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Creating Hotel Amenities for the Post-Pandemic Era

Rising room rates have prompted hotel owners to raise the bar on travel-sized toiletries as the industry contends with changing realities, like the move away from single-use plastics.
L'Occitane hotel amenities.
L'Occitane hotel amenities. (Courtesy)

Key insights

  • The lifestyle setting of a hotel is a highly emotional opportunity for beauty brands to make an impact
  • A widening ban on small disposable bottles around the world is forcing change in the sector

When it comes to hotel amenities, the bottles may be small, but the business is big.

The soaps, shampoos and other beauty products stocked in hotel rooms are a €2.5 to 3 billion ($2.7 to 3.2 billion) business, according to Ada Cosmetics, a German hotel cosmetics producer and one of the largest players in the sector. Because they frequently turn into souvenirs, hotel amenities have long provided a powerful marketing opportunity for beauty brands to reach high-value customers. Mini products placed in the right room have the ability to form a lasting impression beyond the stay.

“When guests check into the room, they spend half the time in bed, half in the bathroom,” said Tommaso Pacini, founder of La Bottega, an amenities partner for brands such as Diptyque and Grown Alchemist. “If you spend $1,000 a night for the room and you find something extraordinary in there, you’re [going to want to buy it] because you’re already in resort mode.”

After years of depressed demand during Covid-19, tourism has roared back and hotel rates are soaring, prompting hoteliers and travellers alike to pay closer attention to guest amenities. While the amenities space used to be dominated by a few key brands like Bulgari and Molton Brown, hotels are now seeking more niche products.

“Especially after Covid, hotels wanted to [provide] extra items for guests because they need to justify a higher room rate and they want to differentiate even more from a three- or four star,” said Pacini.

However, there are big shifts underway that amenities providers have to contend with, such as the dominance of home-sharing platforms like Airbnb and a move away from single-use plastics, which present new challenges in using travel-sized products as a branding tool.

The Amenity Space

The amenities sector operates with its own unique challenges, particularly around various regional regulations and the manufacturing capabilities required to supply hotels around the world. Even though amenities may bear the logo of a recognisable cosmetics brand, it’s common for beauty brands to outsource the business to an amenities specialist — like Ada, Groupe GM, Hunter Amenities, Guest Supply, or La Bottega — to help them navigate the complexities of the hospitality world.

“When you think about Marriott group or Accor, they have properties in Egypt, the Maldives, in the Caribbean,” said Gerd von Podewils, chief marketing officer for Ada, whose clients include Elemis and Soapsmith. “Wherever they are, you need to be able to serve them in each and every spot.”

Other times, they work with brands outside beauty entirely, such as the ski brand Bogner or jeweller Chopard. In those instances, the company’s job is to translate the brand’s DNA into new products, like a soap, hand wash, bath gel, shampoo and conditioner set.

Last month La Bottega, for example, recently created a citrus-based toiletries line for Palm Angels as a one-off collaboration with luxury resort The Setai, the bright orange colour a reflection of both the streetwear label’s bold attitude and the hotel’s sunny location on Miami Beach. Since 2006, Ada has worked with Hotel Sacher, one of Vienna’s most famous hotels known for its signature chocolate torte cake, to create a room and spa line with treatments like a cacao bean peeling mask and cocoa butter massage.

Teaming up with a hotel that has a strong brand identity of its own can also provide a boost to a beauty label. In March, independent perfumer DS&Durga, which already provided amenities for the Hyatt’s Thompson Hotels line, struck a new collaboration with The Carlyle Hotel in New York. The scent, which mixes notes of honeysuckle, sandalwood and citrus, was also retailed at Bergdorf Goodman and sold out quickly, surpassing DS&Durga co-founder David Seth Moltz’s expecations.

“If you’re at The Carlyle, I can’t think of a better place as a New York brand. There’s a halo effect,” he added.

An orange bottle co-branded by Palm Angels and The Setai hotel.

While beauty brands say they can’t fully account for how much the awareness from being stocked at a reputable hotel translates into customer conversion, the positive impact is noticeable.

“Many people encounter the brand for the first time [via staying at a hotel], and the feedback that we always get from the store is that people will come with a little bottle saying ‘I want this, do you carry this?’” said Ingrid Merejo, who oversees the B2B North American business for L’Occitane Group.

As valuable as the exposure is, amenities makes for less than 1 percent of DS&Durga’s business, said Moltz.

“It’s just a royalty payment,” he said. “The orders are massive, millions and millions of pieces, but the margins are crazy thin. It’s just for awareness.”

A perfume bottle

The Changing Market

Lately, cultural shifts and changes in the travel market have begun to have an impact on the amenity landscape. First, there’s the rise of short-term rental platforms. Room-providers who list on Airbnb and Vrbo are taking greater share from traditional hospitality operators which form the mainstay client base for amenities, which has impacted the market. But increasingly, Airbnbs are starting to recognise the power in providing amenities.

“We do have some customers that are Airbnbs but we’re talking about properties that are very luxurious properties that are like, you know, $10,000 a week or you know, or $2,000 a night. They’re these huge mansions that the owners want to offer the amenities for their guests,” said Merejo.

By far the most consequential shift is the move away from single-use plastics. California already has a ban into place and New York will implement one next year, while Hawaii and Massachusetts are mulling similar legislation. Even without government mandates, many hospitality companies, particularly in Europe, are looking for ways to be more sustainable.

Beyond the obvious green benefits, Merejo adds that the move away from single-use plastics also saves time for housekeeping teams, which is something hotels value given the ongoing service worker labour shortage. However, she acknowledged it has impacted business volumes.

“It’s been an adjustment, for the hoteliers and for us as well,” she said “The hoteliers are really seeing the savings because they don’t have to throw in the garbage almost full bottles and then waste all that liquid…for us, that means that we need to increase market penetration because it has taken a toll.”

Companies therefore are moving quickly adapting their small items and moving into larger dispensing technologies. L’Occitane provides solid shampoo and conditioner options that come in paper packaging in addition to larger refillable bottles. But in a post-pandemic world, hotels are looking for tamper-proof options that can be refilled without compromising hygiene. Ada, for instance, now sells a cartridge system designed with a patented membrane technology to prevent back contamination.

These larger formats, however, miss out on the souvenir element and sometimes lack that “Instagrammable” feel.

“Finding a bottle attached to the wall looks like a gym, but you don’t want to feel like you’re in a gym,” said Pacini.

La Bottega has retained some of the smaller bottles, but is switching to other materials like ceramic or aluminium. But the writing on the wall is clear: Pacini said he’s not taken on any new projects in the last year which involved single-use packaging.

“Guests are getting used to it,” said Ada’s von Podewils. “We’re also putting QR codes on the front [of the large bottles] so you can scan immediately and see ‘Okay, what is this? What are the ingredients? What is the scent? What’s the olfactory pyramid? What’s the connection to the brand behind? That is something to some extent replacing the take-back home experience.”

The Lifestyle Era: Luxury’s Opportunity in Home and Hospitality Banner
Further Reading

About the author
Tiffany Ap

Tiffany Ap is Senior Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. She is based in New York and covers marketing and the critical China market.

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