Usually floors can be completely taken for granted when perfectly laid, but if there’s merely one thing wrong with them, they suddenly become the focus of all guest attention. If they’re laid at the wrong angle or are too smooth or too waxed or too wet, or if the carpet’s given way in patches, or if they’re simply uneven, floors don’t just ruin the interiors scheme, they close out entire areas for business and in extreme cases, can spur lawsuits.

So while hotel floors must be attractive, they need to meet several functional demands. They must be able to cope with a higher degree of traffic than, say, home or office floors, and must necessarily be easy to keep clean.

“Hotels now for the first time are starting to experiment with flooring,” says Gaurav Saraf, Director at floor retailer Square Foot. “They now understand that furniture can be replaced but if you don’t have good flooring it’s very difficult to replace and causes loss of room revenue. Hotel floors are abused by guests and the housekeeping team has access to it only once a day. I wish that hoteliers would look for ease of maintenance, durability and ease of repair, besides the right specifications.”

Raj Menon, Country Manager at modular carpet manufacturers InterfaceFLOR India explains that the importance of good floors goes beyond utility and that they can shape guest choices, even contributing to the image and perception of a brand. “Flooring is one of the biggest elements of any interior space with close to a 25% visual impact. In most cases, designers finalise on the flooring and design the interiors around it. Depending on how it utilised, it can differentiate the space. More money being invested in flooring is always good news for a flooring manufacturer as it gives us the flexibility to explore a wider spectrum of products to cater to the client’s needs.”

Buntaro Higashida, President & CEO of Fuji Koatsu/ Higashida Rubber in Japan, has supplied an “air marshmallow” carpet to the Swissôtel Nankai Osaka. Because it uses an underlay made from EVA plastic and rubber, the same material used for wetsuits and flipflops, it is both eco-friendly and tactile. The new carpets were launched in the hotel’s refurbished Swiss Advantage Rooms.

“In Japan, there is a culture of removing one’s shoes before entering a room or house, which is why high quality flooring is especially important as they come into direct contact with guests’ feet. Guests will notice the comfort levels of the floor,” says Takafumi Kumeno, director of rooms at
the hotel.

Green is good
If there’s one big trend that comes to the fore when speaking to suppliers, it is the need for sustainable, green flooring solutions. “Hotels, like other commercial industries, are getting increasingly environmentally aware and keen on reducing their environmental footprint. LEED-certified hotels are becoming more common these days and customers are looking at materials that contribute on this front,” says Menon.

One of the greenest options on the market today is wood, particularly in the areas of reclaimed and certified floors, where buyers know exactly what they are getting. “In all our ranges we have products from FSC and PEFC certified forests to meet this demand,” says Saraf. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation, which promotes sustainably managed forests through independent third party certification. Forest Stewardship Council is the main alternative forest certification system.

Squarefoot has just rolled out a range of bamboo composite deck flooring for outdoor areas that is made from 100% recycled material and does not require polishing, painting and oiling. Along with cork, bamboo is typically among the most sustainable woods and is increasingly finding favour among ethically conscious suppliers.

However, some architects believe bamboo only works where the climate is moderate. Ganesh Kumar of Metaskapes, Chennai, said in an interview that bamboo is seen as a premium product for those who care for aesthetics and an ethnic look. Available from the North East, it is comparable in price to other floors, and is hard, durable and easy to clean – but limited in terms of colour.

Woven luxury
Carpets are also riding the green wave. Cocoon Fine Rugs, for example, offers recyclable and washable rugs. “The basic raw material used is all natural fibre i.e. cotton, wool and jute,” says director Ayush Choudhary. “Demand for bespoke carpets seems to be on the rise in India. The delivery depends on factors such as size and quality and can range between three to nine months.” Especially created carpets can become a conversation point, as in the case of Le Meridian Chiang Mai in Thailand, which proudly showcases a city map on its lobby carpet.

“The carpet was made to order and designed especially for Le Méridien Chiang Mai... Our guests are always curious once we let them guess what they see in our carpet. When they take a look from the foyer on second floor, the 700-year-city is seen. They try to find where they are or match the places from the map with our carpet,” says a spokesperson.

The carpet was planned in keeping with the hotel’s design philosophy to blend the local culture and traditional with the European style of Le Méridien. Leo Design, based in Thailand, was responsible for creating it. Hotels riding the green wave are now asking for floor coverings to be made from sisal, coir, sea grass, jute or wool. All have a unique natural beauty, are durable and easy to maintain and provide natural sound insulation as well as, in many cases, natural anti-bacterial properties.

Because being ecologically aware can often also translate into economic benefits, hotels are now looking at tiles instead of simply investing in single-piece wall-to-wall solutions. “Traditionally hotels went in for broadloom carpets as the flooring of choice. However, internationally we are seeing several hotels moving away from broadloom carpet to carpet tiles. The long term benefits, ease of maintenance and replacement and reduced wastage have encouraged hotels to move into carpet tiles. We are seeing this trend picking up in India as well,” says InterFLOR’s Menon, whose company has finished a major project using carpet tiles for the Hyatt in Atlanta, USA.

He insists that green needn’t be dull, drab or monochromatic. “It is part of the InterFLOR mission to eliminate any negative impact on environment. As a result we have products with up to 79% recycled content that still satisfies the never-ending appetite of architects and designers for colours and designs.”

Internationally, new properties being in eco-conscious societies such as Australia and Canada are being built from the ground up according to LEED specifications. Like older hotels undergoing refurbishments, they are using recycled and sustainable materials that are ethically sourced.

In India, the Leela Palace Delhi is one such example. The first hotel to be built from the ground up in the capital, it was built to gold LEED standard, and as such, specified.

Hoteliers looking to cater to guest demands in the near future should consider that tomorrow’s guests will make their decisions with the environment in mind. At Starwood’s so-called green trailblazer brand, Element, which has just begun to step out of its North American home with an Oman hotel, floors feature carpets with up to 100% recycled content and recycled carpet cushions.

Suppliers also stress the suitability of hard wood floors for Indian conditions. Says Choudhary: “Hardwood floors work best in India together with area rugs that highlight the overall decor of a setting.”

He says this is a trend that has caught on at high-end boutique hotels with abstract and contemporary area rugs doing extremely well in what is a reflection that Indian decor trends are at par with International trends. “Rather than just wall-to-wall carpets, more contemporary styled rugs are being used. These add to the decor and there is increased usage of carpets as floor-art that add to the beauty of the flooring rather than hide a cheap floor,” he says.

By U Cicely