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Hotels Add Libraries as Amenity to Keep Guests Inside
By Amy Zipkin
Reading material in many hotel rooms has become about as spare as it can be - open the desk drawer and it might hold a Gideon Bible and a Yellow Pages.
But some hotels are giving the humble book another look, as they search for ways to persuade guests, particularly younger ones, to spend more time in their lobbies and bars. They are increasingly stocking books in a central location, designating book suites or playing host to author readings. While the trend began at boutique hotels like the Library Hotel in New York, the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore., and the Study at Yale in New Haven, it is expanding to chain hotels.
For these chains, a library - or at least the feel of one - allows a lobby to evolve from a formal space to a more homelike atmosphere, one that younger customers seek. Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman for the travel, hospitality and leisure groups at Deloitte, said, "My general impression is that this ties into changing demographics." He added, "Younger travelers want to be part of the community."
As with any other change in a hotel, there is a financial angle. Room revenue in hotels rose 6.3 percent in 2012 compared with a year earlier, but food and beverage revenue increased only 2.3 percent, according to PKF Hospitality Research Trends.
For hotels, the challenge is to persuade guests to spend more time, and money, in restaurants and bars, rather than venturing outside.
The Indigo Atlanta-Midtown hotel, for example, has a separate space in the lobby it calls the Library, with books, newspapers and coffee. The Indigo Nashville Hotel also has a library-style seating area.
Country Inns and Suites, with 447 hotels, now has an exclusive arrangement with Penguin Random, called Read It and Return Lending Library, that allows guests to borrow a book and return it to another location during a subsequent stay.
Scott Meyer, a senior vice president at Country Inns, says the goal is to provide guests, 40 percent of whom are business travelers, with "something they didn't expect."
Since early July (a version of the program was begun in 2001) the hotel chain has offered novels by Dean Koontz and Steve Berry and other Random House authors, as well as children's books. A corporate blog contains an excerpt from Mr. Koontz's March release, "Deeply Odd." The circulating books for both authors will be from the backlist.
Mr. Berry is enthusiastic about a new outlet for his work. He called it "the easiest, most efficient, carefree way to put books into the hands of readers."
In June, the Hyatt Magnificent Mile in Chicago completed a renovation that includes a bar stocked with books and magazines and a small number of computers.
Marc Hoffman, the chief operating officer of Sunstone Hotel Investors, which owns the hotel, says he has also brought the library concept to Sunstone's other hotels, including the Renaissance Washington, D.C., Downtown Hotel which has books about presidents and sports; the Newport Regency Beach Hyatt; and the Boston Marriott Long Wharf, where he says books about the Boston Celtics, fishing and baseball are popular.
"We're creating spaces people can relax in," he said.
Bookstores and Web sites supplying hotels report an uptick in business. The Strand bookstore in New York, for example, sells books to the Library Hotel and the Study at Yale, as well as to hotels in Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, among others. Jenny McKibben, who coordinates the store's corporate accounts, estimates that 60 percent of corporate business stems from hotels or design firms working for hotels.
Before the recession, she said, 15 to 20 hotels a year would call to order books. Now, with increased guest interest and newer technology that allows hotels to review pictures and title lists, the number of hotels ordering has increased to about 40 annually. "It's a new luxury item," she said of books.
Meanwhile the boutique hotels are personalizing a library-like experience even more.
At the Library Hotel in New York, where individual floors are assigned numbers from the Dewey decimal system and rooms have books within that classification, the hotel ran a haiku contest in April to celebrate National Poetry Month.
Steven Perles, an international lawyer practicing in Washington and a frequent guest, didn't participate in the contest, but during a recent stay he considered his choice of the hotel. "Books are so much part of the appeal," he said, although on an earlier trip he said he stayed in a room designated for Slavic languages and couldn't understand any of them. Still, he gives the hotel high marks for its service.
Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., supplies books to the Heathman Hotel in that city. Authors appearing at the bookstore or nearby Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, who stay at the hotel, go through a ritual of signing their most recent work to add to the hotel's collection. The hotel has nearly 2,100 books signed by authors including works by Saul Bellow, Stephen King and Greg Mortenson. Guests have access to the library each evening.
Some hotels are staging author readings. Ahead of President Obama's second inauguration, Lewis Lapham, editor of Lapham Quarterly and former editor of Harper's Magazine, read excerpts from "A Presidential Miscellany," a book he wrote, at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington.
The Algonquin Hotel in New York is looking to build on its rich literary history with a suite stocked with books from Simon & Schuster.
On a recent evening, more than 125 people gathered in the hotel's main lobby to hear Chuck Klosterman, the author, essayist and columnist on ethics for The New York Times, read from his latest work, "I Wear the Black Hat," published by Simon & Schuster.
Mr. Hoffman said that hotel books could become a souvenir. He says every book is stamped with the hotel name. And he concedes that some guests may take them home.
"We hope they remember the trip, remember the good times and go back again," he said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 1, 2013
An article on the Itineraries page on Tuesday about chain hotels' adding libraries or book-lending as an amenity for guests misspelled the surname of a senior vice president at Country Inns and Suites, one chain that has added the feature. He is Scott Meyer, not Mayer.
Source: NY Times
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