6 trends changing the hotel industry
Pump bottle on the shower wall or individual shampoos and lotions you can take home? Luxurious tub for a self-indulgent bath or no tub at all? A friendly greeting from a well-informed local or a code transmitted electronically that will open your hotel room door with no human interaction at check-in whatsoever?
Here are some details on six hotel trends bubbling up in the industry right now, and how they affect your stay.
Increasing fees: Your hotel bill may include some unpleasant surprises. Not just the usual $20-a-day resort and amenity fee, which you pay whether or not you use the tennis courts and pool complex, but how about a required $12 housekeeping surcharge or a fee for storing your luggage in the lobby?
Total fees and surcharges collected by U.S. hotels are increasing from $1.7 billion in 2010 to a record $1.8 billion in 2011, according to new research from Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Sports Management. Hanson recommends that consumers ask when getting a rate for a hotel what if any requisite fees will be added to the bill. If you're booking online, you may have to hunt around the listing to see what might be added to the quoted rate in addition to taxes.
Lobbies as social hubs: Colorful seating, free Internet service and trendy cocktail and coffee bars are helping to turn once-sterile hotel lobbies into social hubs. Hanson says while baby boomers might see the lobby as a place to meet at 6 p.m. sharp before heading to a prearranged restaurant location, younger travelers may prefer to gather more informally in the lobby, hang out for a while, socialize and take their time choosing where they'll spend the evening. They might check email, go online using a cell phone or iPad to look for dining recommendations, or try whatever snacks or drinks are readily available from the lobby market or bar.
Hilton's new Home2 Suites extended stay brand was launched earlier this year with a lobby concept designed to bring business travelers out of their rooms. Tables and colorful couches offer inviting space for informal meetings as well as areas where anyone can plop down with a laptop and a beverage rather than sitting alone in a room watching TV.
Disappearing tubs: Unless you're booking a suite, your next stay in a hotel room may not offer the luxury of a bath. Many newly built hotels are offering showers only. Marriott, for example, is "advising our newly built hotels to put showers in 75 percent of the rooms and bathtubs in 25 percent of the rooms," according to Marriott spokeswoman Laurie Goldstein. "Our research shows that business travelers prefer showers to baths but families like the flexibility of a bathtub as well as a shower."
So if you're traveling with a small child who's going to need a bath before bedtime, call ahead to make sure your room has a tub.
Pump dispensers: The advent of pump dispensers in hotel bathrooms is good and bad news for those guests obsessed with the tiny bottles of shampoo and individually wrapped soaps that have been a beloved amenity for decades.
The good news: If you need more shampoo than what may be as little as a half-ounce in those small plastic containers, you can pump as much as you want from the dispenser. No more fighting with your roommate over that tiny bottle or running to the front desk before your 6 a.m. shower to get another one.
You can also feel greener if you use the pump. No more adding plastic throwaways to the waste stream.
The bad news: What if you simply love those little bottles? The hand lotion is the perfect size to slip in your purse; and if you have leftover shampoo, the container is small enough to get through airport security. Or what if you find the pump dispensers unappealing? Some guests think they're unsanitary and prefer to use an unopened individual soap or shampoo.
Fortunately, Hanson says, hotels that have switched to pump dispensers often have complimentary bottles or wrapped soaps upon request at the front desk.
Checking in electronically: Who needs to wait in line at the front desk to check in? Some of Starwood's Aloft hotels are offering "Smart Check-In" to Starwood Preferred Guest program members. Members are sent a keycard with radio-frequency identification technology, and on the day of a planned stay, a text message is sent to the guest's mobile device with a room number. Upon arrival, the guest proceeds to that room, and the keycard will open the door.
The technology is in place at Alofts in Brooklyn and Harlem in New York City, Lexington, Mass., Dallas, Jacksonville, Fla., and London.
Hanson says fully electronic check-in technology is being adapted by the hotel industry very slowly, but even as it becomes more widespread, he expects most hotels will still want staff in the lobbies to welcome guests and provide other services — if only to cater to an older generation that prefers human interaction to a touchscreen.
Locavore options: The locavore and hyperlocal trend that has taken over the food world is fast becoming de rigueur in the hotel industry, particularly at high-end and boutique properties where chefs are growing their own herbs and even hosting their own beehives. The W in San Francisco in September had a local beekeeper, Jack Ip, install hives on a rooftop with a goal of eventually producing honey for use in the hotel menu.
In New York City, the Andaz Wall Street hotel in Lower Manhattan sponsors a farmers market May through November in an arcade next to the hotel where produce, bread and other goods are sold by farmers and other vendors. The Andaz also sells fresh-squeezed juices and sandwiches in the market, and customers include hotel guests and neighborhood residents.
"Guests will come down and mingle with residents," said Andaz spokeswoman Rachel Harrison. "It allows them to feel they're really a part of the neighborhood. We want guests to feel like locals."
Hotel Indigo, which has 30 properties in the U.S. and another eight worldwide, also partners with local vendors and purveyors to showcase local seasonal fare, like a barbecue pork sandwich on the menu at the Hotel Indigo in Asheville, N.C., and a local craft beer called SweetWater served at the Hotel Indigo in Atlanta.
Hotel Indigo is also working with celeb chef Curtis Stone on a contest called "Locals Know Best — Dish on the Dish," in which the public is invited to nominate favorite dishes from neighborhood eateries. The contest runs through Oct. 15 and nominations can be submitted via Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/hotelindigo. You can meet Stone Sept. 30 and give him your recommendation in person at an event at the Hotel Indigo in Chelsea, 127 W. 28th St., from noon to 1:30 p.m.