Hotel library, Ham Yard Hotel

Why books matter for hotels

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Reading is something we all associate with travel and holidays, whether it’s passing time on the plane or getting stuck into a good book on the beach. It’s not, however, often considered as a hotel amenity, but invest in a good book collection and you could see guest satisfaction jump significantly according to Philip Blackwell, publishing expert and Founder of Ultimate Library

Research with IHG’s Indigo brand has shown that 85% of guests are aware of a curated book collection and think it adds to the overall experience, and that 94% say it makes a hotel feel homely, warm and welcoming. But the data shows more than just positive perception. Ultimate Library Founder Philip Blackwell comes from a line of high profile British publishers and now uses his experience in the industry to help hotels tell their story through great book collections. He believes that a carefully developed library can be a direct impact on revenue too. We asked him why books matter for hotels, and what it takes to curate a good book collection.

Philip Blackwell, Founder, Ultimate Library
Philip Blackwell, Founder, Ultimate Library

Click.: Why do hotels need good book collections?
Our research says that people only read for pleasure when they travel or they’re on holiday. And part of the whole holiday experience is getting stuck into a good book. We found that many resorts had a room they called a library, but where every other detail of the hotel was meticulously planned, the library was a collection of old books left behind by other guests. Having the right books in the right place that tell the local story, though, significantly increases guest perception and satisfaction. The big research piece we did said that a good book collection gives an 85% perception rate and the first thing people get from it is homeliness. People say a hotel should be a home from home, but better. A good hotel trying to fulfil that remit should have books that surprise and delight. It makes somewhere feel cosier.

Click.: Is there a direct impact on revenue if you have a well-curated book collection?
Anecdotally that is the case. We’ve been sent blogs where people have said, “I was checking out, then discovered the library and three hours later I was still there and stayed for lunch”. People do dwell for longer. The other business case says that people who get it are so surprised and delighted, they talk about it and share it on social media, and that pushes your ratings up, and people read this stuff. The power of digital platforms really does have an impact. So an intelligent collection of books adds a lustre to people’s perception. There is a payback, and actually, pound for pound, an investment in a good book collection can have a bigger impact on people’s perception of your brand and overall intelligence higher than any other thing you can invest in.

Hotel library, The Merchant House, Bahrain
Photo: The Merchant House, Bahrain

Photo: The Merchant House, Bahrain

Click.: How do you curate a good collection of books?
We have four or five simple inputs: one is location. So what are the reasons people go and stay there? What are they doing when they get there? What are the amenities within the hotel? They might have a spa, a kids club, a business centre. Where do the guests come from? We think about reflecting their cultural background. What’s the interior decor? What is the hotel trying to communicate about itself?

Then there may be some particular requests of the owners who like a specific artist or they have a particular thing they want to promote, like wine or cigars or local museums.

We’re here in The Ampersand [Hotel, London] and it’s got a very distinctive look and feel; the books here in this room create that homely atmosphere. Upstairs, each floor has a different theme based on a local museum, so for example, on the Science Floor we’ve got a wonderful book about the geometry of pasta – it talks to science, but it also talks to foodies. We want to tick all the obvious boxes, but the great beauty of books is you can talk about things from a different angle, or an unusual angle, and that’s what people pick up on. That sort of playfulness and humour talks directly to a brand like this where everything is playful, amusing and bright.

It’s about having a collection of books that not only looks good, but makes you and the property look good when people get up close and pick them up.

Click.: What about hotels without space for a whole library?
It’s a minority sport having a complete library. But you can put nice illustrated books in public places, on coffee tables or on a shelf in a cafe. Place books in the suites or beside the bed in the rooms. In Vintry & Mercer [another London hotel], it has little alcoves in every room and we use that for half a dozen books. Being creative, you can put books anywhere. Put books on wellness in the spa, children’s books in the kids’ club, have a collection by the pool or put books in bathrooms.

Click.: How do you stop guests from stealing books?
We put in place signage that explains the rules of engagement. We put little bookplates in that say things like, “Don’t take me, take the toiletries” or something a bit more inspirational. We might put it on bookmarks or signs. That slows people down. The more enlightened view, though, is that if people stay in a hotel and they’ve got stuck into a book and they want to finish it and they take the book, they’ve spent thousands of dollars. If they’ve spent $25,000 and they run off with a book that costs $20 and it sits on their shelf when they get home, and when they look at it they get a warm feeling about the lovely hotel they stayed at in the Maldives, that’s probably the best bit of marketing you can do.

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Hero image: The Ham Yard Hotel, London

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Having the right books in the right place can significantly increase guest perception and satisfaction
An intelligent, curated book collection can directly impact revenue thanks to increasing guest dwell time
People stealing books from a collection isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Blackwell thinks it could be the “best marketing you ever do”