These days, hotel guests may not be demanding the sky, but apparently they do want fresh air — and they’re willing to pay for it. In fact, in a number of U.S. properties, including Hilton Hotels, some Hyatt Hotels and The Ritz Carlton, guests are paying a little extra to have air-purifying systems in their rooms.
Somewhat ironically, today’s energy-efficient buildings can retain more undesirable particles in the air than the drafty structures of the past. Systems such as the AtmosAir system from U.S.-based AtmosAir Solutions, are designed to combat the problem by filtering out potentially harmful dust, mold and pollen.
This is only one of the types of in-room amenities that are now valued by guests who wouldn’t have thought to ask for them a decade or so ago.
STAYING PLUGGED IN
“The number-1 request from an amenity or service perspective is enhanced internet capabilities,” says Steve Boisclair, director of Sales and Marketing for W Montreal. Although an increased demand for streaming of movies, videos and apps such as Facebook Live had already prompted an increase in bandwidth, “we just increased our bandwidth yet again because of the average number of devices being used in each room. People aren’t using cable anymore,” he says.
In addition, to accommodate the variety of mobile devices that are now part of every traveller’s luggage, the hotel has added five USB outlets to each room, strategically located at the room entrance landing pad, the desk area and on both sides of the bed. At Accent Inns and Hotel Zed, “Wi-Fi is seriously fast and always free — that’s sort of our motto,” says vice-president of Sales and Marketing Trina Notman. “We know it’s so important. We are in that 3.5-star range and everybody expects to have fast and reliable Wi-Fi. When I look at my Wi-Fi reports, I see typically Netflix and YouTube are what people are doing in the rooms, so we have to make sure there is no buffering of videos.”
“You need a plug beside your bed. It has to be easy so you don’t have to look [to find it],” says Jacques-Alexandre Paquet, general manager of Le Germain Hotel Montreal. “The design of the room has to be easy; it has to be accessible.” With every aspect of the room, it’s the “little things” such as this, he says, that make a difference. “We have basic things like soap, mouthwash and cream. We added [body] scrubbing gloves recently.”
“Because we’re a family-owned, independent business, we can be really nimble about our amenities in a way big chains cannot,” says Notman. Since Hotel Zed targets the 45-year-old female traveller, “a small thing we’re adding in rooms is makeup remover.”
“[W Montreal is] in the process of adding irons and default shower caps,” says Boisclair. “Women are more than 50 per cent of the population, so we’re trying to be a little more cognizant of that, with something as practical as an iron and [ironing] board, making sure that it’s high-quality and clean, so it doesn’t stain clothes.”
He also sees increasing interest in healthier in-room snack options, such as “protein bars and healthy nuts that might not be salted. We’re one of the hotel chains that did not have coffee machines in rooms — most of our guests will still come down or order coffee to their room,” he adds. “But we just introduced Nespresso machines this year.”
W Montreal also added minibar enhancements “to great success.” Since guests indicated the traditional minibar selections offered relatively low value, “we now have 375-mL bottles of alcohol, so if you’re having a guest over, you’re paying for a bottle that has four drinks instead of one.”
Across the board, guests are seeking a more authentic connection with the place they’re staying, even if the visit is short-term. Ian Thorley, vice-president of Sales and Marketing for Calgary-based Bellstar Hotels & Resorts, says a desire for local flavour started with culinary offerings, but is spreading to other areas. “The challenge is when you have multiple properties, you end up buying from large suppliers and they may not be local,” he says.
However, Bellstar adds truly local touches appropriate to each property. For instance, at the Beach Club Resort in Parksville, B.C., the in-room beverage options include beer from a notable local craft brewery. “At our resorts in Canmore, we recently partnered up with Rocky Mountain Soap Company, based in Canmore, because they are a local artisan producer. We’ve introduced them in a little package that’s put together for our guests.” This approach can be tailored to fit the personality and resources of any property. “I want to have a local minibar, with only local product. We have good producers in Montreal to show off,” says Paquet. This includes “local beer, chocolate, popcorn, nuts and some liquor,” with vegan and gluten-free options.
The “local” theme can also be carried through in other ways. To celebrate the 375th anniversary of Montreal this year, W Montreal picked out seven books — ranging from comics to cookbooks, novels and non-fiction — that celebrate the city. Each room has a book and guests can request to have the same one in their room for their next stay. “Going local and including the people around the hotel, like museums, is something we have to do,” Paquet adds.
Guests want to experience new places, but they also like to bring the comfort of home with them, which may come with four paws and a tail. “We have what’s called the PAW (Pets Are Welcome) program — a full-fledged program for cats and dogs,” says Boisclair. (Le Germain has a similar policy.) It includes in-room pet beds, bowls, treats, toys and waste bags. “There is a cleaning fee that’s imposed on the guests because, unfortunately — because of allergies — we have to do a deep clean after they leave,” he explains.
Limited pet-sitting is also offered, but pets cannot be left in rooms unattended. “Most hotels should learn to adapt to the reality that people are very attached to their animals,” Boisclair adds. “If it’s well done, it isn’t an inconvenience. They get a lot of love in the lobby.”
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Sometimes the best amenities are things no one would ever think to request. “We’re trying to add little features of humour all around the properties,” says Notman. For instance, in-room phones include an option to call Ghostbusters (in case of paranormal activity, of course). “We have rubber duckies in all of our hotel rooms and we have a lot of guests who collect them,” she says.
When it comes down to it, the most important trend in amenities is probably the move towards customized service. At W Montreal, “rather than trying to come up with standard things in the rooms, we come up with as much data as we can to personalize the amenities for each guest,” says Boisclair. This could mean “10 pillows and seven humidifiers, or foil paper on the windows — which, by the way, we’ve done before. For today’s hotels, it’s not about generic amenities, it’s about personalized amenities.”
Written by Sarah B. Hood