Hotels are increasingly capitalising on their captive audience by stocking guestrooms with designer products for them to try – and purchase, writes Rebecca Lo

Film studios have known for decades that a great movie experience means lucrative retail sales for affiliated products. It makes sense. Movie fans want to take home a little of their memories and what better way to capitalise on that fact than for studios to partner with toy, apparel and other merchandise manufacturers on branded items sprinkled with some of that stardust.

The same concept applies to memorable hotel stays. While it has been common for years for many hotels to offer bathrobes for sale, the industry has been slow to respond to the retail opportunities built into guestrooms. For luxury operators such as Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, products exclusive to the Authors’ Wing such as Santa Maria Novella products – with the full range only available in its 17th Century apothecary boutique in Florence, Italy – are for sale in its gift shop.

Yet in many hotels, their guests may not have the time to shop for souvenirs during a business trip or jam-packed tour. That’s where Hotel Indigo gets it right.

The boutique brand of InterContinental Hotel Group is all about neighbourhood experiences. Although it is part of a large international operator, each property is small and prides itself on offering authenticity. Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund’s design references the city’s shipping heritage and the city’s legendary writer Eileen Chang, the author of Lust Caution that was made into a 2007 film by Ang Lee.

For its decorative products, Indigo Shanghai worked with Shanghainese artist Wang Shu, who developed a series of small ceramic sculptures on display in guestrooms. The products are available in Quay boutique on the sixth floor, where the hotel’s all-day dining cafe, guest lounge, business centre and concierge services also can be found.

Neighbourhood stories

Both Hotel Indigo Shanghai and Hotel Indigo Hong Kong were styled by Italian-Australian Thomas Milazzo. “He is very familiar with our brand and what we are trying to achieve,” says David Lam, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Indigo Hong Kong.

“At all of our hotels, our products are focused on each property and its neighbourhood’s story. Hong Kong’s products relate to Wanchai (a colourful downtown district) and our location across from the oldest surviving post office in the city.”

One of the most prominent decorative objects underscore the relationship the hotel has with its neighbouring building. An oversize $2.46 stamp with Queen Elizabeth II’s profile is a featured as artwork on guestroom entry walls. The number refers to the hotel’s street address on Queen’s Road East, while the nature of the piece itself instills a sense of place along with being a striking reminder of the city’s colonial past.

Other items cleverly incorporated for guests to use and perhaps purchase are handy shopping bags emblazoned with the neighbourhood’s street names on a fabric inspired by mail bags. These collapse easily, allowing guests to tuck them into their briefcase or handbag, while giving them a sustainable option for their souvenir purchases. The bag has proven to be a popular souvenir item in its own right.

“A lot of guests like our products,” says Lam. “Due to this demand, we meet it. Thomas’ concept for the products called for a lot of colour and the use of local designers. You cannot buy our products anywhere else. They make good souvenirs at reasonable prices and offer a unique Wanchai flavour. Each product has its own story and helps to engage the guest in the place where they are staying. Guests enjoy using them in their rooms and it becomes a tangible memory of their trip if they buy it. Our shopping bag and bathmat are our best sellers.”

Hotel Indigo Hong Kong’s bathmat features schools of swimming goldfish against a turquoise background, and are a contemporary take on a traditional Chinese theme. Other products include teapot and cup sets, cushions depicting goldfish or Chinese characters, ceramic statues of cherubic Kung Fu masters and blue lacquer amenity boxes.

“Our small amenities box includes a discreet, stylised version of our logo,” says Lam. “And the small kung fu master statue was featured in an exhibition in London recently.”

Real life scenarios

Hotel Icon in Hong Kong goes one step further – it tests out product for owners and operators to determine if they are suitable for incorporation into their properties, allowing them to try them out in real life scenarios.

Earlier this year, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University held an online competition to solicit innovative products for what may become tomorrow’s guestroom, also the title of the competition. PolyU received 20 entries and prototypes were made by the participants for submission.

A committee of judges determined eight winners; it was chaired by Terence Ronson of Pertlink and coordinated by Dr Basak Denizci Guillet, professor at PolyU’s School of Hotel & Tourism Management. The products were integrated into three guestrooms in Hotel Icon and can be booked through the school for anyone interested in staying in one of these rooms of the future. The award winning products have been seamlessly integrated into the rooms and will be available for use in the rooms until the end of 2013, for a total period of six months.

The international collection of winners include Singapore’s Bartech, whose Neobar and E-Tray allow operators to better monitor guest behaviour through mini bar selection.

American company Brintons Carpets’ high-definition woven carpet can include up to 32 colours to give precise patterns and hues in soft flooring.
Hong Kong’s DNet Solution won with SuperDock DN7000, a bedside device that is both a clock and can play any smartphone’s playlist simply by placing it on top.
American company Fingi’s Guest Communication Centre allows multiple smartphones to be charged at the same time without cables while also acting as a music and information hub. Spain’s Salto Systems Asia introduced AElement, a wireless locking system to secure guest room doors while providing real time audits of guest behaviour.

Hong Kong-based Service Technology Partner’s Tely, a program that allows guests to interface with the concierge via their television for room service, direction finding and other interactive requests.

Hong Kong’s Spicy Innovations iFly Pad is a device that allows guests hands-free usage of their smart devices, while Bangkok’s VDA Asia developed Hotel on Air to give guests a downloadable app, which allows them to virtually experience the hotel prior to staying there.

“According to TripAdvisor, guests love our design,” says Richard Hatter, Hotel Icon’s general manager. “It’s a normal guestroom overlaid with useful technology. While our focus is to interest operators, some products, such as the iFly Pad, will be available for sale to guests. We can point them in the right direction to obtain the others. This competition is just the first – we will have the bathroom of the future and entertainment of the future in upcoming competitions.”