From home to the hotel and back again


By Elaine Anselmi, Assistant Editor

When travellers get away, whether for business or leisure, there is a predominant trend in what they are looking for after that long flight, bumpy train ride or noise-riddled car ride; and that’s home. The days of graphic-patterned quilts and pillows that do more for the eye than the head are seeing their final act, and giving way to a bed make-up that is more representative of the average Canadian bedroom. 

“The vast majority of people are looking for something similar to, or something better than, what they have at home,” Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) tells CLN. “When I rent an automobile – I drive a full size car – I don’t want to drive around in some little, cooped-up thing. I want to drive around in something comparable to what I drive on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s typical of most travellers.”

There’s no doubt that beds rank high in the determining factors of whether a guest has a positive stay at a hotel, says Pollard. The HAC Annual Travel Intentions Survey – last released in February 2013 – ranked overall bed comfort at the top of the list, followed by friendly service, complimentary breakfast, free parking and sound-proof rooms.

There are two factors coming out of the importance of beds: “Number one is that our survey says the bed is the most important thing,” says Pollard. “Number two is that guests like it so much they want to buy it.”

Many of North America’s largest hotel chains offer retail programs that allow their guests to purchase the mattress, pillow or bedding from their own product line. Starwood Hotels was one of the first to offer such a program and have seen great success, as have other chains such as Hilton and Fairmont.

“Starwood started the ball rolling and it was picked up by other brands, companies and independent properties,” says Pollard. “All of that is to say that it was an excellent initiative.”

Not to tangle the sheets, but the story is: more and more people are looking for something similar to their bedroom at home, only a slightly better version. And, in turn, some are choosing to bring that up-scaled version of home, back home.

“There’s still a bit of a tug of war between creating a home-looking bed and an operationally efficient bed,” says Graham McMillan, vice-president of Eden Textile.

Under the covers

“Hoteliers are trying to meet the expectations of their guests and many of them are sleeping on better products at home, than they were a decade ago. There are expectations in the accommodation industry to have similar type beds in their hotels,” says Chris McKeough, director of sales—hospitality for Simmons Canada. 

He points to one trend in mattress technology, developing temperature controls within beds to allow users to stay cooler while sleeping. Simmons’ new line Beautyrest Recharge uses foam-encased rails in the mattress structure that allow air to pass through. Similar to mattresses that use gel materials, McKeough says the technology allows beds to breathe and responds to findings that people prefer a cooler sleep.

“That research is done on the retail side,” he says. “But, we can take that and apply it to the hospitality side as well because, really, hospitality guests are just people like you and me.”

As mattress construction develops, cost also increases. With the bottom line an ever-present concern for the operator, Pollard says “you have to recognize the quality of something. You get what you pay for, and better quality has a tendency to last longer.”

Longevity in a product means savings down the road and McKeough points to Simmons’ EverNu replaceable, zippered-mattress tops. The new product gives the option of refreshing the top layers of upholstery on several of their mattress lines. Rather than replacing the entire mattress, operators can give a perfectly good mattress base a whole new life.

One of the top concerns for both guest and hotelier is hygiene in mattresses. From bed bugs to soiling, any sort of cleanliness concern can seriously compromise a guest’s stay and their loyalty to the brand. 

Eden Textile is in the process of releasing a new bedskirt with an integrated mattress encasement that offers protection against bed bugs, vice-president Graham McMillan tells CLN. The product, to be released in September, will keep the look of the bed skirt that many operators prefer, but with easier cleaning options, says McMillan. “Operationally, it’s easy to remove the bed skirt; take it off, wash it and the mattress is already hygienic,” he says.

When travellers get away, whether for business or leisure, there is a predominant trend in what they are looking for after that long flight, bumpy train ride or noise-riddled car ride; and that’s home. The days of graphic-patterned quilts and pillows that do more for the eye than the head are seeing their final act, and giving way to a bed make-up that is more representative of the average Canadian bedroom. 

“The vast majority of people are looking for something similar to, or something better than, what they have at home,” Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) tells CLN. “When I rent an automobile – I drive a full size car – I don’t want to drive around in some little, cooped-up thing. I want to drive around in something comparable to what I drive on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s typical of most travellers.”

There’s no doubt that beds rank high in the determining factors of whether a guest has a positive stay at a hotel, says Pollard. The HAC Annual Travel Intentions Survey – last released in February 2013 – ranked overall bed comfort at the top of the list, followed by friendly service, complimentary breakfast, free parking and sound-proof rooms.

There are two factors coming out of the importance of beds: “Number one is that our survey says the bed is the most important thing,” says Pollard. “Number two is that guests like it so much they want to buy it.”

Many of North America’s largest hotel chains offer retail programs that allow their guests to purchase the mattress, pillow or bedding from their own product line. Starwood Hotels was one of the first to offer such a program and have seen great success, as have other chains such as Hilton and Fairmont.

“Starwood started the ball rolling and it was picked up by other brands, companies and independent properties,” says Pollard. “All of that is to say that it was an excellent initiative.”

Not to tangle the sheets, but the story is: more and more people are looking for something similar to their bedroom at home, only a slightly better version. And, in turn, some are choosing to bring that up-scaled version of home, back home.

“There’s still a bit of a tug of war between creating a home-looking bed and an operationally efficient bed,” says Graham McMillan, vice-president of Eden Textile.

The top sheet

When looking at new products, Roy Johnson, senior director of product improvement for Homewood, says decisions are always influenced by “looking through the lens of the extended stay guest. We want people to feel more comfortable over a longer period of time and make it look and feel more like home,” he says. “We monitor what goes on at home as well as in the industry.”

As in mattress construction, Johnson says temperature control was amongst the feedback he got from guests on their bed covering selection. “We’re moving away from duvets and duvet inserts,” he says. “From a functionality perspective from the guest, they were telling us it was hard to control warmth with the duvet. With a quilted blanket and coverlet they have more control over their sleep experience.”

Along with temperature, the challenge of maintaining crisp, clean sheets has encouraged development of special materials and different bedding practices.

“When a guest walks into a room and the first thing they see is wrinkles, they’re not getting the best image of what is there,” says Kelly Hampton, business development manager for Sysco Guest Supply. 

Many hotels are moving towards polyester sheets in place of cotton or other more wrinkle-prone materials. “Smaller, mid-size hotels can’t accommodate a flatwork iron so they’re having trouble getting that flat top sheet,” says Hampton. “With polyester, if it’s laundered correctly, it’s virtually wrinkle free.”

A crisp top sheet allows housekeeping to triple-sheet beds – a popular technique for the past few years – and maintain a clean, tucked look. With more hotels using this method, printed top sheets offer the splash of colour and look of a bed scarf, without the added material and labour.

Sysco prints several variations of a bedscarf onto a white polyester sheet, long enough to situate the print at the bottom or middle of the bed. “For the price of one sheet, it looks like you’re getting two items,” says Elizabeth Houston, director of corporate accounts and marketing, Sysco Guest Supply. “Operationally, it’s easier for housekeepers because it’s one unit.”

Hampton says some operators prefer a non-tuck version of triple-sheeting, but the challenge is in keeping that top sheet in place without tucking it in. Sysco offers an Easy Fit duvet cover that is comprised of a single sheet with a 20-inch pocket on the top and bottom of the sheet. The duvet tucks into the pockets giving it full and fixed coverage, and the pockets have enough allowance to fold down at the top.

Innovative products and methods alleviate the labour of changing a duvet cover, but offer the same effect. 

Hotels and suppliers are finding ways to provide guests with the same sort of attention to detail and care that goes into their own bed, without exhausting housekeeping when refreshing rooms on a daily basis.

A cushioned landing

In the case of new hotel openings Hampton says, unless it’s brand-mandated, it’s not uncommon to see operators keen to take a pillow home to try it out. “We sample a good number of pillows,” she says. “A lot of these owners want their guests to have an experience like they would have at home.”

With pillow menus and catalogues being offered by several hotel brands, pillows are an important part of the make-up of a bed that offers a great deal of room for variation.

“Eden is seeing our pillow menu, or catalogue, growing fairly consistently,” says McMillan. “People want a medium, a firm, a soft; different options and types of feels.

We’re even at the point where we’re making pillowcases that are firm or soft-embroidered.”

In response to their guests’ comments, Homewood Suites has actually limited the number of pillows on their bed but added in more functional options including a king-size pillow, says Johnson. As well as the king-size, Homewood added a poly-filled pillow to give guests an alternative.

“They’re dressed with an upscale decorative pillowcase, but it’s not just decorative. They’re tone on tone pillows that you can sleep on,” says Johnson.

Houston says, “Where the guest is putting their head; that’s where the guest cares where the cleanliness is.”

Sysco offers an antimicrobial pillow that guards against the growth of bacteria in the case of a spill or contamination. “The problem with pillows is you cannot launder a pillow like you would a sheet,” says Hampton. “To kill any bacteria, if you were to wash and dry it with a hot dryer, you would have a big lump of polyester.”

As well as antimicrobial, anti-allergen pillows are a common sort across hotel brands. “We’ve been in the market with a micro-gel fibre that emulates down,” says Hampton. “It would be very difficult for a person to feel the difference between that and a down pillow.”

The difference is that the micro-gel pillow is washable, anti-allergen and has a competitive price point.

While the concerns of the hotelier are not always those of the guest, the guest’s priorities are certainly top-of-mind to the hotelier. Offering guests an experience that has all of the comforts and considerations of home, with the added luxuries of a hotel, makes for a loyal customer-base. 

The challenge is in meeting the expectations of the guest without sacrificing the needs of the business. The track-record of retail programs for hotel bedding speaks to the success of hotels in finding this delicate balance. Product development in beds and bedding is allowing hoteliers and their guests to sleep better at night.