By Terry Trucco
Hotel guests fall into two categories – those who want to meet and mingle with other guests and those who can’t think of anything worse.
At first glance, LobbyFriend, a new travel app that lets guests connect with others registered at the hotel, seems aimed squarely at the first group. But LobbyFriend is nimble. Even if you’re in the second camp keep reading. This app could be for you, too.
The app — available on iPhones, Androids, Blackberries (coming in June), the new Nokia Lumia 900 (in the works) and in a web version – made its debut at Manhattan’s new TRYP New York Times Square South and is up and running at some 130 properties around the world. To learn more, we talked with Jason Ayoub, a Canadian chartered accountant with an entrepreneurial streak who co-founded the company.
The idea LobbyFriend grew out of Ayoub’s experiences traveling for work. “I was alone a lot, and it gets very boring,” he says. “The hotel is full, but the restaurant is empty and there’s no one in the lobby.” When staying at business hotels, he missed the social atmosphere of hostels, where guests hang out in the lounge and chill, trading stories, chatting over meals and cultivating acquaintances.
“I remember a place more through the connections I make and the experience I have than the
building,” he says. “That’s the connection we wanted to produce with LobbyFriend.”
The app Once you download the app to a smartphone, you can access LobbyFriend at any hotel that offers it. The service is available only for the duration of your stay, be it a night or a month. At check-in, you’re given a postcard with a PIN number that connects you to the hotel’s social network and insures privacy; the only information on it is your name and check-out date, Ayoub says. “When guests leave, the PIN is useless, and they’re removed from the hotel network without a trace.” You receive a new PIN each time you check into a LobbyFriend hotel.
The profile Guests who download the app fill out a profile similar to Facebook that goes up on the hotel’s network during their stay. Name, a photo, gender, city, schools attended,current job — “you can put up anything that will help people find a common interest to break the ice,” Ayoub says. You provide as much or as little information as you wish. A tab allows you to scan the list of others staying at the hotel including staff members with profiles.
The uses Pretty obvious for guests who want to meet others at the hotel. Ayoub says a popular use for the service is as a message board. “You can post requests to share a cab to the airport, stage a meet-and-greet at the hotel bar, recruit a crowd for karaoke or see if anyone has ideas for where to shop.”
But those who prefer not to socialize can also benefit. Hotels can use the network to
post announcements, like the evening’s dinner specials, or alert guests to deals, like an impromptu happy hour in the bar, a discount at the spa or a pair of Lion King tickets that just became available. The feed is constant, so guests can check it when they’re out and about in the city. “If you’re downtown and want to find a nearby comedy club, you can ping the hotel,” Ayoub says.
Coming soon: LobbyFriend city guides guests can access from their smartphones.
Hotels have the final say in how open the network will be. “We have certain brands who want to use it only for their conferences, connecting the corporate event,” Ayoub says. A hotel in Dubai plans to use it for wedding parties. And some intend to run it as one-way message board programmed by the hotel.
The best news? LobbyFriend is free. And that sounds downright friendly to us.