
Marriott’s Moxy, on the other hand, has partnered with an app primarily known for dating, but both Marriott and Bumble emphasized that the partnership is about making “meaningful connections” that go beyond the romantic variety.
“It’s not just a hotel,” Moxy senior global brand director Vicki Poulos said. “It’s more about creating an environment that enables meaningful connections and builds relationships.”
And hotels are always looking to re-define how they are perceived.
“Any hotel, in general, doesn’t necessarily only want to be considered as a place to go when you need a place to stay overnight,” said Andee Olson, director of partnerships at Bumble. “Moxy has done a really great job of offering spaces and restaurants and bars that brand beyond the general idea of a hotel. Locals or people who aren’t even staying at this hotel will want to come back, because those spaces are different. They’re not cookie-cutter and they’re more thoughtful.”
Poulos said Bumble was an ideal partner for Moxy because of like-minded brand values, and the fact that Bumble itself has its own global social network of 42 million members. Poulos said that because Bumble also facilitates professional business networking, the partnership is an easy fit for business travelers, too.
For Line hotels, fostering community engagement was the No. 1 reason for forming a partnership with Bumble BFF, including connecting female entrepreneurs with one another.
“For us it’s always been about providing a platform for place for the community to engage, and when you go to any Line property, without having that community, it would change the vibe,” said Sana Keefer, global brand director for the Line. “We are very inclusive. If you walk into a lobby, no one will ever ask you for a room key. As a traveler, for you to get that local, rich experience, you have to have some level of interaction with the people who make that place so special.”
The Bumble BFF Brunch Club events hosted at the Line are also specifically designed to highlight the success of women who work in hospitality, including Top Chef winner Kristen Kish, the executive chef and partner of Arlo Grey, and Eliana Dominguez and Irene Martinez, the founders of Cocktail Collective at the Lobby Bar.
“Food and beverage tends to be more of a male-dominated industry,” Keefer explained, which is why the Line wanted to have its in-house talent “get involved and share career advice” during the brunch events.
Addressing Safety and Privacy Concerns
Life House, Generator, Moxy, and Bumble, also stressed the importance of safety and privacy when it comes to use of these apps.
Generator’s Rieff said that app users are always asked if they want to share their location, or upload photos, and that users can easily register complaints via the app that go directly to the hotel general manager and the in-house marketing team. “We have put in every measure possible to ensure safety to the best of our abilities,” he said. “We can’t exactly join people when they form groups, but we actively encourage them to make sure they feel safe when they meet up with them, and we make sure the app is a safe environment.”
Life House verifies locals that are allowed to be on its Social Network, and for guests to have access to the app, they need to have a confirmed booking and also undergo a background check, Zeidan said.
“We created Social Network in such a way that it’s tied to every person’s profile, reservation, and behavior so we can create and foster a community that’s focused on eliminating the barriers that promote connection. It ties into our reservations and property management system, and that’s why we built the tech in house. It’s about fostering that safety net and fostering trust and safety.”
By contrast, The Standard’s Lobby app allows users to be anonymous; a user has to give consent to use his or her name. All content from the app is also deleted once that guest checks out, and there are a number of built-in features to address safety and security concerns.
For Moxy, the fact that the BumbleSpots are public spaces is a built-in safety layer. “You have people working at the hotels, and you have others around you. Having connections happen in environments that are public, and meant to create social interaction makes people feel comfortable and safe.” Bumble’s Olson said the company also takes a hard line against any users who abuse the app.
From Online to IRL
Whether to encourage dating, networking, or simply shared travel experiences, all of these various apps share the same objective: to bring people together, and to do so in spaces that are designed just for that — the hotel.
“We’re in the business of making connections,” said Bumble’s Olson. “We make those connections online, but the hope it that once those connections ever reach a point to be taken into the physical world, we want to make sure they have a place where they can go to a space that holds the same values.”
And for travelers, especially, this simply builds on the desire they have for more experiences.
“As we think about experiential travel, so much of that experience is about meeting people and experiencing new things with those people,” Life House’s Zeidan said. “And technology in the hotel space can help foster a true community.”
With these social network apps and partnerships like the one between Moxy and Bumble, travelers and locals alike “get the best of both worlds,” said Poulos. “So, why not take that leap and make these connections in real life?”