Decadent bath setups, branded products, bespoke F&B experiences and personal butlers — in-room experiences are no longer about the basics

Most hotels are now looking at upping their in-room strategies

Among my most enduring image of a plush hotel room is at Aman-i-Khas, the Aman group’s rustic luxury property at Ranthambore. There, in a luxury tent equipped with the best of facilities, are suites that are so artistically designed, they just don't fit into the outback we are in. Till you remember that this is Rajasthan, and that is how the erstwhile royalty lived and travelled. The suite has all the luxury basics . However, there are those extra touches that makes an Aman stay so much of an indulgence: a square diwan bang in the middle for you to lounge on; a marble bathtub which the housekeeping team draws up every evening, as the sun goes down on the wild country around, for your soaking pleasure; a vanity area that is as big as the bathtub area, but on the opposite side of the living space, and lovely planter’s chair placed right at the front, seated on which you can enjoy an indulgent foot massage by the spa team.

Besides, every guest has his or her personal Man Friday, who checks you in and out within your luxury tent, and takes care of your every need, including your safety. Not only are you given a handphone using which you can call him, but on the side of the bed is a special bell that rings in his room. This is luxury in-room service at its best. Most hotels are now looking at upping their in-room strategies. A happy guest, ultimately, is a repeat guest and what better way to ensure loyalty than to offer interesting in-room amenities.

Chandrashekhar Joshi, general manager, JW Marriott Jaipur

According to Chandrashekhar Joshi, general manager, JW Marriott Jaipur, amenities such as bathrobes, hairdryer, alarm clocks, ironing boards, safe lockers, mini-refrigerator are the basics. Even tea and coffee stacks are a regular in-room amenity. However, what brand you offer makes and breaks your image. At the suites in Fairmont Jaipur, guests are treated to Goodwyn Tea, a premium quality tea with a large range of infusions. At W Goa, expect to find custombranded Kelzai bottles of water and the exclusive Makaibari Tea.

Beyond the basics

However, hotel suites are now more than just luxury rooms to sleep in; they can also be at the centre of indulgent experiences. If luxury experience is the word, no one does it better than Taj’s palace hotels. Butlers and the housekeeping team detail out the smallest of preferences which help personalise a guest’s stay.

Mehrnavaz Avari,general manager, Umaid Bhawan Palace

Umaid Bhawan Palace’s general manager Mehrnavaz Avari offers an insight, “Our guests appreciate the small touches that we leave behind in the rooms, such as a palace logo bookmark along with their book placed by the bed. During our evening service, we place souvenirs in the room, such as luggage tags with the palace logo or a camel leather diary, cufflinks with Umaid Bhawan insignia, silk scarfs, customised perfumes by royal perfumers, traditional woolen shawl ‘pattu’ for the gentlemen and Rajputi rings for the ladies. We share these beautiful memories with our guests along with a personalised note emphasising the local origin of these gifts.”

The process of personalisation and customisation at Umaid Bhawan Palace starts once guests reserve accommodation. The team relentlessly works to ascertain personal preferences by researching profiles online, understanding their interests and incorporating them in the essential services. This could be as basic as a non-smoking room preference to an exceptionally complex dietary requirement based on food allergen.

According to Avari, luxury is no longer about products, given the global shift in consumer behaviour. “It is clear that experiences have a higher weightage over material things and amenities such as silk robes and stocked up minibars. What really sets a luxury palace hotel apart is providing authentic and genuinely personalised experiences, based on individual preferences. Our guests want their adobe to be set at the very precise temperature they like and the bed to be made as per their preference.” At Umaid Bhawan Palace, for instance, the team adds personal touches to the room by placing well-researched family pictures discreetly in the suite.

Fairmont Jaipur

Bespoke experiences, clearly, is what differentiate a regular hotel from a superlative one. Hotels such as Fairmont Jaipur specialise in personalised in-room setups to celebrate special occasions, from birthdays to anniversaries. The hotel also offers kid-friendly
amenities and services within the room — they are welcome by the royal mascot, ‘Prince – the parrot’ and are gifted a kids’ kit bag that includes a slate, chalk and a Rajasthani puppet. Often, the housekeeping staff sets up a special small tent, besides baby slippers and bathrobes. Among the bespoke amenities within their suites, St Regis Mumbai counts eco-friendly luxury products from a local company that  help create awareness about the environment.

Vijay Wanchoo, Sr. EVP & GM, The Imperial New Delhi

Guests staying at The Imperial New Delhi’s ELIZA rooms booked by single women travellers are pampered with gifts such as manicure sets, an essential kit from Forest Essentials and hand-crafted flower arrangements. “From room amenities to bathroom accessories, the rooms have everything a woman can imagine. Eliza rooms have enhanced security measures; the calls are screened before they are put through. The rooms have female housekeeping staff and lady butlers. The most interesting aspect is the ‘feminine touch’ — the soft linen and the bathrobe are in shades of pink,” adds Vijay Wanchoo, Sr. EVP & GM, The Imperial New Delhi.

Sonali Banerjee, director of rooms, JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru

For most hotels, single women travellers have emerged as a good market. JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru offers silk bathrobes and potpourri takeaways. Sonali Banerjee, director of rooms says, “Sweet little gestures make a great impact on a guests’ overall experience, especially solo business travellers.”

Aman Dhoundiyal, director of rooms, W Goa

Ultimately, as Aman Dhoundiyal, director of rooms, W Goa contends,  guests remember personalised service and amenities. “Preempting their needs and delivering more than their expectations goes a long way in making a guest's stay memorable.”

Curating F&B experiences

F&B experiences play a rather important role in in-room amenities and services; good food helps to enhance any travel experience, often adding heft to the revenue stream in the hotel. Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, which has won several accolades, offers a superlative in-room dining experience — the minibar is stacked with premium chocolates and beverages. Exotic fruit platter, daily turndowns, fruits, Indian mithai, designer cakes, cheese platters, wines and homemade molded chocolates are placed in the rooms. Often, a private meal experience is arranged in the suite's sit-out. According to Avari, once the team has figured out what a guest's passions or interests are, the palace hotel’s expert pâtissier creates designer cakes — it could mean recreating their favourite sports car or beautiful ornamental jewellery for lady guests.

Most hotels, in fact, are placing F&B experiences at the heart of inroom services. Devina Thapliyal, director – housekeeping at The St Regis Mumbai says that the chefs at the hotel cook up seasonal and innovative dishes which offer a local flavour. At JW Marriott Jaipur Resort & Spa, the culinary team or chefs curate welcome amenities as per guest preference, profile or reason for their stay. “The personalised in-room menus are created for single women travellers, pregnant women, kids, a couple onhoneymoon, or guests travelling on business. We also offer candlelight dinner in our villa room categories,” says general manager Chandrashekhar Joshi.

Umaid Bhawan 

At Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Centre, besides the daily dessert platter, the team left some interesting cocktails, a gin kit with gin, mixer and a juice along with a recipe of a gin-infused cocktail (a great way to promote their in-house gin bar) and even a bottle of Veuve Clicquot for me. The Roseate New Delhi organises unique dining experiences by the pool deck in all the Roseate Pool rooms, which have private access to the waterbodies.

Varun Babbar, Front Office Manager, Sheraton Grand Bangalore

The Imperial New Delhi sends out signature cakes from their patisserie La Baguette, along with a bouquet arrangement to help guests celebrate special occasions. Small gestures, as much as the big ones, make a lot of difference. As Varun Babbar, Front Office Manager of Sheraton Grand Bangalore contends, “We leave infused water with a note saying “We care for you and hope you enjoyed the work out” for those who gym, to enhance the stay experience.”

Decoding the hospitality amenities market

Kapil Keswani, country head, Kimirica Hunter International, which works with several big global hospitality groups, such as Marriott and Hyatt, on creating new standards and the future of the market.

You work with a lot of global as well as independent luxury hotels. What is the difference in the kind of amenities they look for?
International hotel brands such as Hyatt, Marriott and Four Seasons typically look to offer their guests international retail amenity brands such as June Jacobs, Pharmacopia, Portico, Christian Lacroix and Byredo, which are globally recognised. Independent luxury hotels in India such as Della, HRH Group of Hotels and Sahara Star, on the other hand, offer a boutique bespoke amenity range specially customised for their property.

Do you customise some of the amenities for hotels?

There was a lack of bespoke capabilities available with brands when we began out, so we designed the ‘Kimirica Bespoke Amenity Program’. We started making custom exclusive fragrances, custom labels and packaging for hotels with wide options of bottles, caps and tubes. For Della Resorts, we have customised a 50ml luxury Royal De Collecte bottles with eco-friendly in-room amenity range. For Westin, we have designed 30 ml of the Heavenly Spa Amenity range, which is a signature Westin fragrance used globally at all their properties. For Sheraton, we manufacture a special custom fragrance called Le Grand Bain for all properties across the globe.

How do you perceive is the future of the hotel amenities market?

Kimirica Hunter is in process of develop India’s first and largest hotel amenity park that will offer global supplies of hospitality products, with a focus on regions such as Middle East, Africa and Europe. The new project will roll out in Indore Madhya Pradesh with a massive capacity expansion.

Indulgent beds and luxurious décor

There are comfortable beds, and then there are the luxuriously decadent beds that allow you to sink in and offer pillow menus. At Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, the emphasis is on linen of the finest quality and a pillow menu that allows guests to choose the right type, as per individual comfort. In fact, a pillow menu is at the heart of most bespoke bed experiences at other hotels too.

Shilpa Kosambia, director of housekeeping, Sofitel Mumbai

At Sofitel Mumbai, guests can enjoy the group’s exclusive MyBed that is ergonomically designed and boasts seven layers, with an
overlay of mattresses, duvets and a sleep menu. Shilpa Kosambia, director of housekeeping at the hotel reveals, “We have also introduced the musical pillow as part of the sleep menu for guests who are music lovers. Sofitel’s trademark MYBED™ is an all-feather bed combined with an extra light down duvet sleep. It is a tribute to the French bedtime and rising ritual from the medieval era.”

The signature W Bed, found across all W properties, have lavish 350-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, pillow-top mattress and plush pillows to ensure an ultimate sleep experience. “For those who prefer a firmer mattress, we can also adapt the W Signature Bed to meet their needs. Every evening, we offer a turndown service where the bed is prepped up for nap time and all the guest needs to do is tuck themselves in,” says Dhoundiyal.

Sometimes, the décor of a suite itself becomes an amenity that swathes guests in sheer luxury. As Vijay Wanchoo, S. EVP & GM The Imperial, New Delhi says, “Luxury, for me, is experiential. It is a grand culture, both individualistic and distinguished. One can sink into a world of unprecedented excesses and be close and personal with sheer magnificence in the rooms. Porthault linen, Bvlgari and Fragonard amenities with lavish furnishings accentuate the old-world architecture of the hotel.”

The bath amenities

The idea is indulgence, so among the in-room experiences that hotels list is rejuvenating bath. But this isn’t just another bath. Taj’s palace hotels are known for their exclusive offerings, as Avari contends, “We have developed an exclusive range of bath amenities in collaboration with Forest Essentials, which are very unique to the palace. These are customised keeping in mind local touches of Jodhpur and are infused with Indian fragrances. We offer Maharajan and Maharani bath set-ups, which include a body scrub, a shower oil, bath salts and a body cream. Our special bath turndowns are set-up with candles and rose petals for an indulgent experience.”

W Goa 

For luxurious relaxation, Fairmont Jaipur offers curated bath bombs and bath cocktails, besides hedonistic rose bath setups. The highlight of the expansive bathrooms in the guest suites is the gargantuan Hamam' bathtubs carved out of brown granite stone. A believer in the concept of environment sustainability, the luxury hotel uses bathroom amenities from Le labo, a boutique perfume company based in New York, which focuses on directly sourced natural ingredients and use of recycled bottles to pack the products.This, in-turn, boosts the wellness offering within the rooms.

St Regis hotels, including St Regis Mumbai has empaneled Laboratoire Remède', a bath and beauty collection that blends science and botanical ingredients. Sometimes, the suites and their bath areas resemble a decadent spa rather than a hotel room. Jal Mahal suite
in Evolve Back Hampi, which is inspired by the water palace within zenana enclosures, boasts separate dining, living and sleeping areas, and a royal sized bath with its own open courtyards. Every suite comes equipped with a personal Jacuzzi and spacious bathtubs are incorporated into the design.

Several hotels have exclusive tieups with luxury beauty brands for their range of bath products. Sofitel Mumbai celebrates its French roots by offering luxurious French bathroom amenities with essential oils of Amber Orange. W Goa’s bath experiences include a personalised petal or foam bath.

The brand story

Arvind Kochar, senior advisor — business development, Oriental Lotus Hotel Supplies

The focus of hotels on offering bespoke experiences and indulgent products within rooms has led to the rise and rise of either specialised brands that offer great products, or even established players focusing on special lines for the hospitality industry. Arvind Kochar, senior advisor — business development, Oriental Lotus Hotel Supplies says that in-room amenities have the ability to make or break a hotel’s image.

Oriental Lotus Hotel Supplies focus on environment friendly products to meet the new demand for sustainability

“Mediocre amenities will only invite negative comments in social media and on other rating sites.” Oriental has customised amenities for hospitality groups across categories — from the Taj Group to Ginger Hotels, Lemon Tree Hotels, the Ascott Group (Chennai) and Golkonda Hotels (Hyderabad). Brands such as Inara are putting in product research and development to come up with personalised products.

Inara is putting in product research for innovative amenities

Aditya Kumar of Mountain Valley Springs India, which makes the Inara brand says, “Last summer, we launched the Water Lily and Citrus Leaf collection for the Marriott premium brands, which is available in 23 units including Marriott Resorts, Le Meridiens, Renaissance and Marriott Suite & Apartments. We received rave reviews and feedback on this collection from guests who were keen to buy the range, which is completely free of sulphates, parabens, colouring agents or synthetics, for their personal use.” Inara uses the finest quality ingredients to create products that are authentically Indian and qualitatively global. “Our innovative extraction processes and traditional know-how leverage the natural benefits of the plants. The emphasis is on following sustainable practices. Hotels now prefer handmade luxurious amenities, which contain natural aromatic oils, essential oil aromas and nourishing salts,” says Kumar.

Executive Suite, JW Marriott Bengaluru 

Hotels, clearly, are looking for responsibly-sourced amenities, including cruelty-free line of products that are environmentally sustainable, including recyclable water bottles and disposables. According to Kochar, most hotels order people-centric products such as kids’ kits or single ladies kits as special amenities, besides environmentally sustainable products. “Bio-degradable packaging and products such as toothbrush and comb are a huge hit in a conscious effort to reduce plastic waste. Hotels are compelled to become more environment friendly to meet governmental regulations on waste disposal; guests themselves are very familiar with environmental issues.”

Turndown service and departure gifts

Hotels often add special touches to turndown service by leaving  little thoughtful gifts. If at Niraamaya Retreats, the housekeeping staff leaves little cards explaining either an Ayurveda concept or a culinary ingredient and its importance in Ayurveda, at Fairmont Jaipur, traditional souvenirs are placed in the room along with a handwritten note. The Imperial New Delhi leaves a box of signature SUFI oils from The Imperial Spa as a take home memory in some of the suites.

At JW Marriott Bengaluru, guests are treated with Channapatna toys as iconic souvenirs from Karnataka. Sheraton Grand Bangalore’s takeaway gifts, particularly for their long-stayed guests include fridge magnets with some iconic monument from Bengaluru, Channapatna toys and keys chains. My favourite memory of the best turndown service and takeaway gifts was once again at an Aman property. Amankora Thimphu had asked a Buddhist monk to bless our onward journey and offer us a silk scarf or the khat. The team would leave beautiful books on wildlife in the region or short stories written by Bhutanese authors during turn down service.

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