How fancy hotels choose your room amenities

A lot of thought goes into the tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion for guests.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 7, 2014 3:48PM
Credit: © Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo
Caption: Bathroom shower equipped with soap and shampoo dispensers at Starwood’s Aloft Hotel in Harlem, New YorkBy Halah Touryalai, Forbes

Like that little bottle of lotion in your hotel bathroom? Go ahead and take it -- that's exactly what the hotel is hoping you'll do.

The process of selecting hotel room amenities -- items guests can pick up and touch -- is extensive and can take months to complete. Teams are assigned to research, test and produce everything from shampoo to bedding.

When guests take their toiletries home with them it's a signal to the hotel team that they've done a good job picking the right products. They're also hoping you'll think of your hotel stay when you use that bottle of lotion later on.

"If you take it, then you must have liked it," says Scott Mitchell, director of design and development for Marriott International (MAR). 

Mitchell and his team tested 52 brands of shampoo, conditioner, body gel, lotion and soap before choosing the perfect one for its Marriott Hotels around the world.

Before testing, Mitchell sat with the Marriott Hotels brand team and found they were looking for "hip and cool" products for the Americas and Asia Pacific hotels. The European and Africa based hotels wanted products from a company that had a long, family-owned history.

From there, it's time to find the brands. Mitchell visits boutique shops around the world in search of the perfect products. "We have to zero in on amenity brands that we think will work, and also make sure the products can be produced in different countries and continents," Mitchell says.

Mitchell and his team selected Thann, a natural skincare line from Bangkok for the Americas and Asia Pacific. For Europe and Africa, the team went with Acca Kappa, an Italian fragrance and beauty company dating back to 1869.

After the brands and scents are selected, mock-ups are then made for packaging. Things to consider: Holes and caps on the bottles must dispense easily, fonts must be readable for older guests, flip caps are better than screw caps because they’re easier to open with one hand. 

Mitchell notes that a flip cap adds about a penny to the cost of the bottle. That may not seem like much but it adds up when you're buying 100 million bottles each year.

Marriott will spend $20 million annually on the Thann products, and about one-third of that on Acca Kappa. (There are fewer hotels in Africa and Europe, Mitchell explains.)

Hotel room amenities have evolved over the years, according to Starwood's Hoyt Harper. "It's moved beyond just soap. Guests demand more, and they want higher quality products," says the global brand leader for Starwood’s Sheraton Hotels and Resorts Group.

Harper says guests have changed the way they travel over the last few years. For instance, the airline ban on liquids larger than three ounces has increased the importance of hotel room toiletries.

Consumption of hotel shampoo, conditioner and lotions are all up, Harper says. Ten years ago, about 35 percent of guests used the items. Today, 75 percent of Sheraton guest are using hotel toiletries.

Some products are too costly to provide in each room; toothpaste and toothbrushes are among them. Marriott and Sheraton both say guests can call the front desk to request them free of charge.

Bedding, from comfortable mattresses to soft sheets, is another evolving aspect of room amenities.

"It's always being looked at and we're always looking for ways to make it better -- not just for comfort but for housekeeping too," says Marriott's Mitchell.

Recently, Marriott's Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites, SpringHill Suites and TownPlace Suites brands had a sheet problem. Sheets that had been washed, dried and folded by staff looked wrinkled by the time housekeeping arranged them on beds. No amount of smoothing out made them look any better. That didn't sit well with hotel managers because disheveled bedding is a big turn-off for guests.

It turns out, those hotels -- unlike Marriott's upper-scale brands like the Renaissance and J.W. Marriott -- are not equipped with ironing tools to get the wrinkles out. Mitchell divulges that hotel sheets feel softer because they're ironed.

So, Mitchell's team went to work with manufacturers to find a solution. After weeks of testing, they came up with "waffled" sheets -- sheets that gave the appearance of ripples, rather than wrinkles, after being washed and dried. The sheets are woven with a mix of cotton and polyester that shrink at different rates which give it a rippled effect, Mitchell says.

Starwood Hotels (HOT) are known for putting a big focus on mattress comfort. Ten years ago, Starwood's Westin brand created the "Heavenly Bed" concept. It was the first all-white bed, and it raised the bar for cleanliness.

"Gone are the days of dark bedspreads. It's a great comfort for guests because they can see the materials are clean. Beds are the largest component of the room, so it also adds brightness," Harper notes.

Hotels have teams dedicated solely to terry and linen products. They're responsible for making sure towels and robes are soft to the touch, long-lasting and can be cleaned using fewer harsh chemicals.

If you're wondering, though, Harper says hotels prefer you leave the towels and robes behind, but go ahead and pack the shampoo.

More from Forbes

Aug 7, 2014 5:41PM

"If you take it, then you must have liked it,"




nah.  it was free and I might use it on another trip somewhere else

Aug 8, 2014 2:15PM
I didn't like it! I didn't use it! I just took it.
Aug 8, 2014 12:37PM
Apparently the geniuses never tried to get a good night's sleep using one of their pillows.
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