Friday, April 21, 2006

the bed wars

If you're a business traveler you've probably encountered Westin's Heavenly Bed. It's pretty comfy. I was recently holed up at a conference in Palm Desert with a lousy bug, and the heavenly bed was the best part about it.

It's done very well for Westin's business -- they sell the amenities on the side and they've earned acclaims for improving the customer experience -- I was at a GEL dinner event last year at the Rainbow Room in NY where they picked up one of the first Copernican Awards for doing right by the customer.

But it seems that all that goodness comes at a cost.

The Heavenly Bed was introduced in 1999, "touching off the bed wars. Marriott, Crown Plaza and Hilton joined in, spending hundreds of millions on mattresses, feather-filled duvets, goose-down pillows and softer sheets." (NYT, 21 April 06) Alongside this heavenliness, additional ammenities have been introduced: fluffier bathrobes, a coffeepot in every room.

And it turns out there's a lot more to schlep, from the housekeeping side -- but Management forgot to do the numbers.
The problem, housekeepers say, is not just a heavier mattress, but having to rush because they are assigned the same number of rooms as before while being required to deal with far more per room.
Indeed, a union study based on statistics provided by the hotels has found that since 2002, when the amenities race began in earnest, the injury rate for housekeepers has climbed to 71 percent more than for all hotel workers, compared with 47 percent more beforehand.

NYT, 21 April 06
Now, I love me a heavenly bed, but this makes me angry. Luxury hotels have done a good thing and created a great experience for their customers. Profits are up as a result. And yet they failed to figure out the simple mechanics: bigger bed, more sheets, feather beds, heavier comforters -- geez. Maybe, just maybe, it's gonna take some doing to turn these things around for the next visitor. Maybe, just maybe, we should calculate the human cost here and give our housekeepers a little more time to get the work done. After all: profits are up. We can cover the cost.

When did we lose sight of the space and time required to accomplish physical tasks? Has the reorientation of our working lives to the computer desktop -- where the physical clues of time and space are diminished -- wrecked our ability to intuit some simple, basic truths about the time it takes to get these things done?

But maybe this has nothing to do with that reorientation -- maybe it's just the same old story of the Man milking the little guy dry.

p.s. Full disclosure: I'm in Management.

1 comment:

patrick said...

the topic of "the bed wars" is frequently discussed at my work, except that in rural North Carolina the war is between the "concrete slab" at the Holiday Inn Express and the "normal mattress" at the Hampton Inn (the only 2 decent hotels). The funny thing is that the HIX has had SO many complaints that they are bringing in pillowtop mattresses and fancy bedding (and jacking up their rates) next month. I'll probably switch back, but I guarantee they haven't hired more housekeepers or increased their wages. This is still a town where the housekeepers are all near-elderly local women who will have to lug around this heavier bedding. :-(

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