As the line between office and social life continues to fade, with more people checking e-mail after dinner or texting friends between business meetings, hotels are taking the cue in redesigning their meeting rooms.
Multiple chains are transforming some of their traditional and somewhat antiseptic meeting rooms into more comfortable lounges aimed at encouraging people to mingle and ideas to flow.
Not long ago, conferences were used to communicate important information that could not be easily acquired otherwise. "Now, attendees can get most of the meeting's content via Web site, simulcast or videos posted online," said Stephani Robson, a senior lecturer at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. "So the face-to-face networking that happens on-site can be the most important aspect of the gathering."
As a result, hotels are remaking their meeting rooms into more social spaces and places for impromptu connections and small gatherings, said Dr. Robson, who studies how hotel design influences guests' perceptions and behaviors.
At Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, hotels "have been moving away from standard, dull meeting rooms," said Mark Sergot, vice president of global sales at Fairmont, and making them "comfortably loungelike so attendees can relax, get work done, or both."
Newly renovated meeting rooms at the Westin New York at Times Square include shelves of books and decorative objects, and the common area is set up with conversational seating areas and a permanent central bar and food service area, rather than space for temporary food stations. "The total effect is more residential and relaxed," said the general manager, Terry Lewis. He contrasted it with "the typical meeting area layout of a long hallway, with very little décor and no seating."