LobbyFriend - Tinder or Snapchat for Hotel Guests?

For those Snapchat and Tinder evangelists out there, there’s a new app in town called ‘LobbyFriend’ that might be just up your alley — or should I say, 'down in your lobby?' In today’s fast-pace mobile world, there’s been a myriad number of apps for business and leisure travelers. From Flip.to to Foursquare to TripAdvisor, hotel apps are now a dime a dozen, dependent on your particular preferences when traveling.

Tinder for Travelers

The Daily Mail describes it as ‘Tinder for Travelers.’ If one was to characterize it as such, it kind of infers that it's an app for on-the-go hook-ups, sort of like a Match.com on steroids. The intent of Tinder is its focus on the immediacy of meeting members of the opposite sex or same sex for potential fraternization purposes. Not quite sure, LobbyFriend's developers had that idea in mind. Instead, I think this app is a conduit which allows hotel guests to connect with others during their short or longterm hotel stays, not necessarily for romantic encounters.

Like a social network, it allows hotels guests to send messages to others and engage with them as they would on Facebook and Twitter. Guests can connect with their smartphones and interact with the hotel's lobby screens and in-room televisions. It’s comparison to Tinder has some validity, as these exchanges in many instances are being conducted with unknown parties - a chance to meet new people while on the road.

Snapchat for Brief Encounters

Dubbed the 'first-ever temporary social network', by its co-founder Jason Ayoub, the network like Snapchat is ephemeral and disposable in nature. Once a guest checks out, all the details of the correspondence is supposedly deleted from the ecosystem. Similarly, Snapchat is built on that same premise  - the exchange of text messaging that lasts for only seconds, like that old ‘Mission Impossible’ tag line: “this message is about to self-destruct.”

40 Hotels and Counting. . .

The free app is currently available in approximately 40 hotels worldwide, including the Tryp Times Square South in Manhattan and other properties that belong to the New Orleans Hotel Collection.

Hotels pay on average $100 a month for LobbyFriend, which guests can use when they access the hotel's Wi-Fi. As noted, users can remain anonymous, fill out a profile, sign in with Facebook and even create an avatar if they like.

In addition to messages on the guests' smartphone or laptop, the hotel's digital board will also display the stream of messages as they flow in, and the concierge or guest-service manager can communicate with guests as well with discount offerings, special promotional information, or updates for specific groups and/or meeting agenda itineraries.

Privacy Issues

Similar to concerns, which have surfaced over the years with Tinder and Snapchat, there are those who have expressed privacy issue fears with LobbyFriend.

Travel industry professional and CEO of RockCheetah, Robert Cole says hotels have much to consider before Robert ColeRobert Coleadopting such social networking apps, particularly the security of their guests. He says the development and fine-tuning of such portals will probably take several years.

It looks like "an interesting idea with maybe some value but also a long list of potential downsides,'' Cole says. "Trading personal information for convenience and discovery — there's a bumpy road. ... It's all these unanticipated consequences.''

Robert Schukai, a member of USA TODAY's Road Warriors panel, is also skeptical. "I don't think I would use such an app,'' says Schukai, a head of advanced product innovation, who lives in Marietta, Ga. "If I'm staying with fellow colleagues, I'd simply use existing solutions that I have like iMessage or Twitter DM. It isn't clear to me what would be particularly useful about an app that would let me message random hotel guests."

On the flip side, Diana Leon, a field interviewer from Oakland, says such an app could be useful. "My immediate reaction is yes,'' she says about whether she'd use a personal messaging app in her hotel. "I just attended a fairly large conference at the LAX Marriott where I interacted and met new associates with whom contact information had not yet been exchanged.''

Such an app could be helpful at weddings or fundraisers, she says, "where many are brought together for a common cause'' but may not run into each other or exchange phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

So when you travel next is LobbyFriend something you’ll consider, or is meeting folks old-school still going to be your go-to position? Hey, it’s the 21st Century - don’t you think your social life could use a little technical assist? And with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it might be just the ticket to take the loneliness out of being a party of one for the holiday. . . Yeah, I know. . . the Tinder comparison again - but heck,  the name LobbyFriend sure sounds a lot less predatory than Tinder, don't you think?