Travelers who have checked into hotel rooms recently, as a record number of people did in 2005, may have noticed a few changes.
The multicolored polyester bedspreads are gone, replaced with crisp, white, plush down comforters. No-name soaps have been swapped out for high-end, herbal-infused lotions and shampoos. High-class hotel amenities are the new standard, and hotels are betting that their guests will enjoy the pampering so much that they will want to repeat the experience at home.
Luxury has become the new standard, and hotels have to work to keep ahead of the Joneses. After all, local supermarkets offer fresh sushi and Target’s shelves are stocked with 300-count sheets.
Consumers’ expectations have increased dramatically, said Bjorn Hanson of the hospitality and leisure practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York. Hotels have always tried to offer something that was equal to or better than what a consumer has at home.
Fortunately, the hotel industry has the capital to satisfy the public’s more discerning tastes. After a three-year industry slump, travel has rebounded and now surpasses pre-9/11 numbers.
The state of the industry is very healthy right now, said Robert Mandelbaum of PKF Hospitality Research in Atlanta. Industry profits were an estimated $20.8 billion last year, and hotels are putting that money back into the business.
What hotels are doing with the profits they’ve earned the last few years is plowed them back into enhanced guestrooms, amenities and services, Mandelbaum said. The economy is generating a lot of travel right now for business purposes, leisure purposes and group and business meetings. With all these new guests, it’s a very competitive marketplace out there.
With that intense competition in mind, it’s not enough to lure travelers into rooms. The hotels want to keep customers after they’ve checked out. More inviting amenities have allowed the nation’s leading hotel chains to do that by entering the retail world. Brands like Hilton, Marriott and Starwood sell bedding, towels, toiletries, even bath accessories online. The sales are generating an extra $500 million in revenue for the industry, according to Hanson of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The first step was making in-room amenities less industrial, and more appealing. The trend toward more lifestyle hotels–that’s the buzzword these days to describe the more residential, enhanced design features within guest rooms as opposed to the traditional, institutional look, Mandelbaum said. Guests have said, I don’t want that anymore, I want something that makes me feel more at home,’ which is the ultimate job of an innkeeper.
Hotels began at the central piece of any guest room: the bed. One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is the increase in upscale bedding, be it triple-sheeting or down comforters, said Kathryn Potter, vice president for marketing and communications for the American Hotel and Lodging Industry in Washington.
Westin Hotels’ trademarked Heavenly Bed was conceived by former Starwood Hotels chairman and chief executive Barry S. Sternlicht, and modeled after his bed at home in Connecticut. After months of testing hundreds of mattresses, pillows and bed linens to come up with the ten layers that cover each guest bed, the Heavenly Bed was born.
And so was a new stream of revenue. The Westin Home Web site offers a wide range of products used at the hotels, including robes, towels, slippers and soaps, plus everything needed to set up the Heavenly Bed. The line goes well beyond the $180 down blanket or $250 bed skirt. It allows customers to recreate their hotel experience right down to the mattress and box spring, which range from $800 for a twin to $1,450 for a king. For those who want to keep their honeymoon going past checkout, there’s even a Westin at Home bridal registry.
More active Marriott travelers can do an in-room video workout with fitness expert Michael Sena, and then purchase an entire workout kit for $49.95.
Another way for hotels to set themselves apart is the careful selection of brand-name products placed in rooms. In this day and age, basically all hotels are going to give you a clean room and basic amenities, Potter said. So hoteliers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves.
Starwood’s W Hotels feature bath and spa products by celebrity-favorite Bliss in their rooms. Guests are greeted in the bathroom by travel-sized versions of Bliss’ lemon and sage body wash, body butter, shampoo and conditioner. Guests looking for a post-checkout Bliss fix can head to W’s online store to buy retail versions, which range in price from $16 to $32. Marriott Hotels will soon offer Bath and Body Works products in their rooms and for retail sale. The choice of brand-name items is made through extensive market research, Potter said.
Call it insightful enterprise or just good economics. Last year, 2005, the industry spent $4.8 billion, a record on improvements to facilities, Hanson said. This year our forecast is that it will be $5 billion, so another record. And the hotels are looking to recapture that investment in new ways.
– Karin Caifa – Columbia News Service