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  • Writer's pictureStephan Busch

Entering a Hotel. The Might of Welcome

Entering the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong I feel good, great and welcome. All at once it is elegance, history, life, full of people and at the same time calm. Your soul found a place to enjoy and rest. It creates the feeling that you want to stay!

There are so many good examples of great hotels and their entrances. But there are also many places where you first and only thought is “I have to get out of here - fast!”

What makes an entry so welcoming?

The Building

The approach to the building and the building itself are the first factor. Resorts have the great advantages of setting the landscape right for an approach that promises you heaven. City Hotels have it a little more difficult but also here the outside is what should create the wish to enter. The sign and the lightning, the elegant or modern cover of the entrance, some plants are easy to play with and to impress. I made it my rule never to judge any city by the approach from the airport or by train. It is always ugly! I get the wrong impression. Hotels and restaurants can work on their impression. Approaching a hotel or a restaurant close should create the whish to enter. But get a good designer – its worth the money! Marketing books tell us that orange, yellow, red are the colours that draw most attention but too much in one area might also turn the location in a kind of red light district.

Colours, lights and flowers

The Four seasons Hotel in St. Petersburg is a great old palace that attracts alone with the building itself but the colours of the outside are well chosen and promise elegance inside. This is rounded up by the right spotlights that intensifies the impression. When you enter the elegant lobby the first thing that catches your eye is the Flower display. It is always impressive even though it is changed constantly. Fresh flowers are always great. But also plants and dry displays can be perfect in the right surrounding. You add the staff that I have only seen friendly and helpful in this hotel and it is done! You want to stay!

Security makes you feel safe?

With this in mind I entered another Four Seasons Hotel in one of Europe’s capital cities. When I entered I had to pass a Hall that stretched for approximately twenty meters and at the end of the Hall stood a great big security guard who’s eyes I could feel fixed on me even from twenty meters away. The Hall was elegant but I hardly noticed as I had to walk straight towards this big man who’s job it was to secure the place. I didn’t know what got him the job but my judgment told me that he had a history that I didn’t want to know. Continue or turn and run? After 10 meter that I had passed already? He was full of muzzles but also looked too fast for me! I lived long enough in Canada and knew that these are all attributes of Grizzly’s – and they are fast! I continued. I managed to pass him and found around the corner the reception where to nice young ladies greeted me. Too late! I passed the cave of the Grizzly - I didn’t feel good anymore. Maybe the General Manager should let the girls and the Grizzly change places?

Smoking is a dirty business

Smoking is banned in most places around the world now. I think that is a good idea even though I myself like to smoke. I don’t need it in the restaurant or lobby but appreciate when a cigar room is offered and well set up including fresh air to try to keep us smokers a little longer alive. Now most of the places make you go outside and smoke which is also okay. In Siberia more difficult then in the Bahamas but if it has to be - it has to be. What disturbs me a lot when entering a hotel is when I have to pass over flowing ashtrays or see cigarette butts all over the floor. Either hide the places better or manage to keep them clean. It gives a very bad impression and no designer or perfect lightning can compensate.

High ceilings and daylight

Modern or classic hotels or restaurant always benefit from high ceilings. Combined with plants or daylight – many hotels build glass roofs for their lobbies - it gives a great feeling. People want space and light. Its positive and we are all in need of positive impressions. Grand Hyatt Hotels do a great job in designing their Lobbies with space, height and daylight by either Glass fronts or ceiling light. In crowded cities with high property prices and small apartments space and height are luxury that attracts locals too.

Sometimes lobbies are not that welcoming

Park Inn from Rezidor took over some of the gigantic soviet hotels in Russia and renovated them. There are high ceilings but it doesn’t really help. Somehow you cant get the soviet charm out of the hotels. Here big and high reminds you of train stations rather then hotels and you just can’t get this cosy feeling to build up.

I once visited a Resort Hotel designed by the Architect Norman Foster who is famous for his airports. The hotel must have cost billions and decoration and furniture’s are expensive. But well – Airport - was exactly what you felt in the hotel while entering. It had an Airport feeling where you hope to check in fast, maybe have a coffee and fly out and away.


Before all the ladies get upset with me – yes, shopping is important. Every hotelier loves his lobby shops for the revenue they create. At the high end – Cartier – Bulgari – Rolls Royce - Jaguar – it also adds flair to the lobby. Some Hotels get carried away and by entering you feel like entering a shopping mall. If I would be in charge of designing a lobby for Chinese Toursit groups I would add shop after shop – it works! If it should be a German Family hotel I would scale down and focus – if it would be a high flying five star I would get picky and refine. It makes great money for hotels – but focus, adjust and get it integreated and not over powering. Cruiseships which have wast shopping areas normaly take 60% revenue for themselves and leave 40% for the shop. Shops still line up to get a spot so how much does the guest pays? It works so don’t neglect it! Well managed and chosen it adds value.

Carpets, Art and Furniture’s

Carpets make a big difference. The Park Hotel in Bremen has wonderful carpet in their hall and the colours and design blend great with the furniture and the daylight that comes through the windows facing the Park. It is elegance but also – like all carpets – is great for the acoustic as it swallows a lot of sounds. Maintaining a carpet in any public place is of course a lot of work and cost but makes a big difference. Furniture’s should support the character of the hotel. Comfort is of course important but a designer can create fantastic feelings with choosing the right furniture’s and Art from pictures to statures.


Most hotels use aromas to satisfy all senses. This has to be chosen well and distributed right but smell is one of the strongest memories and has a great effect. I personally love to remember what I call the Hotel – smell. Before using aromas it was a mixture of wood polish, cleaner with lemon and some faint kitchen smells that you could find in most hotels. Maybe not that attractive to everybody but a great memory. To avoid smells that do not have positive effects is another challenge for hotels. This applies especially to boiled cabbage which is strong and long lasting and doesn’t carry any positive associations. Many hotels ban cabbage cooking for this reason. Especially China and Russia had many years ago this communist managed cabbage season when you could smell it everywhere. During that season you got cabbage and tons of it. I remember once in China when Cabbage was ordered for a hotel. Three trucks full of cabbage arrived, the drivers unloaded directly at the main entrance pavement and walkways – that was the addressed they were supposed to deliver to, right? – and drove off. Spoiled the design of the entrance and made it difficult to walk through especially in high heels. Lucky it is mostly cold during that season otherwise it adds a rotten smell to it. These times are over in China – the delivery entrance is used - at least in the main cities.

Local lobbies

Especially in Resorts but also in many smaller hotels you find what many people are looking for today. The local experience. One great top example is the Post Hotel in Lake Louise where the building fits into the mountain panorama and the interior design displays elegance with a lot of wood and local décor. Look for smaller cities and old hotels and you will find a lot of pleasant surprises.

Keep an eye on the door!

Security is a must but not what you want to see first when entering a hotel. Everybody takes it as guaranteed that a hotel should be safe. Displaying the guards to obvious triggers the opposite feeling. Something wrong here?

In many big hotels you might walk in and around without being noticed. That is not good either as a great welcome is always associated with a person greeting you and thus confirming that you are indeed welcome. Some hotels have doorman others not but there should be always someone to keep an eye on the door and greet every single guest entering the hotel. Imagine you are invited to a friends house for a party with many guest. Even though the door might be open and you can see lots of people inside it still feels awkward, like trespassing to enter without being ask to come in and being greeted. The same applies for hotels.

Hotels can get away without the personal greeting but we get much further and create a true welcome feeling when we add to marble and elegance a warm personal greeting. Here a good hotel also judges and catches the guest. Many characters walk through your door and are in need of a personal welcome and direction within your house. Some need direction to turn right away around and get out as there are people you don’t want in your hotel. You have to protect your guest, staff and business too. Most of them you want to keep and here you need a good eye to make them welcome. There will be the confident guy who walks in like the owner or Prime minister who needs his kind of greeting and there will be the one who comes first time in such a hotel and is overwhelmed by your décor that he considers leaving. This is the one you need to take by the hand and make him feel welcome too. There will be the loyal guest who also marches comfortably in and is happy to see a familiar face of the staff and appreciates to receive a greeting by name.

The worst is to feel ignored as a guest. No Grand lobby compensate for the feeling to be not worthwhile enough to be attended too. There is the saying:

“Once you feel avoided by someone, never disturb them again.”

Your guest will do exactly that! And don’t try to get a robot to do the job for you. It works in cheap places only. Artificial intelligence is great - if used right. It is a great danger - if not a curse - once it is used as a tool to replace the human touch by a piece of metal.

Get people in!

Eugen Block did a great job when he opened the Elysee Hotel in Hamburg by designing a lobby full of life. Lobby, restaurant, bar, reception are one flow of people doing different things. Its life! People love to go into places that seem to attract others. In a restaurant I worked in we always ask the owner at the beginning of the shift to sit on one of the restaurant tables. People looked through the windows. Nobody in ? Continue walking. Somebody sitting there? Its open! Its visited – lets join in.

So? With all this great places around do yourself a favour and walk in. Discover smell and enjoy. Hotels are created for you too. For all hoteliers and restaurant owners – get out for a while, get a clear head and clear vision and come back and view your place through the eye of a guest. We say it often – we don't do it often enough!

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