Creating a good, lasting impression is particularly important in the hotel and hospitality sectors and the inclusion of stylish bedding and towels will help to do this for guests and customers.
Well-maintained and well-presented linen plays an important role in meeting the requirements of increasingly discerning customers and helps to differentiate a business in the UK’s competitive hospitality sector, particularly in the luxury market.
Successful hoteliers understand the importance of great first impressions. If the guest’s experience of linen, whether it be sheets and pillows in the bedroom or towels in the bathroom, is not consistently excellent, then the reputation of the whole establishment is put at immediate risk.
Recent research amongst hotel customers nationwide has shown that almost two-thirds of those questioned give the quality of towels and bedding as a factor that directly affects their decision as to whether they would return to a hotel. Hotel users placed poor quality linen significantly above other negative factors, such as bad staff attitude (24%), small rooms (4%) and a poor restaurant (4%), which would make them unwilling to return.
Reputation is a precarious thing, not least in the web-savvy age of customer reviews on websites like TripAdvisor and on blogging sites. If all it takes is a dirty or damaged pillow to spoil a reputation, it seems prudent to keep linen as a priority on the quality control agenda, according to White Knight’s managing director, Robert Adams.
The company commissioned research into guests’ attitudes and this showed 93% of guests feel that the quality of towels and bedding would affect their decision as to whether they would return to a hotel. Of that group, 58% said it would affect their decision "a lot" and 35% "to a certain extent".
The survey of 641 hotel users also revealed that 96% of hotel guests notice the cleanliness of towels and sheets in hotel rooms and that women were more likely to find dirty and poor quality sheets and towels an issue.
Cleanliness was a priority for bed linen, followed by a fresh smell and crisp feel. Cleanliness was the top preference for towels too, followed by softness and a generous size. Just under half of the respondents preferred white towels, to coloured ones
Adams says that the look and feel of the bed linen and towels is a critical part of creating the best guest experience. The survey shows that failure to get this right can have a marked impact on business.
It’s a point taken up by the suppliers. Super-soft white towels that smell clean and fresh are high on the list of hotel guests’ requirements according to a survey by Mitre Linen. Nearly all guests expected hotels to provide good quality towels. 49% of guests prefer branded towels, and 46% expect to have a facecloth in their hotel bathroom.
For the bathroom, 60% of hotel guests would prefer a large bath sheet to a large towel – and they would also prefer the towel to be fluffy, white and scented.
Three-quarters of hotel guests expect their towels to be laundered on a daily basis even though 84% claim to have taken the option to have their towels changed less often for environmental reasons, says Mitre Linen MD Stephen Broadhurst.
"There is nothing more luxurious than a super-soft bath sheet and it can make all the difference to a guest’s hotel stay," he says. "Choosing 100% cotton towels gives an indulgent heaviness while micro-cotton towels are great for extra absorbency and their soft properties. White towels are the most popular because they provide a crisp clean look for the bathroom.
"Little touches such as embroidering towels with the hotel logo can also make a big difference as well as helping laundry staff to keep track of towels."
Mitre recognises that spas also seek to deliver a luxury experience with many offering a specific colour of towel to complement the decor and create a relaxing atmosphere.
Because the client is in constant contact with the towel, either lying on it or wrapped in it, a soft handle is essential. "The challenge for many laundry operators is trying to remove the oils and scrubs used in the treatments," says Broadhurst.
High street health clubs, on the other hand, are more likely to provide their members with a basic towel that they can use in the shower after a workout, although private health clubs, which charge higher membership fees, may go for heavier weight, higher quality towels.
Losses through pilferage are high in this sector so clubs hope that towels of a lower weight and construction may be less attractive to those who are tempted to put them into their kitbags.
Co-ordinating robes, mitts, headbands and slippers are also an important aspect of the spa experience. Following extensive consultation with some of the industry’s top spas, the company launched its Enigma super-soft 550gsm cotton vat-dyed towels and couch covers to its existing super-soft white and coloured towels, bathrobes and slippers.
The 550gsm cotton towels are available in slate, sand, chocolate and black. The matching treatment blanket has a lightweight feel with a waffle design for added softness and comfort.
Hotels are also choosing higher quality, heavier weight towels, 500 gsm and above, to provide luxury for guests.
Raj Ruia, managing director for Richard Haworth, agrees: "In the last 12 months or so there has been a much greater demand for higher quality, heavier towels. Richard Haworth recently launched the Mayfair, a 650gsm collection with a unique narrow ribbed header. This range is made in Turkey from 100% combed cotton Turkish yarns." He added that the company has also introduced three new colours – black, chocolate and ivory – to its 600gsm Madison range.

Growth in the market
The hospitality linen market seems to be reflecting growing confidence in the economy. This has led to a very good year for Hilden, says commercial director Rod Nutter. He explains that there has been an increase in requests from hotel customers who continue to see bedding and bed linen as the way to encourage guests to return.
But he also notes that while 2015 was a great year for the hotel market, and this growth is set to continue into 2016, it may start to slow in the future. This could be due to rising numbers of room-letting websites, such as Airbnb, that offer a cheaper alternative to the traditional hotel room.
For now, UK-based hotels are continuing to benefit from the improving economy and capitalise on the rise in "staycations."
While London has seen a huge growth spurt over the last seven years, the market beyond London is now growing faster according to independent market reports. This will continue into 2016 with an estimated 4.2% growth expected for the provinces (compared to 2.3% in London). Around 9,500 hotel rooms are expected to be built outside London this year, and around 7,000 will be built in the city. Most will be budget branded rooms.
Looking ahead, Nutter believes that customer requirements will always centre around cost and durability,
"However this year we have seen a rise in the request for higher quality bed linen," he says.
"Hoteliers have invested more in bed linen than usual as they look to appeal to the guests by providing larger beds in addition to luxury bed linen. Many establishments now see dressing the bed as one of the most effective ways to communicate the standards of their hotel to the guest and so this has become the focal point of the room."
He says that Hilden is seeing a rise in requests for higher thread count linen, up to 300TC, as establishments prefer higher quality to more economical options.
"Interestingly we have seen more requests for quality from budget chains that are looking to ramp up their offering and compete directly with higher star-rated chains."
There has also been an increase in hotel groups tightening up brand standards and Hilden has been working closely with a number of groups to develop and deliver higher quality products consistently.
Whilst white is still the most popular colour for bed linen, many hotels are adding splashes of colour with throws or cushions, and this applies especially to boutique and pop up hotels, which are trying to distinguish themselves from the popular chains. Many hotels are looking to invest more in bed linen and filled products to offer guests an experience that differs from that they would usually get in more traditional hotel rooms.
This year Hilden is launching a range of Jacquard-woven bed linen, which it expects will prove popular with hotels. "Our Jacquard bed linen range, with its intricate design, will allow accommodation providers to keep the cleanliness and crispness associated with white linen, whilst distinguishing themselves from other venues," says Nutter.
Richard Yates, sales director of Linen Connect reports that signs are positive again for another busy year ahead but he thinks the rate of growth may slow. The forecast is for RevPar (revenue per available room) to be up again and this can only benefit the hospitality industry, he says, adding: "The last two years have been incredible for Linen Connect and hopefully 2016 will not be any different."
While demand is very high for both textile suppliers and textile rental operators, the market has brought some challenges. "Suppliers must deliver goods the next day at the latest and the turnaround for textile rental operators is increasing all the time," says Yates.
He points out that the rate of pieces per operator hour (ppoh) is important for the textile rental operators and so high stock holding is critical for the textile suppliers.
He adds that quality is key. The linen quality has to be consistently high and likewise textile rental operators must deliver linen with a very high standard of finish. They need to work with a good textile supplier that can offer the consistency and quality that the industry demands.
Yates says that cotton blends are still in very high demand. "The 80/20 plain 200TC range Triora, which Linen Connect launched last year, has been a huge success," he says, adding that the company has developed a new product for its portfolio, which is planned for launch around Easter 2016.
Linen Connect has also received numerous enquiries for a microstripe product and plans to launch its Novara range, a superior 80/20 250TC linen with 4mm stripe. "Already we have seen orders for this new range well in advance. Demand will be very high."
With regard to towels, Yates reports that Turkish towels are still on an upward curve. The Nimbus 500gsm is Linen Connect’s bestseller, although he adds that more and more laundries have moved to its Sorento 550gsm and Tuscany 650gsm. "Upping the specification (heavier weight) seems to be the way forward for the laundries when supplying towels to their customers," he adds.
Raj Ruia at Richard Haworth, says many hotels are moving to 100% cotton percale rather than polycotton or cotton-rich, to provide a luxurious experience for guests. He says that cotton percale bed linen, which historically caused laundries problems, is now much easier for laundries to process.
Customers also want more durable products and are investing in cotton percale. The company’s 200 thread count Blenheim range has the Optima finish, which Richard Haworth developed to make percale easier to finish. In response to the demand for higher quality, the company introduced the Hampton range of 400 thread 100% cotton percale bed linen.
Ruia adds that although crisp white linen is still a hotel room staple, his company has also noted the trend for larger bed sizes and says that Super King is the preferred size for most hotels. Mattresses are also increasing in size, particularly in their depth, to give the customer a more luxurious impression.

Monitoring linen
Rod Nutter at Hilden sees radio frequency identification (RFID) as a topic of real interest in many laundries.
"Linen loss is still a huge challenge for laundries and so it is surprising that the technology is struggling to gain the momentum we would have expected," he says. "However, I believe that RFID will revolutionise the market and eventually become a natural part of the linen purchasing process.
He accepts that sections of the laundry industry remain hesitant to invest in new technology.
"Currently areas of the market aren’t using the technological advancements to their full potential, but we think that it is only a matter of time," he says. "Many laundries are simply waiting for the costs to become more effective before they invest fully – the challenge of the national living wage may prompt more users to get involved."
Yates at Linen Connect agrees that RFID has a role to play in helping customers to monitor linen and the company will continue to advise customers that want to install it.
Linen Connect is "RFID ready" when the laundries want to adopt the technology but still the majority of the UK industry are sitting on the fence."
Ruia at Richard Haworth says that costs for the RFID tags have reduced over recent months, so making the technology more attractive.
"One of the remaining issues is how the tags can be attached to linen without negatively affecting their appearance. We feel once one of the major laundries commit to the product, many will follow suit."

VIBRANT COLOURS: Boutique and independent hotels especially are showing their personalities with bursts of vibrant colours. Part of Vision Support Services, Hilden reports that whilst white remains the most popular colour for linen, the company is seeing demand for added cushions and runners to bring the bed to life