Hotels Scramble for Cover-up

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Before you go What you should know:

Businesses trying to stop bathrobe-clad guests from going into lobbies, other public areas

HOTEL NO-NOS:  What some hotels say about robes and slippers:

• Ritz-Carlton in Miami’s South Beach: Not in the club lounge

• Sanctuary hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort: You can walk straight from the spa to the room.

• Huntington Hotel in San Francisco: No robes in the bar

• Four Seasons Punta Mita in Mexico: Proper attire for the restaurant

• Homestead, in Hot Springs, Va.: Guests in robes in the Great Hall are asked to leave.

Hotels have spent the last decade courting travelers and one-upping each other with plusher, sexier bathrobes. Now, the hard part: convincing guests to wear anything else.

Hotels that aren’t vigilant risk alienating businesspeople and outside guests who come for power breakfasts or ladies’ lunches, or anyone else who would prefer not to see glimpses of hairy bellies and cellulite.

Chains including the Mandarin Oriental and the Ritz-Carlton are building suites connected directly to the spa, while one hotel company has called on New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology to design less-revealing loungewear.

The exposure problem is largely the result of the hotel industry’s aggressive push into the spa business.

Spas at U.S. resorts and hotels generated $2 billion in 2005, up from $1.9 billion in 2003, according to the International Spa Association’s latest data. (The entire U.S. spa industry, which includes independent and day spas, grossed $9.7 billion in 2005, up from $7 billion in 2003.)

Guests who use Hyatt spas now spend an average of $180 per day, up from $160 a year ago, says Gordon Tareta, the chain’s director of spa operations. As more hotels plug pricey — and profitable — all-day treatments, for more customers, changing into proper clothes for midday meals can be a hassle.

Carolyn Spencer, editor of cruise-review site CruiseCritic.com, was put off by the robe wearers at the lido buffet on a 10-night Royal Caribbean cruise through the Caribbean this year.  “It’s extremely tacky,” said Spencer, 46, of Pennington N.J. “I don’t know you; I don’t want to see you in your bathrobe.” What’s worse, she adds: “Most ships are stocking cabins with medium-size bathrobes, but a lot of people in America need more than a medium size.”

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