SEAT 2B | By Joe Brancatelli
A Watery Grave for Hotel Tubs
Tuesday, October 30, 2007; 12:00 AM
Before we address the gradual decline of the hotel-room bathtub, an important ethical disclosure: I'm biased. I'm a shower guy and couldn't care less if I never see a bathtub in my hotel room again.
I can remember only two times in the past 20 years when I used a hotel tub: Four years ago, in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton Singapore, I hoisted myself into a tub strategically nestled under a window with a smashing view of the skyline. And then there was that time at the Halekulani resort in Waikiki when my then-wife-to-be and I, uh, well, uh . . . Anyway, life on the road works in mysterious ways and it turns out that my bias is your bias.
"Less than 2 percent of people ever use a bathtub in a hotel room -- except at a resort," says hotel consultant Michael Matthews, whose 40-year career includes marketing and managerial stints at luxury properties from Hong Kong to Big Sur. "The only reason to take a bath in a hotel room is when there is someone else in there with you. Otherwise, business travelers prefer to have their room outfitted with a gutsy shower."
I could hardly find a dissenting view among hoteliers or business travelers, which pretty much explains why hotels great and small are consigning tubs to the dustbin of history. Out goes the concept of the "four-fixture" bathroom-shower, tub, sink, and toilet-and in comes the idea of tricking out guest rooms with snappy, snazzy, spacious shower stalls. "We're trying to mimic upscale residential developments that have elaborate and dramatic shower presentations," says Jim Anhut, senior vice president of brand development at InterContinental Hotels, the parent of several worldwide chains, including Holiday Inn.
Experts all cite the same basic reasons for the decline of the hotel bathtub. For one thing, business travelers are just too busy for leisurely soaks. Liability issues make the tub-shower combo a magnet for lawsuits because a surprising number of travelers have trouble navigating the walls of an unfamiliar tub. Shower-only layouts are slightly more space-efficient than other bathroom configurations and that appeals to developers struggling with high real estate costs. Then there's the "ick" factor: Hotel designers say travelers, especially women, are concerned about the cleanliness of hotel tubs. Even if they prefer bathing, they won't do it in a hotel.
Bathtubs are banished at InterContinental's newest chain, a corporate take on boutique lodging called Hotel Indigo. Several of the nine operating Hotel Indigos were converted from other chains and Anhut ripped out the existing tubs during renovations. Other brands in the InterContinental chain will be built with a mix of shower-only rooms and accommodations fitted with showers and tubs, but the 61 Hotel Indigos in the pipeline are no-tub zones.
Something similar is going on at Hilton Garden Inn, the wildly popular business-travel-focused chain from Hilton. All rooms in new Hilton Garden Inns will have king-size beds and spacious stall showers in the bath; only rooms featuring two double beds will have a traditional tub-shower combination.
"We've committed to 60 percent [shower-only rooms] and we're not going back," says Adrian Kurre, senior vice president of Hilton Garden Inn. "Business travelers prefer showers."
Tubs are slowly giving way to showers at Marriott International too. New builds of its SpringHill Suites brand, which caters to business travelers who need extended-stay accommodations, will have many rooms that have only shower stalls. And developers of Marriott's full-service hotels, Renaissance and the eponymous Marriott chain, now have the option of installing rooms specifically designed with shower-only bathrooms.
Even smaller hotel chains are yanking tubs. Earlier this month, I toured the Taj President hotel in Mumbai, which is currently undergoing renovations. The deluxe accommodations at the high-rise tower were designed around the views and the bathrooms. Tubs were replaced with sybaritic, glass-walled shower stalls that allow guests to take in the Mumbai skyline and the Arabian Sea as they scrub.
I did think there was one type of place where hotel tubs had a redoubt: the world's superdeluxe hotels, where luxury would seem to mean both a spacious shower stall and a big, old-fashioned tub.
Not so, says, Paul McManus, president and chief executive of Leading Hotels of the World, the global alliance of top-of-the-market lodgings. He says Leading does not require its properties to offer a tub and many are creating bathrooms that feature showers only.
"We want bathrooms to reflect the overall luxury standard our guests expect, and younger people especially don't seem to take baths anymore, except in the spa environment," he explains. "You can really design an attractive bathroom with the 'wow' factor when you just have a shower."
The Fine Print
Only one segment of traveler still prefers a bathtub: families. They dominate the hotel business on weekends and, of course, represent an important revenue stream during traditional vacation times. "You need rooms with bathtubs for them," says John Wolf of Marriott. "When we travel with our four-year-old, well, we just have to have a tub." A word to the world's remaining hotel-bathtub fans: To avoid disappointment, make sure you request a room with a tub when making your reservation.