Back in 2017, Cornell University did a study on reviews written by hotel guests. Researchers wanted to locate the pressure points – the key factors that cause guests to write the kind of reviews they do. Not surprisingly, comfort came first. Service also had an important influence on the tone and content of a review, while location was less of a factor – namely because guests often have an idea of the hotel’s location before they book.
One of the many other interesting finds from this study (which analysed nearly 95,000 reviews for various Preferred Hotels properties across three booking platforms) is the prevalence of the word “bathroom” in negative reviews.
This won’t come as a surprise to most hoteliers – the bathroom’s importance to the guest experience is well-known, even if the specifics are not well understood. For example, we know that poor-quality housekeeping will generate a backlash, particularly where beds and bathrooms are concerned. We also know that mistakes involving towels or toiletries will bring review scores down.
There are, however, other aspects of the bathroom we understand less. How important are the fixtures, layouts, and design details? Can certain types of lighting have an effect? What types of upgrade will elevate the guest experience to a degree that justifies the cost?
Answers to these questions will vary case-by-case – but in general, a bathroom experience that goes above and beyond expectation will have a positive influence on ratings and reviews. Deloitte’s 2018 travel and hospitality industry outlook points out the importance of midscale hotels to “deliver travellers some of the look, feel, and experience of a pricey lifestyle hotel in an affordable package.” This effect simply could not be accomplished without serious thought given to the bathroom experience. In today’s experience-driven hotel landscape, guests want to feel pampered in ways that really matter. In this respect, bathrooms are ground-zero.
Dialling in the design
When it comes to the look and feel of a bathroom, there is no ‘magic formula’ that works for every hotel. A lot of people talk about “clean lines” and white surfaces – these are popular trends right now, but so is the use of natural materials like wood or bamboo, whether on the walls and underfoot. A comfortable, calming, informal style can score just as many points as a stark and contemporary look. It all depends on how the guestroom itself, and the brand in general, are complemented and reinforced by these decisions.
This blog has written about the rise of bold colours in hotel rooms. In bathrooms, darker colours have been showing up a lot more – namely for the relaxing effect they create. I’ve also seen a lot of hotels installing geometric-pattern tiles in order to give the space more character.
Yet another departure from bland design is the use of exposed plumbing. When this is done carefully and paired with luxurious counterpoints, it can provide a soothing touch of informality. When done badly, it can scream cost-cutting.
Mastering the layout
The “tub versus shower stall” question comes up a lot in conversations around contemporary hotel design. Some guests like to soak. For others, a generously-appointed walk-in shower feels more luxurious, especially with an oversized “rainfall” shower head. The space-saving attributes of a shower stall should definitely be considered – and of course, if there is space for a tub and a shower stall, the bathroom can be elevated to a new level of luxury.
Generally though, most hotels with less than five stars will have to choose between a shower-tub combination and a standalone shower stall. One article from Conde Nast Traveler, entitled Why You Should Never Take Baths on Hotels, provides a lens into how regular travellers are not that keen on baths but that should not deter you from providing a unique bathing experience that can be demonstrably clean.
Storage is another area of focus among hoteliers trying to improve guest experiences through bathroom upgrades. If storage is limited to a small countertop (as it often is), things get cluttered in a hurry. Extra drawers and built-in shelving contribute to a feeling of utility and comfort.
Fine-tuning the details
It deserves to be said that toilet design has a marked effect on the aesthetic of a hotel bathroom. Models with a contemporary look, and/or luxury features like heated seats, can give the room a very big boost. Bidets come and go in fashion, but if you have space, it is a definite talking point.
Bathroom lighting and mirrors are another area where many hotels could do better. Light that is flattering and warm is preferable to that which feels overly-bright and stark. Back-lit and Hollywood-style mirrors can help achieve this effect.
The use of natural materials such as wood, stone, bamboo and hemp are increasingly used as assets to create a natural ambiance, and even to reinforce sustainability values. Toiletries that make use of natural ingredients are likewise growing in popularity.
For most guests, bathrooms are anything but a technology-free zone. Well-placed power outlets and USB charges make it easy use electronic grooming products and charge phones (subject to local regulations of course). A docking station with speakers is another nice touch that invites guests to play their own music whilst they relax and refresh.
The complete package
Where hotel bathrooms are concerned, there are many other details to discuss – but taking a survey of current best practices, and looking for the impulses behind those trends, will help us utilise this room to score valuable points with guests.
Let’s face it, whilst guests do not spend most of their stay in the bathroom, if designed badly, this area can have a major impact on their overall satisfaction. It makes sense then to take the time to get it right.
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