Deconstructing the bed
When it comes to flooring, carpets, software and supplies, hotel owners can pick their own route. They can cut costs, pick clashing colours and choose their own vendors. But when it’s about beds and bedding, hotel majors run the show.
They ensure these are delivered with great precision in thread counts, the mattress widths, the number of pillows and the smell of the detergent. Brand promise is supplied in the whiteness of the sheets and vendors tell us that the difference between a hotel promising “warmth” as opposed to “efficiency” is also tactile — the former will have a larger dose of fabric softeners, while the latter will choose linen with a thread count of 330 for just the right amount of crispness.
As sleep awareness increases — its deprivation is directly linked to Type 2 Diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer — travellers are more alert to their beds.
Aly Shariff, MD of Premier Inn South Asia — who famously introduced to India the midmarket brand by emphasising its beds were the type the British queen slept on — says research proves the importance of a perfect bed.
The company, he says, worked with 14 focus groups comprising 12 guests each in 2007 before entering India. “We created a mock up room and imported the Hypnos bed for our survey participants.”
The bed ranked high on the list of priorities of a guest. Since then, Shariff says: “We have run online guest satisfaction surveys that throw up a net promoter score. The bed is always among our top-three highest scores. It has never been below 80 per cent positive in Bangalore in the last two years.”
Premier Inn hires a director of bed bouncing, Natalie Thomas based out of Bedfordshire in the UK, whose job is to go around the company’s 6,000 hotels around the world and bounce on the bed to test its coils.
Mattresses preferred by hotels range from those with a high number of coils — Hypnos has 3,000 individually pocketed ones — to coil-less ones made of latex or polyurethane. Factors such as type of foam, number of layers, and whether a mattress has air chambers are differentiators. Among the preferred brands are Sealy, which uses titanium coil-springs for lightness and durability; Hyatt has introduced its Grand Bed in selected regions with a 13.5-inch-thick, non-flip, pillow-top Sealy Posturepedic mattress. Keeping housekeepers and sleepers happy, its Staytight foundation grips linens for minimum disruption.
Another company, Simmons Bedding, lays claim to the first Beautyrest pocketed coil, as well as a “non-flip” mattress design. Its health smart washable top is sustainable. When Starwood, the first hotel chain to start making beds its USP, introduced the Heavenly Bed in Westins in 1999, it came complete a 12-and-a-half-inch-thick Simmons mattress with 900 individual coils, topped with a white duvet, down blanket, five feather-and-down pillows and three, 230-thread-count sheets, including one over the blanket.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts introduced its custom-designed mattress and pillows in 2003. Caroline Cheah, group director of rooms, says: “The beds are custom-designed, with non-flip mattresses and individual pocketed coils. These are complemented by a goose feather and down-filled mattress topper. Hypo-allergenic bedding is also available.”
Since then, fuelled by the boom until 2007, the bed wars have reached unbelievable levels. Westin today even has Heavenly Bath, Heavenly Crib and even the Heavenly Dog Bed. While the hotel group retails the bed on its international website, in India it had customers test the bed at malls in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.
Other hotel majors have their own bed brands. Radisson has the Sleep Number bed. Starwood launched the Sweet Sleeper at its Sheraton chain, and later, the Four Comfort Bed at its Four Points by Sheraton hotels.
Marriott and Renaissance refurbished the entire chain’s beds with upscale properties getting a pillow-top mattress, 300-thread-count sheets, six pillows, a white duvet and a decorative bed scarf across the foot of the bed. Megha Pandey Kakroo, executive housekeeper at Courtyard by Marriott, Mumbai International Airport, says Snoozer or Seally 12-inch mattresses are very good.
“Marriott has a concept of Revive bedding. It has an extra topper which makes the bed even softer. When you put a mattress, with its protector and all, it is usually 10 inches, but the Marriott bed is 14-inch in height. Instead of four we use six pillows, with an extra three in front,” says Manisha Sharma, director of service at the Jaipur Marriott.
Apparently, guests notice the extras. “Two things any guest talks about are the softer beds and the three pillows,” she says.
A typical hotel’s pillow menu allows guests to choose from six types, from anti-snoring to down-alternative microfiber. “Our duvets and pillows are Fogarty. The super deluxe pillows are big and heavy and the duvets are top of the line,” Shariff says.
Between the sheets
While pillow menus and mattress cover get a lot of attention, sheets remain the first point of contact. Thread count, the quality of yarn, finish and colour each indicate the type of hotel. While few hotels go all the way to 300-thread count, the difference comes from pure cotton opposed to a cotton blend.
“At the top-end of the spectrum are those made of 100 per cent cotton. Our clients include properties from the Oberoi Group, the Taj Palace properties and the Leela group hotels,” says Charu Tewari general manager of Atmosphere, a bed-linen company. “We do not supply to hotels that do not use cotton since we only use pure, luxury organic American yarn.”
Housekeepers and procurement managers have numerous tests for examining a good bed sheet. One way is to hold up a sheet to the light — one with higher count will not allow light to shine through.
“Even in 300-thread count the quality of cotton can vary depending on whether it is combed or not, two ply or single ply. That would impact on the finish and the life of the product. We find many procurement managers looking into this. Hotels from the unorganised sector do not look at these factors,” says Deepak Prabhakar, director of Pro Linen, which is conducting trials with many hotels.
Most upscale hotels go with polyester and cotton blends, which are easier to maintain, while maintaining a particular thread count. “For hotels, percale is better since it is easier to maintain — it looks beautiful even after hundreds of washes. Sateen is great for gifting and many of our retail consumers prefer it since it looks glossier. Percale gives you elegance over a long period,” says Tiwari.
While hotels are picky about mattresses and customise them, when it comes to sheet colours, white is the uniform choice. Tiwari says that white wins because it seems hygienic, clean and crisp. Her clients pick up shades such as cream, pearl, snowflake or ivory.
“Many hotels like textures – slim vertical lines, horizontal lines, self-embossed motifs. Pintucks are also very popular in the luxury segment,” she says.
Only smaller, boutique properties get experimental, requesting a flange border, a neat duvet piping cover or different bed skirtings.
“Sometimes boutique hotels want to do something different. But in most cases, we find that they will eventually come back to white. Maintenance is easier and it looks cleaner as it can be put through many more laundry processes,” says Prabhakar.
Washing is an important consideration and Prabhakar says his company is working with a laundry company to understand what enhances the life of linen.
Hotels from Marriott to Premier Inn prefer Eco Lab as their detergent. Tiwari says that his product range has worked well with any of the top detergents and even high quality Ariel. “Some hotels do lab tests for fabrics. They take sheets, wash them and tell us if they are perfect,” he Tiwari. Her feedback includes housekeeping directors telling her if a sheet washed in Mumbai with one product will react differently when washed in Udaipur due to differences in water.
Bed linen companies find it in their interest to work with detailed briefs to create the perfect products for the hotel industry. Italian-made Fabricon textile products come with a special, light-emitting fabric, interwoven with fibre optic-materials to provide a glimmering look that is quite unlike other linen.
Not only do orders average 20,000 to 30,000 metres, but hotels are also influencers for the retail market. “We are launching a hotel range in different colours by February or March. Now boutique hotels in cities such as Raipur and Ahmedabad are coming to the showroom. Hotels from Cochin, Munnar and Goa are coming to see the collection,” Tiwari says.
Internationally, bed and pillow fights are rather serious. Trends include pillow-top mattresses at the Hyatt and Hilton’s Conrad Hotels. Sleep concierges who take care of every sleep requirement, including providing eye pillows, are some of the new add-ons being offered to ensure that a guest’s time in bed is well-spent.
Shariff has the last word: “It is the bedroom, after all.”