With hotels upping the ante in the amenity wars on a monthly basis, it’s hard to keep up with all the new offerings. In a nutshell, here’s what’s new and bound to appear at a brand near you:
- Specialized services for club-level floors. Now that hotels have gotten as fancy as they can with Egyptian cotton sheets and spa-head showers, expect personalized comfort specialists and menus to start cropping up. At the Fairmont Washington, D.C., Gold Floor guests have access to a new amenity: The Sleep Concierge. The exclusive ninth-floor rooms come with a Sleep Menu, featuring items such as an in-room, 15-minute de-stress neck massage, rose petals for the bath, sleep-inducing teas and lavender cookies, silk eye pillows and teddy bears. Items range in price from $8 to $30 each, and are brought to the room by the Sleep Concierge, who presents the items on a soft, fluffy pillow. Similar services are offered by the Benjamin Hotel in Manhattan and the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel in Toronto. Other perks at club levels include non-stop buffets, complimentary fitness center access and massage chairs.
- Extreme wellness. Americans are overweight, and awareness about the issue has moved from common knowledge to self-consciousness. As a result, hotels are making it easier than ever for guests to eat whatever the trend of the month is. And, they are matching these new menus with enhanced fitness offerings. Hilton Hotels has launched a color-coded system, labeling the items on its 86-item breakfast buffet low-calorie, low-cholesterol, low-fat, high-fiber, high-energy and indulgence, and is installing Precor fitness-sponsored workout facilities in all full-service properties. Other trends are “superfoods” menus (pioneered by Westin Hotels & Resorts), in which foods are served in combinations purported to boost absorption of important nutrients; yoga and tea breaks replacing coffee and danishes; and menus designed to complement meeting goals (e.g., chocolate for relaxing stressful situations, citrus fruit to invigorate ideas).
- Outdoor living/working/dining spaces. Taking a cue from trends in the upscale residential sector, hotels are creating outdoor living/working/social hubs. Case in point is Staybridge Suites’ new “outdoor living room” concept, launching in Spring 2008: Al fresco seating arrangements are fully wired for Internet access and TV watching, and gathered around central amenities such as stacked-stone fireplaces. Properties in warm-weather climes such as Scottsdale, Ariz., have long utilized outdoor gathering areas for breakfasts and sunset receptions. Look for hotels around the country to start opening outdoor living spaces in the near future.
- Luxe amenities and style at budget properties. Because rising hotel rates are crunching corporate travel departments, business travelers often are advised to use budget hotels, which, unlike their upscale counterparts, offer free WiFi Internet and complimentary hot breakfasts. Look for these chains to sweeten the pot by throwing in luxury bath products and other upscale amenities. Another trend in this segment is the introduction of modular hotel rooms at chains such as EasyHotel, Yotel, Pod Hotel and Qbic Design Hotels; these tiny, design-conscious rooms make up in style what they lack in space and are designed to appeal to Gen X, Y and Next.
- Socially responsible meetings. Whether it’s eliminating paper charts and handouts in favor of whiteboards and digital files, or making community service activities more accessible for groups, hotels are looking at ways to enhance their green and giving-back-to-the-community programs. Going green is the most visible trend right now, but look for more chains to institute programs like The Ritz-Carlton’s Meaningful Meetings program, which donates a percentage of total room revenue to the group’s charity of choice. Using a community service project as a team-building activity is another trend on the rise.
- Elaborate, ethnic-inspired menu items. Small luxury hotels belonging to organizations such as Relais & Chateaux and Small Luxury Hotels are leading this trend, where chefs (celebrity and otherwise) are offering menu items such as Japanese bento boxes and escargot risotto to in-room diners. The Muse in New York City can create in-room popcorn bars and deliver custom flavors of homemade ice cream. It’s only a matter of time before these creative offerings become more mainstream.