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Guestroom, DoubleTree West Edmonton.

Guestroom, DoubleTree West Edmonton.

By Don Douloff

Imagine detesting a hotel bed so much that you choose to sleep on the floor or in the bathtub rather than on the in-room mattress. Yet that’s precisely what a handful of respondents indicated in a sleep survey conducted in late 2013 by global research firm Ipsos, polling travellers from the U.S., Great Britain, Russia and China. Thirty per cent of respondents said they have requested a room change or taken other action — including snoozing on the floor and in the bathtub — when their hotel bed didn’t meet their needs.

Even though requesting a room change is far less extreme than catching forty winks on hardwood or enamelled steel, it still speaks volumes about the importance travellers place on their hotel beds.

“Hotel guests expect, at a minimum, the same comfort they have at home — if not more — when they stay at a hotel,” said Jean-Pierre Bissonnette, sales director at mattress manufacturer Simmons Canada.

“Trends come and go, but one that has remained for over a decade has been the plush mattress,” said Bissonnette. “The days of the firmer, thinner commercial mattress are gone. A more recent trend is temperature management. Beds often produce heat due to different materials such as memory foam; most guests prefer sleeping in a cool environment. Another trend is personalizing the guest sleep experience.”

“The industry has moved up in value and specifications. Now, people want comfort and a better night’s sleep,” said Denis Jones, vice-president of regional sales at Serta Canada. “Ten years ago, hotels didn’t talk about (beds’) selling features. Now, the hospitality industry is asking for comfort features.”

Currently trending are bigger hotel mattresses — “there’s been a move to queen- and king-sized beds,” said Jones — and such features as anti-microbial fabrics and gel comfort layers.

Cosmetically, beds, traditionally white, now feature colours such as greys, beiges and blues. Pillowtops account for about 75 per cent of hospitality sales and add more perceived value and increased comfort, said Jones.

Serta has joined forces with the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) to design the all-new Perfect Sleeper, the only official mattress of the NSF, engineered to help solve five common sleep problems — tossing and turning; lack of support; sleeping too hot or too cold; partner disturbance; and mattress roll-off or sag. The Perfect Sleeper mattress collection combines Serta’s advanced continuous support innerspring with pressure-balancing design.

Another trend is the use of platform beds, according to Amy Jakubowski, managing director and partner at San Francisco-based hospitality design firm Puccini Group, and Rebecca Litwin, owner of bedding retailer Down etc. “In replacing the box spring, it is essentially and substantially more functional for hoteliers by eliminating the need for a dust ruffle.”

As for top-of-bed esthetics, Sysco Guest Supply Canada offers Connoisseur decorative white top sheets. A twist on the traditional white bed, the 100-per-cent polyester top sheet is 6 ounces per square yard, for quick machine wash and dry, and durable, to withstand the rigours of hotel laundry. Sheets are oversized to fit 12- to 14-inch mattresses, and allow for tuck-in programs.

“A typical guest spends 40 per cent of their stay in bed, so they are actively seeking hotels that address sleep quality,” said Marc de Grave, vice-president of business development at Protect-A-Bed. “Hotels are responding by offering everything from special mattresses, pillow menus, high-thread-count linens, as well as waterproof and allergen-proof mattress and pillow protection.”

Protect-A-Bed’s products include the AllerZip smooth mattress encasement that protects against allergens, dust mites and bedbugs; the BugLock Plus mattress encasement with Secure Seal to protect against bedbugs; the rip-resistant Box Spring Plus encasement; and the spill- and stain-resistant basic mattress protector.

On the bedding front, “four- and five-star hotels are favouring boutique styles — trendy prints and patterns — rather than white,” said Heidi Luber, president and owner of Lubertex, a Montreal-based supplier of bedding and bedding supplies to the hotel industry. In addition, “some big hotel chains are trying boutique looks, even in polyester, which is decorative and lower-cost than cotton.”

“In order to differentiate themselves from their multinational branded counterparts, many independent hotel operators often find themselves deciding to either cut linen spending and compete on price, or increase linen spending and compete on quality,” said Jeffrey Courey, chief operating officer at George Courey Inc., a wholesaler of bedding products such as linens and bedspreads. “The end result has been overwhelmingly to increase their quality of linen, which considerably raised linen standards across all hotel categories. What used to be a typical quality expectation in a three-star hotel 15 years ago is no longer accepted by the end user.”

A key indicator of quality for bedding products is thread count (number of threads per square inch). Increasingly, hotels aim to offer a thread count of 200 and higher, “aspiring to satisfy the growing expectations (of) their guests,” said Courey.

“Embroidery is the most relevant trend that we are seeing in terms of bedsheet styles,” said Jakubowski and Litwin. “There has also been a move towards personalization, with everything from initialled pillows to hand-woven and beautifully crafted white bedsheets with bright accents and throw cushions. You will start to see colour introductions in the sheets themselves.”

To maintain the quality of their sleep experience, hotels must consistently provide clean and soft bedsheets, which “requires a complex knowledge of chemistry, equipment, water conditions, soil levels and the wash process, so make sure you use a laundry product supplier that understands all aspects of your laundry operation, not just the chemicals they are selling,” said Mike Brown, senior marketing manager, Ecolab, Institutional Canada, a supplier of cleaning and sanitation chemicals and programs to the accommodation and foodservice industries. “Your supplier’s ability to train and support your housekeeping and laundry employees with monthly site visits is also key, as proper care of bedsheets and inspection of wash formulas will reduce your replacement costs.”

Hoteliers are certainly working hard to meet guests’ high sleep expectations. 

Recently, for example, the Holiday Inn Express brand introduced an updated design for all new and renovated hotels in the U.S. and Canada. Holiday Inn Express hotel guestrooms with the updated design feature a noise-reducing bed headboard, made from materials that decrease noise between guestrooms, according to Jennifer Gribble, vice-president, Holiday Inn Express, Americas, IHG.

Atlific Hotels has “adapted changeable topper pads into our offering, to make sleeping options more luxurious and to extend the life of the mattresses,” according to Philippe Gadbois, senior vice-president, operations. “We are looking into moving away from the traditional metal frame to a solid boxed platform bed, as this could potentially cut down on design cost when factoring in fabric cost.”

In April, W Hotels Worldwide announced a partnership with rock musician will.i.am and the Coca-Cola Company, whereby the hotel brand will outfit their beds with new EKOCYCLE branded sheets, which are made in part with rPET (polyester partially made using recycled plastic). According to a release, these more sustainable sheets are made using the same process as the W brand’s current bedding, with the only difference being the use of recycled (instead of new) polyester.

Hampton has recently revamped comforters and changed the design, according to Warren Bowles, regional general manager, Manga Hotels Inc., adding that the major change has been the inserts of the duvet. 

“The new ones maintain their form better. Think back to the days of just the comforters and really how often they ever got laundered. Now with the clean white linen and washing the duvet covers on every checkout, (guests) are guaranteed a clean bed.”

CASE STUDY: THE FOUR SEASONS BED

In early 2014, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts introduced The Four Seasons Bed. Featuring an innovative mattress system developed by the hotel chain in partnership with mattress manufacturer Simmons, The Four Seasons Bed offers travellers the opportunity to effectively choose their own hotel bed and personalize their sleep experience. 

The bed offers three levels of firmness, along with a variety of pillows and bedside amenities.

The exclusive Four Seasons mattress features “Gel Touch Foam Center” technology to absorb extra heat, ensuring maximum comfort throughout the sleep, according to information provided by the hotel company.  

Additional features (but not exclusive to Four Seasons) include pocketed coil motion separation, and air cool foam rails to release heat.

Key to the bed’s ability to customize the sleep experience are the Four Seasons toppers — available in Signature, Signature Plush or Signature Firm — developed based on in-depth guest and staff feedback, and the result of extensive factory testing.

The standard configuration for each bed is the Signature topper. Should guests wish to make their sleep firmer, or more plush, they can request a change through the front desk. If the hotel knows guests’ preferences ahead of time, housekeeping can prepare the bed accordingly before they arrive. Guests returning to a Four Seasons hotel will find their favourite topper in place when they arrive.

The toppers are attached to the mattress with a fitted zipper, allowing housekeeping to make the switch in minutes without moving the mattress:

If a guest finds that the Signature topper does not meet their sleep needs, hotel staff will identify the guest’s preference (Signature Plush or Signature Firm).

Housekeeping then unzips the Signature topper and replaces it with the customer’s preferred topper.

The Four Seasons Bed is now available in 77 of the brand’s 94 properties, according to Scott Taber, senior vice-president, rooms.

“Given the interest and demand for the new bed today, and the natural life cycle of mattress replacement, it is expected all Four Seasons properties will have the new bed, in some capacity, by 2017,” said Taber.

Since the bed’s launch, “guest feedback has been phenomenal, reinforcing our ongoing commitment to delivering the ultimate customized sleep experience for our guests,” he said.