Image: Sheraton
Jim Sulley/wirepix  /  BWWIREPIX
Anthony Lombardi places a blanket on a sleigh bed in the lobby of the Sheraton Buckhead Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. The sleigh bed is part of the hotel chain's $350 million, two-year guestroom renovation program.
updated 1/29/2004 11:48:57 AM ET 2004-01-29T16:48:57

For hotel companies trying to fluff up profits, it's become all about the bed.

This week, it's Hampton Inn's turn. The mid-priced hotel chain based in Memphis, Tenn., is announcing an $80 million makeover Wednesday that promotes the purchase of higher quality mattresses, pillows, comforters and sheets.

Hampton Inn, owned by Hilton Hotels Corp., wants to lavish budget-conscious travelers with a taste of what they'd find at more expensive hotels. Its vision borrows heavily from the success that Westin Hotels and Resorts, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. and other higher-end brands have had in recent years marketing the luxuriousness of their bedding.

"Those guys are in a different league," concedes Phil Cordell, Hampton Inn's senior vice president of brand management.

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Still, the softer sheets, thicker comforters, extra pillow and raised headboards visitors will find at all 1,250 Hampton Inn and Hampton Inn & Suites locations by 2005 is "something they couldn't get at another hotel specifically within our price point," Cordell said. Hampton Inn's mid-market rivals include Fairfield Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Country Inn and Suites.

The Hampton Inn redesign coincides with the brand's 20th anniversary and comes at a time when fierce price competition has made it harder for hoteliers to maintain distinct brand identities. Moreover, the growing popularity of Internet travel sites threatens brand differentiation because as shoppers hunt for the cheapest rate they effectively treat hotel rooms like a commodity.

Blame it on Westin

Pampering guests with fancy bedding is hardly new for upscale brands. But in the past five years it has become a more overt component of marketing and advertising campaigns, particularly for Westin, which is owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., of White Plains, N.Y.

In fact, Westin single-handedly launched the bedding craze in August 1999, when it introduced its "Heavenly Bed" concept at 23 properties owned by the parent company. The underlying idea was to get "away from institutional commoditization" and give guests amenities they'd "really want to have in their own homes," said Sue Brush, the company's senior vice president of branding.

As the new look was rolled out by franchisees nationwide, Westin began receiving phone calls from customers who were interested in ordering Westin's custom-designed mattresses for their own homes.

Westin executives quickly worked out a deal with manufacturers, set up a toll-free customer service line and by the end of 2000 had sold $900,000 worth of "Heavenly" bedding, including pillowtop mattresses, goose-down pillows and 250 thread-count sheets. Last year, sales totaled $4.9 million and Westin is currently designing "Heavenly Bed 2."

Moreover, Brush said that as customer satisfaction rose Westin was able to raise room rates.

The experience taught the entire industry "that a good night's sleep is something that people value almost as much as a clean room," Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Vivian Deuschl said.

"But, I don't think any of us expected that people wanted to shell out that kind of money for beds," Deuschl said. Ritz-Carlton sells its own Sealy Corp.-designed king-sized mattresses for $1,499 and in the past year has sold "way over $1 million" worth of bedding products, Deuschl said.

The industry response

Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, a closer competitor to Westin, responded to the success of the "Heavenly Bed" campaign by purchasing "fancier" duvets and featherbeds and adding "a lot" of throw pillows, said spokeswoman Angela Sell.

Unlike Westin and Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt does not have an established retail business for its bedding. However, if a guest inquires about purchasing anything, Sell said "that's something we can accommodate."

Hampton Inn's makeover, which will be implemented at a rate of 120 hotels per month, also focuses on upgrading the decor of lobbies and bathrooms and improving the quality of its free breakfast offerings.

Hampton Inn has set aside $10 million for the redesign and will ask franchise owners to pay the remainder.

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