Before we address the gradual decline of the hotel-room bathtub, an important ethical disclosure: I'm biased. I'm a shower guy and couldn't care less if I never see a bathtub in my hotel room again.
I can remember only two times in the past 20 years when I used a hotel tub: Four years ago, in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton Singapore, I hoisted myself into a tub strategically nestled under a window with a smashing view of the skyline. And then there was that time at the Halekulani resort in Waikiki when my then-wife-to-be and I, uh, well, uh. . . . Anyway, life on the road works in mysterious ways and it turns out that my bias is your bias.
"Less than 2 percent of people ever use a bathtub in a hotel room-except at a resort," says hotel consultant Michael Matthews, whose 40-year career includes marketing and managerial stints at luxury properties from Hong Kong to Big Sur. "The only reason to take a bath in a hotel room is when there is someone else in there with you. Otherwise, business travelers prefer to have their room outfitted with a gutsy shower."
I could hardly find a dissenting view among hoteliers or business travelers, which pretty much explains why hotels great and small are consigning tubs to the dustbin of history. Out goes the concept of the "four-fixture" bathroom-shower, tub, sink, and toilet-and in comes the idea of tricking out guest rooms with snappy, snazzy, spacious shower stalls. "We're trying to mimic upscale residential developments that have elaborate and dramatic shower presentations," says Jim Anhut, senior vice president of brand development at InterContinental Hotels, the parent of several worldwide chains, including Holiday Inn.
Experts all cite the same basic reasons for the decline of the hotel bathtub. For one thing, business travelers are just too busy for leisurely soaks. Liability issues make the tub-shower combo a magnet for lawsuits because a surprising number of travelers have trouble navigating the walls of an unfamiliar tub. Shower-only layouts are slightly more space-efficient than other bathroom configurations and that appeals to developers struggling with high real estate costs. Then there's the "ick" factor: Hotel designers say travelers, especially women, are concerned about the cleanliness of hotel tubs. Even if they prefer bathing, they won't do it in a hotel.
Bathtubs are banished at InterContinental's newest chain, a corporate take on boutique lodging called Hotel Indigo. Several of the nine operating Hotel Indigos were converted from other chains and Anhut ripped out the existing tubs during renovations. Other brands in the InterContinental chain will be built with a mix of shower-only rooms and accommodations fitted with showers and tubs, but the 61 Hotel Indigos in the pipeline are no-tub zones.
Something similar is going on at Hilton Garden Inn, the wildly popular business-travel-focused chain from Hilton. All rooms in new Hilton Garden Inns will have king-size beds and spacious stall showers in the bath; only rooms featuring two double beds will have a traditional tub-shower combination.
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