More than toiletries, today’s hotel amenity programs keep in step with technology trends, health issues and environmental concerns

You’re a guest walking into your hotel room for the first time. You’ve travelled hours, maybe days, to reach your destination. Your room’s a welcome relief; a respite before your time is filled with business meetings or travel fun. It may only be for a short time, but it’s your home.

So what do you expect to find when you arrive? Maybe it’s the toiletries lined up on the bathroom countertop that you can’t live without, or the kettle set beside a selection of favourite teas; perhaps it’s the wireless Internet. Whatever the draw, in-room amenities help set the tone for a guest’s stay, often including key items that conjure feelings of home.

“For the most part, guests expect the basic amenities. They want quality toiletries available; they certainly want to have Internet,” says Caroline Savignac, communications manager for Brookstreet Hotel, a 276-room fourdiamond hotel in Ottawa. “At the very basic level they would want that.”

But in-room amenities also differentiate a brand, not only meeting guest expectation, but exceeding it. That’s why Brookstreet offers loofas, bathsalts and vanity kits in addition to the basics in their master suites. The idea is to offer a premium experience within the room to match the premium experience through the rest of the hotel. “Listening to our guests’ feedback, we have enhanced many of our amenities, including offering eco-friendly products with pure ingredients,” adds Patrice Basille, executive vice-president of Brookstreet. More specifically, the BIO2 brand of products — shampoo, conditioner, lotion and body wash — Brookstreet uses are developed from natural, renewable plant-based raw materials.

The green movement is a big driver when it comes to in-room amenities, a fact gueststoday are especially aware of, notes Savignac. For example, many hotels have recycling bins in the rooms to encourage less waste; Brookstreet even has energy-efficient TVs. Another driver is technology. Earlier this year, following a trend being seen across industry segments, Brookstreet increased its Internet bandwidth, making it sixtimes faster. There is a charge for Internet in the rooms, with some exceptions, but top-notch web service is something guests expect more and more these days. “It’s kind of like not having shampoo in the rooms — what do you mean I can’t connect my phone?,” jokes Savignac, predicting guest complaints.

Allergies are another growing concern, so Brookstreet’s in-room offerings are nut-free. Management has even taken it a step further, introducing hypo-allergenic rooms. Dubbed Breathe Easy rooms, these suites feature air purifiers and hypo-allergenic amenities and are cleaned with green chemicals and HEPA-filter-equipped vacuum cleaners.

At Fairmont, a pilot project involving allergy-friendly rooms is underway, too. The program’s popularity is being gauged at three of its Canadian properties. “[We’re trying] to determine a set of products that will be placed in the guestrooms that will reflect the comforts and conveniences of someone who is allergy sensitive: something with a level of consistency they can rely on and that meets their needs,” says Chrissy Burton, director of Hotel Integration for Rooms at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. “For example, instead of feather pillows in the guestrooms, there would be gel-filled or hypo-allergenic pillows and duvets.”

The amenity program clearly rates highly on Fairmont’s service barometer as executives have introduced a program that re-examines guest expectation while creating in-room amenity consistency worldwide. The chain commissioned a survey from a third-party company which, in late 2009, asked more than 2,400 travellers worldwide what they wanted in their hotel rooms. The group came up with a list of 24 basic essentials, including everything from feather duvets and top-quality linen, to an in-room safe, a coffeemaker and separate tea kettle.

“As Fairmont has been growing in many new regions internationally, we have had to take a look back at our existing product and ensure guestrooms meet the needs and the expectations of the guests that would experience rooms in the new hotels,” says Burton. Fairmont rooms around the world are in the midst of being updated; the 24 essentials are expected to make it into all of them by the end of the year.

But now that they’ve got their list of 24 essentials, Burton doesn’t expect in-room amenities to change much in the next five years; rather, she sees a gradual evolution. While a coffee pot may be standard today, for instance, a single-cup coffee pot and separate kettle, already the norm for some brands, may be standard in five years. Or in-room wireless that guests often pay for might become
free, adds Gopal Rao, vice-president of Sales and Marketing for IHG Canada.

IHG already offers freeWi-Fi at its Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands. But, the brand’s amenity program got a real boost when the company relaunched 3,400 hotels worldwide. One focus in the redesign was introducing new guestroom bedding, including pillows in each room, marked ‘firm’ or ‘soft.’ “We wanted to make sure guests got to choose the type of pillow they wanted,” says Rao. The idea is to give guests an experience that reminds them of home. That means electrical outlets on top of the desks so they don’t have to search for a spot to plug in their laptops. It also means providing stylish, quality toiletries and adequate lighting. Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express service still includes newspapers at the door, and many guests reportedly enjoy the convenience.

The challenge is maintaining a consistent level of standard. “That comes with a good system of making sure every franchisee understands the standard and a good enforcement system where the properties are inspected regularly,” Rao explains.  What guests want more than anything, Rao adds, isn’t more and more stuff piled up in their hotel room. They want a convenient experience, where the things they do need are within easy reach. That, he says, is what sets one guestroom apart from another.


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