Hotel bathrooms have evolved over the years from purely functional spaces to high-tech havens that entice guests to relax and unwind. To stay ahead of the curve, hotels are merging new technologies with innovative design to make guestroom bathrooms a memorable part of a guest’s overall stay.
“The bathroom is one of the most important elements in a hotel guestroom,” says Lalaine Tanaka, design principal at JCJ Architects, a firm that specializes in corporate and hospitality design. “In today’s Apple-generation, hotel guests expect a cutting-edge, multi-sensory experience.”
Tanaka says that in the past few years, her firm has noticed a shift within the industry where more hotels are investing in upgraded bathroom technology to appeal to the modern-day traveler.
“To be competitive, hotels are realizing that they need to keep up with the ever-changing expectations,” she says. “Guests are seeking environments that can be tailored for individual preferences—from showers and faucets, to music in the room, to adding aromas and lights.”
MEETING LUXURY EXPECTATIONS
When the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles decided to close its doors for a large-scale, property-wide renovation back in 2009, the guestroom bathrooms were just one of the many areas of the historic hotel that needed updating. The Dorchester Collection property knew that in order to keep its place in the luxury market, it had to go above and beyond just replacing the shower and sink.
“I think if we go back into the hotel’s history, the bathrooms were always a problem,” says Howard Clarke, project manager for the property. “We knew immediately that we would have to expand the bathrooms. At the same time, we knew we would have to update them in terms of technology.”
As part of the renovation, the Hotel Bel-Air installed heated limestone floors, integrated lighting systems, and in-mirror LED televisions in all of the guestroom bathrooms.
“Five-star, luxury travelers now have this kind of technology in their own homes,” Clarke says. “They expect to see it in hotel rooms as well.”
The crowning touch of the guestroom bathroom renovations at the Hotel Bel-Air is the addition of the TOTO Neorest Washlet. This toilet features a heated seat, automatic lid-lifting mechanism, an integrated bidet function, and an automatic cleaning and deodorizing option. A wall-mounted control panel operates the functions of the toilet.
Clarke says that since reopening in October of 2011, the toilets have been a big talking point for guests who have stayed at the property.
“Of everything we’ve renovated at the hotel, this is the one thing that people continually call up and ask about,” he says.
The Hotel Bel-Air isn’t the only luxury property that is incorporating TOTO’s technology into its bathroom design. The May Fair in London, a property with a history of high-end accommodations dating back to 1927, used the Japanese fixture company for the bathroom in the hotel’s newly launched Ebony Suite.
The suite incorporates the fully automated Washlet toilet, a TOTO Gyrostream shower with horizontal jets, and an oversized TOTO bathtub, which is housed on a raised platform in the center of the bedroom. Partially enclosed by Japanese-inspired paneling, the bathtub has a unique lighting technology. This allows the color of the tub to change in response to the temperature of the water, a feature that complements the overall design aesthetics of the room. The sinks in the Ebony Suite bathroom also include the color-changing feature.
“What is the future today is the past tomorrow, and we have to constantly strive to keep ahead of the curve,” says Anthony Lee, general manager of the May Fair. “People want cool design that is not just here and gone, but something that has true relevance to the art of living and luxury.”
A SPA-LIKE RETREAT
More and more modern-day bathroom designs and renovations in hotels strive to create a spa-like atmosphere in guestrooms.
“The space has to be designed to enhance an emotional and sensual experience,” Tanaka says. “Guests are seeking a haven in hotel bathrooms away from the stresses of day-to-day life, where they can find a personal oasis of relaxation and well-being.”
Amenities such as in-shower aromatherapy or music systems can help guests set a relaxing mood. Chromotherapy, or color theory, systems are also becoming more popular in bathtubs and showers, where lighting systems change color to help improve or enhance health and wellness. The lighting is altered using a control panel or remote control and guests choose colors to enhance their varying moods. Red stimulates energy, blue is used for relaxation, and green is applied for balance.
ThermaSol, a company that manufactures steam bath products for hotels and health clubs, has chromotherapy lighting available as an in-shower package for its steam shower units. Jari Ristola, president of ThermaSol, explains that using chromotherapy, along with music and steam, creates a sensory experience that appeals to today’s traveler.
“A lot of people don’t feel comfortable going down to the health club area because they don’t want to sit in a sauna or steam room half naked with someone they don’t know,” he says. “With our steam showers, you can have this whole spa experience in your own room.”
Ristola explains that ThermaSol’s steam showers are in a half-million hotel rooms around the world, mostly in Europe and Asia. He believes that installing steam showers in guest bathrooms gives hotels a leg up on their competition.
“The rooms with steam showers are always the first rooms to sell out and they sell for more money,” Ristola says. “A hotel can get a return on their investment within a year.”
Not only are technology features aiding in the aesthetic design and functionality of hotel bathrooms, but certain technological advancements have also made it possible for hotels to become more energy efficient and save on costs.
“Owners today are really looking for operational cost savings such as energy efficient lighting, compact florescent lighting, and water saving fixtures that can conserve water up to 25 percent,” Tanaka says. “Technology improves the day-to-day hotel operations and really brings about long-term cost savings.”
Tanaka explains that energy-efficient items such as dual-flush toilets and infrared fittings are particularly useful in public bathrooms that are frequented by a large number of guests, since they help conserve water usage and reduce the overall carbon footprint.
“Technology plays an important role in public bathrooms,” she says. “It improves the hygiene, simplifies cleaning and maintenance for operations, and also conserves water and energy.”
A SEAMLESS DESIGN
While modern-day bathrooms can be tricked out with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos they still need to fit in with the overall design and functionality of the hotel.
“Technology has to be seamless with the design of the bathroom,” Clarke says. “People don’t want to see something that looks out of place or doesn’t function correctly. At the Hotel Bel-Air we knew what products we wanted to incorporate in the bathroom renovations, but it was the designers’ job to make sure that those items fit into the rooms.”
“At the end of the day, the technology has to be simple to use and functional,” Lee adds. “If it is not, then no matter what design features you introduce, the technology will become an irritant.”