So we had to wonder: Does anyone ever try these things out?
Well, yes, actually, someone does.
Contrary to what skeptics like me may think, decisions about what goes into a hotel room aren’t made in a vacuum by some executive who has never stayed in an outpost of his brand’s midrange chain. At least not entirely. The decisions are the result of research. Research into what you, the traveler, want, need and respond to in your short-term home away from home.
And some of the research is quite democratic. Marriott, for example, tests new shower heads in the company gym. It sends pillows and remote controls home with employees to try out. Paul Cahill, senior vice president for global brand management at Marriott Hotels & Resorts/JW Marriott Hotels, says that he’s currently putting a hair dryer through the wringer.
And that ubiquitous white duvet? There’s a reason for it.
“When you see a white bed, you know if it’s clean or not,” explains Larry Traxler, senior vice president of design for Hilton Worldwide. “It’s pretty hard to hide that.”
We travelers are a germ-averse bunch. Hence the quick, fingertips-on-the-corner toss of the decorative throws and pillows onto that armchair or, worse, the floor.
Hotels know this, because they’ve studied us. A lot.
Cahill has the numbers to prove it. He probably knows you better than you know yourself.
Standing in the very hotel lobby-esque Marriott cafeteria, Cahill quizzes me about my hotel room habits, knowing full well what the answers will be before I utter them: Do I unpack? (No.) Where do I work? (On the bed.) Why do I remove decorative bed accessories? (Who knows where they’ve been?!)
Marriott takes an anthropological approach to hotel room design, observing the traveler species in its natural habitat. The company has partnered with IDEO, a design consulting firm, to get inside guests’ rooms — and heads. “We’re designing for behaviors,” says Beth Viner, associate partner for IDEO New York.
Those behaviors are influenced in part by the literal and figurative baggage that travelers bring with them into their temporary abodes.
On the literal side, IDEO’s work shadowing guests is how Cahill is able to guess that I — like two-thirds of travelers — don’t unpack. And when we do, only about four items come out of the suitcase.
To show how this might influence the hotel room of the future, Cahill takes me to Marriott’s still-under-construction innovation lab in the lowest level of the company headquarters in Bethesda. The all-white space contains prototypes of two hotel rooms, complete with walls, beds and more, all on wheels.