Once upon a Heavenly mattress

By Jeri Clausing

*logoIt began with the Heavenly Bed by Westin, which launched the hotel bedding wars that revolutionized not only mattresses but the hospitality industry.JeriClausing 

Other upscale and luxury hoteliers jumped in. Sofitel had its SoBed (still my favorite). Hotels offered special, luxurious bedding. The products were so popular that hospitality companies began offering them in the retail space.

Now, 15 years since the Heavenly Bed was born, the concept that refocused the hospitality industry on its core mission -- sleep -- is as strong as ever.

Take the announcement last week from Four Seasons. The hotelier has just unveiled its Four Seasons Bed, which it billed as the industry’s “first fully customizable hotel bed.” The bed, developed with Simmons, ”allows for the hotel to switch out mattress tops to provide three levels of firmness."

The bed is available at several U.S. properties and will be rolled out worldwide in the next few years, Four Seasons said.

While today the focus on high-end, ultra-comfortable beds seems logical, the Westin Heavenly Bed rollout was considered risky at the time.

Former Westin public relations executive Sue Brush, who was involved in the launch of the Heavenly Bed under then-Starwood Hotels CEO Barry Sternlicht, told me before she retired a few years ago that the concept was met with much skepticism both internally and externally. But Sternlicht could not be swayed, and the revolution was born.

Now, in addition to special beds, many high-end hotels offer things like pillow bars that enable guests to choose between feathers and synthetics, firm or soft. Some have hired sleep specialists and launched stress-relief programs. Amenities from eye masks to lavender sprays to special television channels abound as hoteliers vie to become known as more sleep-friendly.

Four Seasons, for example, says it developed the bed after it commissioned a study about guests’ sleep preferences, another increasingly common tool being used in the hotel sleep wars.

The company said its survey by Ipsos showed that 92% of respondents expressed distinct preferences on the firmness of a bed. Thirty percent said they had requested a room change or taken other action -- even sleeping on the floor or in the bathtub -- when their hotel bed didn’t suit their needs.

In a statement about the Four Seasons Bed, Chris Hunsberger, Four Seasons' executive vice president of product and innovation, said that “from the day we welcomed our very first guests for the night, more than five decades ago, we have placed supreme importance on creating optimal sleep conditions, along with the intuitive service that has always been the hallmark of Four Seasons.”

But the next time I curl up in a hotel bed that feels as good or better than home, with all the special sleep amenities only a luxury hotel can offer, I’ll be thanking Barry.
 

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