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Bedding: Pillow Talk

Arguably the crux of the accommodation industry, pillows can make or break the quality of a guest’s stay. So it is choosing the right pillows to offer your gueststhat may just make or break the success of your hotel.

Anthony Blanch, industry designer of expert pillows and bedding, reiterates, “The poorer the quality of filling, the lower grade the pillow and the greater the complaints. Purchasing pillows ‘blind’ or without much care, is pointing a hotel onto a collision course with unhappy guests”.

This begs the question: what kind of pillows do guests want? The most obvious answer and, probably the first that springs to mind, would be comfortable. In which case feather/down fillings should be the preferred choice for hotels, as they are renowned for their comfort.

According to surveys carried out by www.choice.com.au, “Feather and down pillows are softer but expensive and a potential allergen.”

They are usually made from a combination of feather and down. “The more down, the more expensive. A higher percentage of down means a softer pillow that will last longer; they can also be fluffed and molded into your desired shape. On the downside, they can be expensive and a potential allergen.” In fact, as Mr Blanch says, “These pillows are sliding quickly in popularity at a retail level with the perceived belief that they are not clean or hypo-allergenic”, despite their comfort.

The prevalence of people suffering with allergies is on the rise, according to the World Allergy Organisation, with guests needing more and more frequently to request hypo-allergenic bedding. Thus the need for hypo-allergenic pillows, is crucial for hotels and resorts, particularly as the frequency of those affected by asthma in Australia is among the highest in the world. Government statistics suggest 10 – 15% of children and 10 – 12% of adults are affected nationwide. Other pillow fillings, despite being hypoallergenic, present their own set of issues.

Polyester pillows, the cheapest option, are hypo-allergenic and may be machine washed/dried. . Furthermore, as most who have slept on a polyester pillow will agree, they tend to ‘go lumpy’ extremely fast and flatten easily. This means they will have to be replaced often. For as Mr Blanch says, “flat, uncomfortable pillows simply turn guests off and do nothing for star ratings either”.

Cotton and wool filled pillows are also hypo-allergenic and breathable enough to prevent unattractive sweat stains but these pillows are not “popular because again the filling does not keep its shape or loft at all well”.

Latex pillows, on the other hand, are hypo-allergenic, durable (lasting several years as opposed to the common pillow average of one year), made from a renewable resource and biodegradeable. The only potential problems with latex pillows, involve cost that vascillates from mid-range to high, and variety – there are many shapes and densities, so finding a generic latex pillow to suit most guests may prove difficult for hotel owners.

According to Mr Blanch, designer and creator of MicroCloud, “Many hotels in the four-five star category including resorts and apartments do not provide comfortable pillows. Typically, guests will find mainly poly-filled pillows that are either way to high and overfilled or pillows that are flat, soiled and tired and need replacing. The very best of the best hotels tend to provide feather/down pillows and, although comfortable, they do not address the key issues of odour, dust and allergy issues for guests. And a very few hotels offer latex pillows – they are slightly firmer, certainly healthy, last a minimum of ten years and are cost effective on this basis”.

So is there a happy medium in the cost-comfort-hypoallergenic ratio? It would seem that latex pillows are the best bet for hotel owners but are they the most common? No, not currently based on a wide range of research.

“The very basic, cheaper polyester filled pillows are by far and away the most commonly used. They are low cost to start with but the real downside is that they flatten so quickly, tend to go lumpy and have never been designed to assist the comfort and contentment of the guest. And yet, the average spend and investment in a mattress is at least $700 or more depending on size It simply makes no sense at all to invest in a mattress and then disregard the quality and comfort of pillows. Trying to go cheap on pillows when a guest is depending on comfort for that all important rest, is really playing with fire. A contented guest is highly likely to return and will report their stay favourably to family, friends and even the corporate head office!” says Mr Blanch. “The most important attributes of a quality pillow are:

1. Comfort, comfort, comfort – sleep is essential for good health and alertness.,

2. Hygiene… No odour, no dust and should be hypo-allergenic.

3. Machine wash, tumble dry tested and approved.

4. Longer lasting for best possible cost to benefit return for the property.”

Sofitel Gold Coast Broadbeach’s Libby Sharp, executive housekeeper for 30 years, agrees with Mr Blanch. “The pillows and bedding in a hotel are the most important” and, she continues, “most important is the cleanliness”.

“When you purchase a pillow you have to buy the highest quality and all pillows should be replaced after twelve months and cleaned regularly. Working here at the Sofitel I am very lucky to have the most luxurious and comfortable pillows imaginable. We get so many guests enquiring about our pillows and bedding and where they can purchase them from that we now have a website.”

It seems Sofitel has found a way to balance the cost-comfort-hypoallergenic ratio, in the establishment of a pillow menu. Here, they provide feather/down pillows with a 100% cotton, hypo-allergenic casing that, because of its high thread count fabric, “has been proven to be impenetrable to dust mites”. They also provide the option on their pillow menu for guests to select any of the following:

– Therapeutic pillow

– Foam pillow

– Latex pillow

– Posture V pillow

The benefit of this system, present among several four-five star hotels and resorts, is that it caters well for guests and hotel owners. By giving guests a choice in what pillows they would like to sleep on, hotels minimise complaints and maximse customer contentment, as well as reducing costs partly by purchasing longer lasting pillows.

So, the way to make – not break – the success of your hotel through pillows, is just as Mr Blanch said, “Whatever you do, never buy as cheap as possible, it will only cost big time and will not assist the paying guest at all… And the hotel business is surely all about the guest, the return rate and referrals too. Not to mention all important star ratings and the significance of a great nights rest and comfort.”

About Tim Svenson

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