Amenity Dispensers – A Tipping Point for the Lodging Industry
Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors. As I recall, I was wandering around an airport one day with some free time (as a frequent flyer this happens on just about every trip) when I picked up a copy of The Tipping Point. After reading The Tipping Point it became imperative that I read Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw. I have recently added David and Goliath to my “to read” list.
But, this isn’t a book review. It‘s really a discussion about a Tipping Point that (in my humble opinion- IMHO) has been reached in the lodging industry. A definition for a Tipping Point is as follows: The point at which the buildup of minor incidents reaches a level that causes someone to do something they had formerly resisted.
Since about 1994 I have been extolling the virtues of using amenity dispensers in hotel guest rooms. You could call me the “Johnny Appleseed” of amenity dispensers. Until the last few years interest in amenity dispensers has been underwhelming. Some interest came from those that recognized the economic benefit. Some interest came from those that understood the environmental benefit and some came from those that understood both. Most of the interested hoteliers were independent hoteliers, boutique hoteliers, limited service and select service hotel owners, or national and state park lodging facilities.
Let’s Examine Some of the Factors Contributing to this Tipping Point
Let’s face it, when times are good it is very easy to just keep doing things the way they have always been done. Since 1994 the lodging industry has been pretty robust with the exception of 2 recessions. (2001-2002 and 2008-2010) We have seen interest spike upward in amenity dispensers each time the economy trended downward. If the owner is happy with the financial results why rock the boat? Lately, a lot of owners are looking to save wherever possible and this includes amenities.
2) Economic Benefit
Most hotels will save from 30 to 70% by switching from individual amenities to amenities for dispensers. It depends on several factors, but any experienced supplier of amenity dispensers and products should be able to assist with the calculations. For obvious reasons some suppliers are more motivated than others regarding an intelligent approach to amenity dispensers. The 17,000 Dispensers installed in Drury Hotels will result in an estimated $750,000 annual savings. An average of $44 per room annually. Multiply that times 4,000,000 hotel rooms in the U.S. and you get something that resembles real money – $176,000,000 in estimated annual savings.
3) Guest Satisfaction
At this point in time, this is the only legitimate concern regarding dispensers. You certainly can’t afford to lose any guests due to the implementation and use of amenity dispensers. I understand that Drury Inns tested dispensers for 10 months prior to making the decision to install dispensers in all of the chains 17,000+ rooms.
“Testing of amenity dispensers at Drury Hotels began in the first half of 2009; rollout system-wide occurred during the 4th quarter 2011. We obtained guest feedback through a variety of surveys during the testing phase. Overall, guests are pleased with the dispensers and seem to appreciate efforts from hoteliers to be more environmentally conscious. I believe today’s travelers are more conscious of environmentally friendly initiatives and have an appreciation for them. Over time, I think these dispensers will become more common in hotels across all segments”— Alison Casler, Drury Hotels
A general manager of a Marriott hotel has tested dispensers at his property without brand permission and the response was great. He would love to have them in every room.
Starwood tested dispensers before determining to make them a brand standard in Element, Aloft and now Four Points. Dispensers are also a brand standard in the Home 2 Suites by Hilton.
About 1995 the company now known as InterContinental Hotel Group tested dispensers in 3 brands, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Select, and Crowne Plaza. The results of those trial programs were very positive from a guest satisfaction perspective, but nothing ever became of the initiative.
I have been privy to results in both branded and independent hotels of similar trial programs. Each time, the amenity dispenser passes with flying colors with hotel guests. One recent 10 room test in a 300+ room branded hotel yielded 97% positive responses from guests that responded to the survey. (634 occupied rooms with 139 survey responses.)
A few of the well known brands that are available for use in branded dispensers include:
Tommy Bahama, Pharmacopia, TOCCA, Poggesi, Ecru New York, Dickens & Hawthorne, Sonoma Soap Co. First Crush, greenSPA, PAYA Organics, and H2O+.
If you still remain a “doubting Thomas” then by all means test it and prove it to yourself. (Caution: a professional amenity dispenser provider should be consulted)
This trend has really only begun. Early adopters like the Saunders Hotel Group and the Hotel Triton in the early to mid 1990’s really helped get the “green” hotel movement started, but it reached the tipping point in 2004 when both Florida and California established Green Lodging Programs. As hotels seek additional ways to leave a smaller footprint it is a natural and logical step to eliminate the large carbon footprint of manufacturing small amenity packaging while eliminating or reducing any transportation and disposal of the same. Building the environmental case for dispensers is not difficult. They replace the billions of little plastic bottles that are disposed of annually. The bottles must be manufactured and transported. There is also packaging waste. Most plastic bottles are not recycled. In fact, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, most plastic waste is land filled, down cycled, incinerated or exported to other countries. “Recycling of plastic is costly and does not stem the production of virgin plastic product,” the Coalition says.
5) Aesthetic Appeal
The very first dispensers I encountered were known as “bag in the box”. I became the GM (Innkeeper) of the Holiday Inn Fresno Airport in May, 1980 and the previous manager had installed these dispensers in 10 rooms. They were ugly and when we tried to order refills the company had gone out of business. Interestingly, the Holiday Inn brand standard in 1980 was 2 soap bars in each room. No Shampoo, Conditioner, Lotion, Bath Gel, etc. were required. The dispensers that began to appear on the scene in the early to mid 1990’s were sturdy and functional but I don’t think I called them stylish. Attractive Amenity dispensers are now available in a wide variety of styles and finishes from a growing list of suppliers. An ever-increasing number of inns, hotels, and resorts are executing a comprehensive environmental program including the use of amenity dispensers.
If you still aren’t convinced that implementation of an amenity dispenser program or a trial of amenity dispensers is a good idea that’s o.k. Like all tipping points, it’s only a matter of time.
FAQWA’s – Frequently Asked Questions with Answers
How do the dispensers attach to the wall?
Some are installed with Silicone and two-sided tape. Some dispensers require that holes be drilled into the shower wall. We have been reluctant to recommend permanent installation of dispensers due to potential changes in ownership, brand and/or management.
Q: Can I find a variety of Dispensers with a variety of finishes?
Yes, some supplier’s do provide several different styles, colors and finishes. Variety can be beneficial especially if a different branded product is preferred in the future.
Q: Are Dispensers available with refillable chambers/cartridges and replaceable cartridges?
Yes, but keep in mind that if a dispenser requires replacement cartridges it will limit the economic and environmental benefits of the amenity dispenser program.
Q: Are both generic (stock) and Consumer Branded amenity products available for use in Dispensers?
Yes, a wide variety of amenity products are now available for use in Dispensers.
Q: Are trial programs available?
Some suppliers offer a trial program with surveys.
Q: Are training materials and/or video support available for the installation, cleaning and maintenance of the dispensers?
Yes, most suppliers have detailed installation and maintenance instructions are available in writing as well as by video.
Ray Burger, Founder and President of Pineapple Hospitality Inc., celebrates his 40+ years of experience in hospitality. His 20+ year hotel management career yielded increased revenues, award winning service, and indispensable insight into hotel operations, sales and marketing. Mr. Burger has provided and promoted sustainability solutions for the hospitality industry since 1994.