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Hotel Keen Lets Guest Put the Writing on the Wall

Special white paint turns walls into canvasses for pictures, ideas and whimsey.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Caryn Eve Murray
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Social media have made sending messages between guests and hoteliers as easy as writing on a wall: Just visit Facebook, where hundreds of resorts, major brands and even small independent inns regularly take stock of their guests’ needs, queries and opinions posted publicly on the online “wall” that is a big part of their social network presence.

And then there is the Hotel Keen in Palo Alto, Calif., which takes its walls somewhat more literally: Any of the boutique hotel’s guests struck by inspiration – or perhaps occasional frustration – can routinely vent themselves in splashy, sometimes neon hues right on the clean, smooth, bright white surface of their guest rooms’ 12-foot walls.

“We also have a suite in which the walls, floor-to-ceiling, are 16 feet high,” said General Manager Peter Friedman. “So if someone has to get their Michelangelo on, we can accommodate them there.”

Whiteboards, apparently, aren’t just for corporate meeting rooms anymore. As the 42-room hotel marks its first year of business on Aug. 1, guests are marking the walls with mundane messages (“Gone to the store”), 3-D diagrams suggesting the hotel add shelving or other accoutrements to the room, or mysterious remarks that, Friedman supposes, constitute some kind of inside joke between guests.

The concept of wall-as-blank-slate mixes well in this vibrant city buzzing with the intellectual vibe of nearby Stanford University and Silicon Valley and the excitement of high tech startups and marketing companies populating the area. It is, Friedman said, the perfect tool even for those midnight “eureka” moments since the rooms’ modest size means the walls are rarely a very far reach from the bed.

“We like to promote creativity,” said Friedman. “Everyone is a budding artist. Some people come in and completely cover the wall.”

All it took was a coating with special paint left to dry for at least six hours. Complete the picture by adding guests, whiteboard markers and erasers, then watch what happens next:
“The housekeeping staff will often come down and say to us, ‘Hey come up and look at this,’ and we go and take pictures,” said Friedman. Sadly, those pictures are often all that’s left after the housekeeping staff then proceeds to execute its mandate for thorough cleanup.

Many of the suggestions are often found on the walls are about ways to enhance the whole wall-writing experience.

“One guest said we should have more colors,” said Friedman. “And now, with four or five different companies coming out with scented markers – berry and cherry for instance – and even Day-Glo, we are going to incorporate them into what we have.”

As innovative and fun as this kind of guest graffiti may be, when it comes to the hotel’s staying power, Friedman said the handwriting isn’t just on the wall: “A gimmick like this gets them in the door and people say it’s cute. But you also have to deliver good service, and our staff is attentive.”

It had better be: Any complaints, suggestions or comments are likely to be posted – where else? – in a shimmering spectrum on the wall.

Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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