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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Why Luxury Hotels Spend So Much Time Deciding on Bathroom Amenities

The general manager of Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Paris once told me that “the bathroom says everything about a hotel.” It's true. Focusing on the bathroom amenities — the soaps, lotions, and potions — provides a valuable insight into the brand story.

This story originally appeared in the Skift New Luxury Newsletter, for which I am the luxury correspondent.

Bathroom at the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour
Let’s face it, you often judge a hotel by the amenities it keeps. If you find a bar of Cashmere Bouquet soap and some flimsy unbranded, unopenable packets of shampoo, you know you’ve arrived at an ultra-budget hotel.

On the other hand, should the likes of Acqua di Parma or Le Labo populate the counter, it’s likely you are paying a pretty penny for your room.

The process behind selecting bathroom amenities is an exercise in brand alignment, especially in the luxury space. Top hotel companies have been known to get themselves in a lather about choosing the perfect product line.

Skift spoke with product development and brand management pros at Four Seasons and Sofitel about the selection process. Coincidentally, both hotel companies are in the midst of changing up their amenity lines, both processes years in the making.

Four Seasons was looking to make a change from primarily using L’Occitane and Bulgari products, while Sofitel wanted to modernize its approach beyond solely Hermès and Lanvin. In both cases, the companies wanted to update the amenity offerings, while ensuring the labels chosen were in alignment with the luxury image both brands convey.

According to Isabelle Laroque, director of product development at Four Seasons, the reimagining of the company’s amenity program has had a couple of different iterations.
“At first, we had the idea of capturing a sense of place in a literal way, by finding local products. But as the process went along, we decided that luxury transcended place,” she said. The local tie was not as important as an affiliation with a luxury brand that resonated in the market.

That’s when Laroque “started scrubbing the luxury market – not just in hospitality. I went to Paris, London, and other big markets and looked at the higher brands on the retail side.” It was important to look at the retail market, she said, because “people react better to products they actually buy.”

Next, Laroque and the procurement team reached out to amenity distributors and cosmetic lines. In all, Four Seasons saw 170 contenders. According to Laroque, it only considered 120. Those then went through a vetting process with a strict list of considerations.
One factor was gender neutrality. “We think about gender purposefully,” Laroque said. “We want something with a wide appeal... that not only is unisex but doesn’t have an overpowering scent.”

Then, there's packaging. “We prefer packaging that is more reflective of the actual retail product. We also consider how bottles feel, how the product flows out of the bottle, how easy the screw cap is to open … every aspect. Can you read the label without putting on your reading glasses?”

Four Seasons wanted to give their hotels a broad selection of brands from which to choose, so it settled on 19 for its new portfolio. “We wanted to tighten the supply chain, but we felt having 19 lines provided the right combination of craftsmanship and best in category.”
Hotels are currently in the process of sampling the brands and will make decisions in the fall. By next summer, all hotels will be using their newly chosen lines.

Sofitel is also in the process of reviewing its amenity offerings. According to Joao Rocco, vice president for luxury brand management, the French hotel brand is “in the process of finalizing the product slate – most likely, we will have five luxury lines spanning four luxury brands (including Hermès and Lanvin) to cater to different markets and their regional preferences.” The new products will be in bathrooms next year.

While Sofitel’s main criteria is selecting luxury brands it wants to associate with, its job is a bit easier than that of Four Seasons. That’s because, as a French brand with a French ethos, Sofitel is sticking to brands sharing its national art de vivre.“Since Sofitel is a French brand and we carry that in our DNA, as an ambassador of France, our amenity brands must be French,” Rocco said.

Sofitel’s change process started with a survey of 2000 luxury hotel guests in 10 markets. “We wanted to understand their expectations and the brands they prefer,” Rocco said. The first lesson Sofitel learned: it’s important to have branded amenities, as opposed to creating your own brand.

The survey found that 76 percent pay attention to the brand products. And in developing markets, the results showed a known brand is even more important.“Guests are expecting to see a high-quality luxury brand but are not necessarily expecting to see the same brand everywhere," Rocco said. "They like the surprise."

In addition to looking at survey results, Sofitel looked at scents and cents. “There are varying perceptions of scent in different parts of the world – and we want to cater to those,” says Rocco. Sofitel also considered the cost of shipping and import taxes. Even though the amenities chosen will be French, those brands that have packaging operations in China and South America, for example, might have a leg up economically.

In today’s environment, a discussion of bathroom amenities isn't complete without bringing up the matter of dispensing with small bottles altogether. But most in the luxury space balk at bulk.

“Of course, we think about being more environmentally-conscious,” Rocco said. “But when we ask if [bulk containers are] something that people are willing to accept, the answer is loud and clear. Seventy-two percent of the survey respondents said dispensers don’t convey luxury, while 87 percent get the impression that they are being used to reduce costs.”
Laroque agrees that “using bulk amenities is a very big conversation right now. And in places like Costa Rica, where they have high regulation in terms of plastic disposal, and in remote, remote properties, we might use bulk ... but would do so in residential quality curated containers.” That said, she concurs that for the Four Seasons customer, “Bulk usually seems utilitarian.”

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