The Great Hotel Cover-Up

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 Hotel Travel

After years of pushing spa mania, hotels are trying to prevent terry-cloth clad guests from wandering into lobbies, bars and weddings. Hannah Karp on the effort to get robes back into the backrooms.

Now, the hard part: convincing guests to wear anything else.

Management at the Huntington Hotel in San Francisco is instructing its staff not to seat anyone wearing robes in the bar. (The Homestead says dress is “resort casual” in the Great Hall, where the tea is served, and that guests in robes are asked to leave.)

The exposure problem is largely the result of the hotel industry’s aggressive push into the spa business. Nearly half of U.S. hotels and resorts now boast spas, up from 25% five years ago, according to Spa Finder, an industry tracker. 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. Not everyone is ready to diss robes. “I said: ‘No, I just love the robe,’ ” Ms. Giassa recalls.

Uninvited robed guests have been spotted among wedding guests in hotels from the Crowne Plaza in Clayton, Mo., to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers. Fairmont hotels from Seattle to Hamburg, Germany, have done away with jacket-and-tie requirements for guests at their restaurants over the past four years. For years, robes were only standard in the swankiest suites. Now, most hotels are stocking rooms on every price level with two robes instead of one, to save housekeeping staff extra trips and to lure more guests to new, multimillion-dollar spas.

Even cruise lines are stocking more cabins with robes, as well as upgrading fabrics and hosting “robe parties.” Oceana Cruises holds a “White Robe Breakfast” on each cruise to help guests relax between shore excursions. Keeping all those robes clean is expensive. Miguel Montenegro, regional director, says the increase is due to hotels expanding their spas and starting to stock each guest room with two robes. This year, robe imports are expected to grow 16.7%.

Not Dressed for Breakfast

Some hotels are taking steps to mute the impact of the terry-cloth invasion. Other hotels are trying to circumvent the problem. The Sanctuary hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort off the coast of South Carolina opened in 2004 with 11 rooms adjacent to the spa so guests could walk from their rooms to the spa in a robe without passing through any public areas of the hotel. JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix added six suites near the spa in February, and the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island opened two spa suites in December.

Costa Cruise Lines introduced Samsara Spa cabins on its Costa Serena ship this May and Costa Concordia ship last summer, with direct access to the 23,000-square-foot spa to sequester robed guests. Some hotels are giving up the fight. In San Diego, the Hotel Del Coronado says most guests now ignore the policy forbidding bathrobes, cover-ups and bathing suits in all indoor public areas. The hospitality industry is set to continue rolling out new robes, which could encourage guests to wear them even more. W Hotels is working with female designers to make its robes more “fun, flirty and whimsical.”

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