Hotel bathtubs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with ‘anything goes’ being the trend for boutique and international operators, writes Rebecca Lo

For travellers, the two most important things about a hotel are its bed and its bath. Getting a good night’s sleep for full days of work or play is of paramount importance in choosing accommodations. A hot shower or relaxing bath comes a close second, as it means guests can feel refreshed or lulled into drowsiness.

Yet surprisingly, many five-star properties get their bathing facilities wrong. Sometimes it could be a space issue. Or they could be over or under designed. And still other times it may be a housekeeping issue. Regardless of the whys, bad experiences in the bath can break the most loyal of brand aficionados – even if the stay is only a couple of nights. No one wants to bathe in backed up sewage or walk out of the shower into a puddle of water. These are the things that guests remember no matter how comfortable or beautiful the property may be.

Denise Lau knows all about baths: the good, the bad and the ugly. She is the chief operating officer at The B.S.C. Group, a leading distributor of products for the residential and hospitality industry (as well as executive director for its retail arm, colourliving).

Her father William Lau founded the company in 1970 in response to the exponential number of luxury high-rises springing up all over Hong Kong and their need for quality sanitaryware and fittings. In the nearly 45 years since its establishment, the company has progressed with the times and increased its product offerings.

Today, high end and boutique hospitality projects across greater China account for 50% of B.S.C.’s business, going up to as much as 80% in markets such as Macau. Lau herself personally attends trade fairs across Europe and North America to source distributors she feels would suit the greater China market. These include some of the leaders in the industry, with Dornbracht, Teuco, Victoria + Albert, Roca and Czech & Speake, among many others, becoming old friends as well as business partners.

“The lifespan of a bathtub is one of the longest in a hotel’s inventory of furniture and equipment,” says Lau. “When renovating a property, often the tub wouldn’t be replaced. For new builds, the trend is bespoke. Manufacturers don’t have to make hundreds of exactly the same custom tub anymore to recoup their costs. It means that boutique hotels or properties with less than 100 rooms can get tailor-made bathtub designs. And many manufacturers are now providing everything, from the tub to the fittings to the accessories.

“For example, Neutra has installed bathtubs in a material that matches its surrounding walls and sink, with 45-degree bevelled grouts. And Teuco offers tubs in a material called Duralight that can be moulded into any shape. It’s not just the boutique arms of international brands that are going for bespoke: the luxury ones are as well. Everyone is moving away from their manual of standardised hotel specifications.

“Yet for contractors in some developing markets, tubs in cast iron or pressed steel are still specified over newer materials, as they can be installed and maintained with a minimal amount of fuss. This is particularly true in mainland Chinese hotels, where housekeeping levels may vary.”

Breaking out

As they increasingly become more like designer furnishings, bathtubs are making their way out of the bathroom and into the guestroom – or even out into the open air in tropical or sub-tropical resort properties. Lau notes that Pangu Seven Star Hotel in Beijing, with its views of the Bird’s Nest, features a suite with a pair of Czech & Speake slipper bathtubs centrally located in the guestroom.

“These were designed for people who want to chat while bathing together, but don’t necessarily want to share the same water for hygienic reasons. It is an intimate way to enjoy time together,” Lau explains. It also saves time on the practical concern of filling a tub for two.“

For outdoor tubs, Victoria + Albert offers freestanding products made from volcanic limestone with a touch of resin that can withstand the elements while allowing bathers to get back to nature. These tubs are popular in resorts across Southeast Asia, where the consistently warm weather is more conducive to outdoor bathing in lush surrounds.

“Many brands will subject their products to UV testing,” says Lau. “For stain resistance, cast iron still has an advantage over newer materials. Materials such as natural stone are heavy compared to their much lighter acrylic counterparts.”

Renovations or conversions of historic properties have their own set of challenges. “Drainage and loading are elements to consider,” Lau acknowledges. “From day one, heritage buildings have more elements to consider.” These types of hotels tend to go for freestanding tubs with old-fashioned X-shaped taps, though the appropriate model involves more consideration when renovating, as retrofits are often space challenged.

Lau feels that bathtub accessories have now reached a new level of choice. V + A offers a wide range, including a wooden tray that sits on top of the tub’s rim and is equipped with built-in wine glass slots. Portable heaters by I-Radium and the ethanol flamed Acquaefuoco fireplaces enhance the overall experience of bathing. For the tub itself, units that fill from the bottom cut down on noise and are ideal for spa environments. Meanwhile, environmentally conscious operators can install digital readers that track the amount of water being used for a bath.

“The spa in-room concept is increasingly popular but it really depends on the individual properties,” says Lau. “The owner or operator may want a more therapeutic or relaxing tub. Some Japanese style properties go for deep soaking tubs made out of timber, with a bucket and stool on the side for an onsen-like experience. Teuco offers a Jacuzzi that auto-disinfects, as germs can build up in massage jets.”

Another trend that Lau is seeing is the concentration on footbaths. Tony Chi collaborated with Tru Living to produce a shell-inspired footbath and Dornbracht has recently released its own version to facilitate in-room pedicures.

“In traditional Chinese medicine, the feet are very important to the body’s overall health,” says Lau. “This is now catching on in tubs as well.”