Review by Fiona Duncan, published 7th July 2006.
In 1999, a ferocious international conflict broke out that has been raging ever since. You may not be aware of it, but you have almost certainly benefited from it: the battle of luxury brand hotels that came to be known as the Bed Wars.
Do you remember the days when your hotel bed was just that – a bed, low and skimpy in a modest establishment, passably comfortable in an upscale one, with unembellished mattress, sheets, blankets and two pillows each if you were lucky? Feather and down – forget it; polyester and foam – much more likely. No one complained much: it was just generally accepted that any hotel bed was unlikely to be as comfortable as your own. In the UK, only the Savoy stood out as the legendary provider of the finest hotel bed: handmade since 1905.
Then, in 1999, along came Westin Hotels and Resorts (part of the Starwood group) with its very own, specially designed, all-white Heavenly Bed. A brilliant marketing coup, it brought Westin a higher profile, an increase in bookings, and a deluge of requests to buy the bed from well-rested guests. Rival hotel groups were forced to respond.
And so the Bed Wars began, with engagements and skirmishes counted in tog values, box springs, shock absorbers, pillow menus, feather toppers, thread counts and baffle box stitching. A good night’s sleep became a ‘super-premium sleep experience’, and thousands of new beds were rolled out to hotels across the globe.
Marriott International retaliated, and Hilton weighed in, before Barry Sternlicht, then Chairman of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, mounted a rearguard action with the (very comfortable, I can attest) Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed which has – in case you want to know – ‘barrel-shaped high-tensile springs, individually housed in strong, non-woven, synthetic material pockets, separately ‘Ultra-Sonically’ sealed and joined together by a unique production process’. A massive army of 200,000 of them are now in position in Sheraton hotels across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with Latin America and Asia to come.
These days, of course, you can’t hold you head up as a respectable hotel group unless you can offer a bed that sounds more complicated than the inner workings of a nuclear reactor. Along with Hilton’s Serenity bed and Marriott’s new Revive bedding (think white, think pillows) there’s Four Seasons’ highly regarded Sealy Posturelux 4000 bed, with added pillow top unique to the company, and Sofitel’s Mybed.
Pity the poor chambermaids, with all those extra-thick mattresses to lift, duvets, sheets and pillowcases to change, and cushions and valances to arrange each day, in the minimum of time. The same beds that are so comfortable for a hotel’s pampered guests can wreak havoc on its staff. In Canada, where hotel workers report more minor injuries than workers in heavy construction, they recently held a rally to complain about the shoulder and back pain they suffer and to press for better working conditions.
Now, with pretty much everyone who’s anyone up to the mark, the Bed Wars have been declared at an end, and peace has broken out. Which leaves the marketing people with a knotty problem – how to make their mark in the competition to be the quickest at rendering guests unconscious?
It’s easier for individual hotels to stand out. For example, the Principe di Savoia in Milan has recently introduced specially manufactured 100% cashmere sheets: wonderfully soft, with a thermo-regulative effect that makes them ideal in summer or winter, while the Cotswold House Hotel in Chipping Camden has equipped one of its rooms (No 16) with a bed costing £14,000. The Ammique King dispenses with a mattress, but instead consists of 10,000 plastic-capped vertical rods, covered by padded sheets, that contour to your body as you shift even the slightest degree.
Chain hotels can’t beat that, but they’ll come up with something. A complementary bottle of Mogadon in each room perhaps?
The Savoy No 2 bed from Savoire Beds costs from £4,794 for a double bed. Visit www.savoirbeds.co.uk
The Heavenly Bed from Westin Hotels and Resorts can be shipped from the US and costs £3,310 for a king-size bed and bedding. Visit www.europe.westin-hotelsathome.com and click on Westin Store.
The Sweet Sleeper from Sheraton can be shipped from the US and costs £1,887 for a king-size bed and bedding. Visit www.sheraton-hotelsathome.com.
The Sealy Posturelux with pillow top from Four Seasons costs £1,940 for a king-size bed. To purchase, contact any Four Seasons hotel www.fourseasons.com.
The Mybed from Sofitel costs from £960 for a king-size bed. Visit www.sofitel.com then click on SoBoutique.
To try out cashmere sheets, stay at the Principe di Savoia, Milan (00 39 02 62301; www.hotelprincipedisavoia.com; doubles from £236 per night including breakfast.
To try an Ammique King bed, stay Cotswold House Hotel (01386 840330; www.cotswoldhouse.com; room 16 costs £350 per night including breakfast).