September 4, 2005 in Travel

All the comforts at home

Tanya Bricking Leach Associated Press
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu offers many items from its rooms for sale, including the pink ceramic candle holders that decorate tables at the beachside Mai Tai Bar.
(Full-size photo)

HONOLULU – Like that curved shower rod in your hotel bathroom? The embroidered pillow on the bed? The martini glasses you saw down at the bar?

The latest vacation souvenirs may be as close as a hotel Web site, because these days just about everything in the room can be bought – for a price.

Designers call it “hotel-at-home” decorating. It was pioneered five years ago by Westin Hotels & Resorts’ heavily marketed “Heavenly Bed,” which was supposed to bring a little bit of luxury to travelers who wanted nothing more than a good night’s rest.

But the trend is much more than selling people the bed they just slept in, or even giving them a legitimate way to keep a towel with a hotel logo on it.

It’s about selling the feeling of bringing the vacation home.

“When we did the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, we used a beaded curtain with a traditional Hawaiian hula dancer on it as the closet partition, and guests loved it,” says Holly Boling-Ruiz, associate senior designer at Philpotts and Associates, a Honolulu design firm whose clients include hotels.

Vacationers at Hawaii resorts want to know where they can get everything from chairs to coconut shell dishes.

“In the old days, hotels put up signs that said, ‘If you really like this robe, it’s for sale in the gift shop,’ ” says Robert Mandelbaum, who researches hotel industry trends for PKF Consulting in Atlanta.

These days, he says, “it’s not just robes. Hotels are becoming more residential in feel, and guests can afford to pay a premium to bring that concept of comfort home.”

Take, for example, the Heavenly Bed, a cushy, 121/2-inch pillow-top mattress that the Westin, owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, sells fully loaded for more than $3,000.

More than 6,000 consumers have plunked down the bucks for feather-filled comfort. Mark Flaharty, 37, first discovered the bed when his job on the sales side of advertising for Yahoo took him on the road. Then his wife tried it and they were hooked.

“We own three of these things,” Flaharty laughs. “It was so revolutionary when they first came out. We just liked the bed. So we bought one and then another one and another one.”

At The Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Maui, guests have been known to spend thousands on bronze sculptures and tropical landscapes like those in the hotel, spokeswoman Shelby Taylor says.

And at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Oahu’s famed Waikiki Beach, anything pink is popular, including the ceramic candle holders that decorate tables at the beachside Mai Tai Bar.

At the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hawaii, an upscale Oahu beachfront hotel with rooms that feature four-poster canopy beds, guests rave about the coconut bath salts on the bathroom counters.

Travelers notice the details, from hand-held sandalwood fans to the 300-thread count Egyptian combed cotton duvet covers – all for sale, says hotel spokeswoman Marie Cazaux.

She even e-mailed one guest pictures of the hotel restaurant’s bamboo floor because the woman wanted the same floor designed for her own home.

At the Halekulani resort in Waikiki, guests can buy anything, including retro glass lamps and a lavender sofa just like those in the new Vera Wang suite, a designer suite that goes for about $4,000 a night, says spokesman Joyce Matsumoto.

But more often, she said, guests ask where to find fixtures such as those in the bathroom showers, where the water temperature automatically turns on at 105 degrees.

One man even liked the smell of the hotel’s detergent so much, Matsumoto says, that he began ordering his own the same way the hotel does: in 55-gallon drums.

Boutique hotels elsewhere are also getting into the retail business as well.

A new company called Hoteluxury at Home is helping hotels sell their furnishings and other signature products over the Web. The company’s first client, Boston’s Nine Zero hotel, is offering everything from a $9 candy jar to a $5,065 hanging light fixture through www.ninezero.com.

Traditional retail venues are also becoming part of the trend. Westin’s signature Heavenly Beds can now be bought at Nordstrom stores.

“Anything that creates creature comfort, that’s what people want to take home,” says Robin Ware, co-owner of Hotels at Home, a New Jersey company that works with hotel chains such as Starwood and Wyndham to make their designer items available to the average Joe through catalogs and Web sites.

“The best seller is always the pillows,” she adds, “because it’s an affordable thing for everyone.”

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