“We hope that by providing guests these top-tier instruments that it creates a memorable trip,” said Audrey Hardy-Lenhart, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “And that hopefully they come back and see us again or at least tell their friends about it because it was such a unique experience.”
Although the words “lending library” may initially bring to mind books, more hotels are getting creative with loaner programs, offering musical instruments, movies, houseplants, outdoor gear and more. It’s a move they hope will create buzz about their property, provide novel ways to explore the local community and appeal to guests who aren’t as keen on hanging out at the hotel bar.
One of the most common hotel lending programs involves vinyl LPs and record players. The Elizabeth Hotel, as well as the Saint Kate in Milwaukee, the Hutton Hotel in Nashville, the Ace Hotel in Portland, Ore., the Highlander Hotel in Iowa City, the Kimpton Alton in San Francisco and the Edgewater in Seattle, are among the myriad accommodations to offer that style of library. Each has hundreds, if not thousands, of records available for guests to play, free of charge, often with a small selection in the room at check-in, which can be traded for other titles.
“It’s a nice resource, especially for guests who would rather spend time in their room than communal spaces,” Hardy-Lenhart said. “It’s unusual that a hotel provides guests opportunities for interaction beyond just food and beverage. For us as a brand, it’s important to create these new ways to engage guests.”
Another hotel chain with a lending program aimed at homebodies is Kimpton. Nine of the brand’s U.S.-based hotels offer a selection of chessboards that can be sent up to guests’ rooms. Although game closets are another popular take (the Brazilian Court in Palm Beach, Fla., and the Bowery Hotel in New York are just two others that offer parlor games such as Chinese checkers and cards), Kimpton’s program was launched in response to the pandemic and the then-newfound popularity of chess thanks to the Netflix show “The Queen’s Gambit.”
“It’s always our priority to provide heartfelt care to our guests, and during the height of the pandemic, we had to get creative on how we still did that as we re-envisioned our guest experience,” said Kathleen Reidenbach, Kimpton’s chief commercial officer. “The chessboard lending program allows us to extend interactive on-property programming to travelers staying with us. For those who may not be interested in our nightly social hour or bike rental, the chessboard lending program provides an alternative activity to enjoy in the safety and comfort of one’s guest room.”
It’s not the only lending program the hotel chain has on offer this year. The brand recently launched a lending program for sunset lamps, which provide a type of light meant to help combat seasonal affective disorder, at 10 of its properties. Over the years, Kimpton’s various hotels have dabbled in other programs, including one where guests could check out a goldfish to keep them company (although that one has since been discontinued).
Although lending library programs have been around at hotels for years, said Felicia Rahm, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Zags in Portland, Ore., they’ve become even more popular with guests since the onset of the pandemic, because they offer travelers more opportunities to recreate either in their rooms or outside in the community. The hotel’s Gear Shed focuses on the latter.
“There’s a lot of things in there,” Rahm said. “We have ukuleles, e-bikes, hoverboards, skateboards, helmets, fishing poles, tackle boxes, cameras, Nintendos. It’s quite an eclectic mix of things.”
Acting as a conduit for guest experiences, Rahm said, was the driving reason the space was created.
“The hotel really caters to the urban adventurer, people who want to get out and explore Portland,” Rahm said. “We hear all the time that people took a bike and went to a food truck or to the [International Rose Test Garden], which is great. Building experiences that have positive impacts is important for us.”
Other accommodations share Hotel Zags’ belief that a free set of wheels helps travelers have richer, deeper experiences on the road. Numerous hotels, such as the W in Scottsdale, Ariz., Hawthorn Suites in Naples, Fla., the Halcyon in Denver, and the Heywood Hotel in Austin, have launched complimentary bicycle programs.
Although the Catbird Hotel in Denver didn’t open until August 2021, well into the pandemic, its director of sales and marketing, Austin Cooper, thinks its dual lending programs met the moment.
“It’s thinking about what these folks enjoy in their own space that they’ve created for themselves at home, and how can we bring that to them as a service here,” Cooper said.
One of Catbird’s lending programs involves potted plants. The hotel partnered with ReRoot, a local houseplant boutique, to provide flora (and brief care guides) that guests can bring to their rooms to liven up the space.
Cooper said part of the reasoning was that people are staying longer at hotels with the rise of remote work. Having access to extras such as plants makes their home away from home feel homier.
The hotel’s other lending program is called the Playroom. From it, guests can rent Vespa Primavera scooters, Polaroid cameras, backgammon boards, soccer balls, picnic kits, Vitamix blenders, panini presses, Ninja air fryers and more.
“It’s all things that make guests feel at home here or gets them out into the area,” Cooper said. “We really want them to get a sense of the neighborhood and to be a part of the community.”
At the end of the day, Cooper said, travel is about having experiences and making memories. Access to libraries, traditional or otherwise, gives travelers a few more tools to do so.
Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.