Both the hospitality and commercial laundry industries are forecast to enjoy another year of positive growth in 2017, according to recent market reports. Of course, the big unknown for the UK’s hospitality sector is Britain’s decision to leave the European Union following the country’s referendum on Thursday 23 June last year.

Certainly, manufacturers and suppliers are still seeing stronger growth from the hospitality sector, particular hotels. This includes larger groups like Hilton Worldwide and the growing boutique and independent hotel sector. The hospitality sector is expected to continue to offer growth post-Brexit, as a weaker pound increases the UK “staycation” market and attracts more tourists from abroad.


Tourist trap

Raj Ruia, managing director for Richard Haworth, believes that although there is a high level of uncertainty regarding the UK economy as a whole in 2017, the Brexit vote has left the pound weak, which will make the UK an attractive destination for tourists. UK tourists may be more inclined to take a “staycation” and avoid the higher costs of travelling on the continent and further afield. “So despite the uncertainty, it looks like the UK hospitality market will continue its positive momentum during the course of the year,” he says.

The hospitality industry is now the UK’s fourth biggest industry in employment terms with over 40,000 businesses operating in the sector.

As we reported last summer, several UK-based laundry operators certainly see the potential for growth and are investing to increase their market share. For example, Clean Linen Services plans a linen laundry in Slough, Berkshire, to service Heathrow and the growing London linen market, as well as acquiring Paragon Laundry, one of the UK’s largest providers of linen and workwear rental. In addition, Johnson Service Group is looking to expand its presence in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector, where it currently holds an 18% share of a £555m industry, according to group chief executive Chris Sander.

Hotels, particularly luxury properties, distinguish themselves through their services. According to Travel Market Report, as travellers are presented with more and more options, they will look for the best overall experience—and that means more than just a nice room to sleep in. Dining, entertainment, and spa and beauty services to become a bigger part of the hotel scene, as well as services that provide comforts above and beyond those of being at home: superior laundry and cleaning services, luxurious feeling towels and bed linens, and personalised attention and service.

Recent research amongst hotel customers nationwide has shown that almost two-thirds of those questioned cite quality of towels and bedding as directly affecting their decision to return to a hotel.

In November last year, research commissioned by Clean Linen Services found that hotel guests seek the squishiness of a pillow and plumpness of a quilt enveloped in crisp, freshly laundered sheets that are pressed to perfection. Its survey of 1,000 UK hotel guests found just over 89% of respondents preferred pillows and a quilt with good bounce and were partial to a crisp laundered sheet, while a fluffy towelling robe and slippers was a particularly popular extra, with 34% of people opting for these as the extra they would most enjoy the most.

When asked what would make them rethink a return visit, 89% were put off by badly made beds and dated linen. Almost three quarters of people rated “cleanliness in all areas” as a top factor when looking for a great hotel room experience, closely followed by clean, crisp and freshly pressed bed linen.


Web-savvy age

Reputation is a precarious thing, not least in the web-savvy age of customer review, with websites like TripAdvisor and blogging sites, and if all it takes is a dirty or damaged pillow, it seems prudent in 2016 going forwards to keep linen among the top items on the agenda of quality control, according to Jason Miller, Clean chief executive officer. “Having been established for 130 years, Clean is totally immersed in the business of linen and laundry. The hospitality industry has long been one of our biggest markets and we wanted to understand more about consumers’ attitudes and behaviours towards hotels stays,” he said. “The industry has changed a huge amount in the last 10 years and having this insight not only helps us to understand what people expect from a hotel but it helps our customers and the wider industry to look at consumer behaviours on a bigger scale.”

Victoria Oracz, sales director of Vision’s laundry division, reports a rise in guests seeking out experiences that offer affordable luxury. With hoteliers wanting to provide that feeling of ultimate luxury yet also ensure they have a durable and versatile product, it’s important that these are combined into one, she explains.

Classic, crisp white bed linen is still immeasurably popular in hotels and whilst designs such as satin stripe provide an elegant and timeless finish to a guest bedroom, plain seems to be favourite at the moment.

“Our Hilden range of performance products is created with a focus on durability enabling them to withstand the demanding commercial washing process whilst ensuring they’re a cost effective option,” says Oracz. “Guests expect their stay to be inviting and relaxing and this transfers over into the guest bathroom as well. Providing extra “little touches” such as a luxurious robe, superbly soft towels and a pair of comfortable bath slippers can help to provide that all-important extra flourish that guests will love – and ultimately ensure they return to the venue again and again.

Raj Ruia of Richard Haworth, thinks that the outcome of the EU referendum has meant that 2017 will be a challenging year for textile suppliers. “With a weakened pound and worldwide uncertainty, costs are likely to be unstable during the course of the year, yet pricing within the industry remains as competitive as ever,” he says. “Crisp plain white bed linen remains a staple of a hotel room however the trend towards high thread count bed linen continues unabated in a bid to satisfy the more sophisticated consumer. Ranges such as our 200 thread count Blenheim and 400 thread count Hampton are proving to be more and more popular. Customers love that our bed linens not only look and feel good but perform excellently, wash after wash.”

“We are seeing the trend towards higher quality linen continuing. We recently introduced the ultimate in luxury towelling, Mayfair, a 650gsm collection featuring a unique narrow ribbed header and made in Turkey from 100% combed cotton Turkish yarns.”

“We are seeing a similar trend with bed linen. We have recently introduced Kensington, an 80/20 cotton rich 200 thread count fabric that uses fine yarns for a smooth cotton finish, yet features an element of man-made fibre to assist with ease of laundering and longevity to bring an outstanding ROI.”

“In addition to this, we have also launched our most luxurious bed linen range, Savoy is an 800 thread count 100% cotton sateen fabric that feels gorgeously soft and silky against the skin and is sure to give guests an unforgettable night’s sleep.”

Victoria Oracz at Vision agrees the result of the EU referendum has undoubtedly increased anxiety and uncertainty around the country as the future of the British economy remains unclear. This means that the hospitality sector is going into 2017 with exactly the same “unclear” outlook, she says, adding that security concerns could also create an unfavourable backdrop.

“However, we have also seen some forecasts predict that, actually, regional cities will fare best through the year with Manchester, Edinburgh and Birmingham all expecting occupancy rates of 77%. International travel will be a boost for the hospitality market as travellers from overseas will take advantage of the weak pound whilst regional cities will benefit from those looking for a “staycation” amidst expensive foreign travel.

“For Vision, the unstable economy means that we have to strive, more than ever, to create innovative and high performance textiles in a market where customers want the best product at the lowest price.”


The Brexit factor

At Tonrose, founding director Joe Molloy says that although the impact of Brexit has yet to be fully felt, sterling has fallen and the UK looks like an even more interesting place to visit. He says: “2017 will see this growth continue provided the government sends out a clear signal on the shape and full scope of Brexit and a reassurance that the UK is still a cool and affordable destination for a tourist and a staycation alike.”

Molloy believes that in the present climate, the need to “box cleverer and better” has never been stronger. “Customers are looking for value in the things they want and shunning the frills, he says, adding that more and more hotel operators are coming back to basics. “Five star elements at three star prices seems to be the key and everyone must work hard to deliver this,” Molloy says.

Maximising the cycles in all core lines of bed bath and table linen is vital, he says. “Forging long term and solid relationships with key customers and working with them to deliver true value, which can be verified and passed on to the end user, remains our goal.”

Richard Yates, sales director at Linen Connect, is hopeful that 2017 will be as positive as 2016. He says that Linen Connect has seen increased business across all product ranges. The demand for linen both from hotels and laundries has been increasing each year, which only bodes well for the hospitality industry.

“With demand for linen increasing, Linen Connect is seeing next day service as a “standard” service,” he says. “Long gone are the days when linen is ordered with a lead time. Everything is required next day such are the pressures on the textile rental operators. As such, high stock levels are critical for any textile supplier.”

Stock is key along with the service. “The demand for higher quality textiles is also increasing. Towels are increasing to a heavier weight and bed linen to a higher thread count.”

Linen Connect’s Tuscany 650gsm towel range and its Triora bed linen 80/20 blend 200TC are fast becoming the company’s best sellers, and demand is increasing. “The industry best sellers  Nimbus 500gsm towels and Siena 70/30 bed linen will always be the volume items but the demand is there for the higher end items.”

Linen Connect has introduced its Novara 80/20 250TC 4mm microstripe duvet cover range. “The response has been incredible with more and more customers introducing the range into their portfolio.”

Victoria Oracz at Vision believes that supplying high quality products at competitive prices will always be key in a laundry environment where product performance is vital. “Vision has offices in the country of manufacture, which help us maintain our consistently high quality levels as well as product innovation,” she says, adding that ethical sourcing and environmental responsibility are now becoming equally as important.

With this increased focus on promoting environmental issues around the world, customers are now much savvier and environmentally aware; seeking out companies who engage in responsible business practices as opposed to sticking with a supplier for the sake of tradition. “Our six global offices are all dedicated to sourcing, supplying and distributing millions of products each year and we accept the obligation on our business to adapt to the environmental realities of today and of the future,” says Oracz.

Committed to purchasing products from manufacturers who are actively working to safeguard the environment using sustainable, recycled or recyclable materials where possible, Vision also works with those who minimise the amount of waste, packaging and energy used.

“We also have strict guidelines on ethical sourcing of products ensuring our overseas workforce are employed from the indigenous population, on equivalent contractual terms whilst encouraging equality of opportunities and meeting national minimum wages.”

“Throughout the year, we’ve fielded many queries surrounding our commitment to ethical sourcing; both from current and from new customers indicating that it’s certainly something customers are considering when choosing who their preferred textile supplier or rental operator will be. It’s becoming increasingly important for a company to be transparent about their business practices and ensure they showcase their accreditations to instil faith and trust in a consumer; from quality control accreditations to marks of approval surrounding the international supply chain. Customers want to know they are receiving a product that is safe, of sound quality and recognised as being so.”


Monitoring linen

Victoria Oracz at Vision sees radio frequency identification (RFID) as a topic of real interest in many laundries. “We have seen a huge increase in the demand for RFID in 2016 and anticipate this growth to continue,” she says. “However I believe that RFID will revolutionise the market and eventually become a natural part of the linen purchasing process.

Raj Ruia of Richard Haworth, agrees. “We are slowly but surely seeing an increase in RFID adoption rates. Over time the technology has become more affordable making RFID more attractive to laundries and we have seen many start to use the technology on certain products.”

Oracz at Vision says that although RFID has been slower than anticipated to initially take off, the company believes that the growing focus on sustainability will persuade more and more hoteliers to get on board with RFID identification systems through the coming year. “This focus on creating a sustainable and innovative environment means that less product is wasted and/or bought when not required and enables businesses to monitor their activity, she explains. As laundries are faced with increasing textile costs, there is a greater demand to keep track of these products, not only to track the whereabouts of the items but also monitor the life cycle of the product. “As we know, the cheapest product is not always the cost effective if it doesn’t last as long.”