Little plastic bottles of loyalty

Hotel amenities have always had their special charm for the forgetful traveller. Now many hotels are setting about consciously delighting their guests with branded bathroom products.

Hotel amenities have always had their special charm for the forgetful traveller. Now many hotels are setting about consciously delighting their guests with branded bathroom products.

Susan Howard Memory is president of JRS Amenities, a Vancouver-based company that designs and distributes hotel bath products and other amenities. In the business since the mid-’80s, Howard Memory has observed the shift towards branded products in the last six or so years.

‘The huge thing in this industry in the past three years is the booming growth of hotels, resorts and spas. With that, people need to have differentiation. It may not provide direct measurability, but it will provide an enhanced experience.’

The timing makes sense. The coveted business traveller, who represents both high rates and repeat stays, is increasingly interested in those tiny little soaps and shampoos. A New York University survey conducted in March found that 40% of all business travellers in the U.S. are now female. Among those, 56% consider brand-name bath amenities a ‘must-have’ to be productive. It was the second most popular choice, right behind the mini-bar (71%).

Health and beauty companies know a marketing opportunity when they see one. Upscale beauty brand Aveda has dealt in hotel amenities for 10 years, and not for the money. In fact, the company makes nothing off the venture. ‘We think it’s an effective tool from a sampling aspect,’ says New York-based VP consumer marketing Mark O’Berski.

The salon and spa products appeal to a psychographic more than a demographic, O’Berski explains. ‘We look for the kinds of properties that cater to influencers, properties that are upscale. We’re not in any hotel chains except a couple of boutique hotel groups. Strategically, we look at the properties very carefully before we agree to put our products in them.’

Aveda products are in about 350 hotels in North America, including the classy Le Germaine in Montreal and the luxurious Pan Pacific in Vancouver. The approval process is complex, O’Berski adds. ‘Hotels approach us all the time. We turn some down.’

Vancouver-based Deserving Thyme, maker of ‘aromatherapeutic body and bathing care products,’ launched its amenities business about three years ago with JRS Amenities. The products are now in the luxury Grand Pacific hotel in Victoria, the intimate Long Beach Lodge resort in Tofino, B.C., the guest rooms of the Terminal City private club in Vancouver, and even the goody bags in Air Canada’s Executive First Class.

CEO Mark Deans says the program increases product exposure and brand awareness while driving traffic to the company’s Web site, where consumers can shop online.

One small problem, as with many sampling campaigns, is measurement. Aveda relies on consumer feedback, and ‘listening to the people in our retail operations who will talk about customers coming in after staying in a hotel.’ With products in 130 retail stores and 6,500 salons and spas, Aveda isn’t too hard for hotel guests to find after their stay.

Deserving Thyme monitors Web site visits and tracks e-mails from hotel guests who want to know where they can buy products (available in select Bay and Sears outlets as well as spas and boutiques) but has no way of tracking telephone inquiries along the same lines.

Measurement is also tricky on the hotel side of things but that hasn’t stopped some hotel directors from spending a little extra on branded amenities for their guests.

Daniel Craig, director of sales and marketing for Vancouver-based boutique hotel Opus, says that hotel tried multiple products before its grand opening last September. Opus decided on sample-sized products from L’Occitane en Provence, a high-end luxury brand from southern France with an office in Toronto.

‘One thing you’re up against is deciding between getting a product you can brand yourself or going with a name brand,’ says Craig. ‘We decided that it was more critical to associate with a luxury brand that is fairly well-known internationally. We spend more on this product than most hotels would, but it just adds to the experience of staying here. We’re an independent hotel with just 97 rooms. We really have to differentiate ourselves.’

Craig attributes the products to some very happy customers, and believes it’s a contributing factor for repeat business. L’Occitane also benefits. ‘People often ask about where to get it,’ Craig says.

Morag Donald, a senior travel consultant for Mississauga, Ont.-based Maritz Canada, is skeptical about amenities as a loyalty driver for hotels. ‘I think amenities are almost a point of entry. The Four Seasons uses Aquitane; you expect that from the Four Seasons. Other hotel chains have generic products that are fitting for those chains. You just expect those will be there.’

According to Deans, however, exceeding expectations is just the point.

‘If it’s a four- to five-star program, we try to exceed that guest’s expectations by offering things in the amenities program that they’ve never seen before. If it’s a three- to four-star property, we try to exceed the quality of what they’ve experienced in a hotel room. By doing that, you’re probably doing more for your business than not even considering that small opportunity.’

Howard Memory notes that sensual experience can have lasting effects for a brand. ‘I have a client in Hawaii whose whole theme is pineapples and cream. We created this signature scent for them. It helps promote an aura, an ambiance. And our sense of smell is most important for our memory.’