Many laundry operators serving lodging customers, whether they are in-house or contract accounts, continue to see a proliferation of luxury textiles being used in guestrooms, food-and-beverage outlets, spas and elsewhere.
More generally, the trend toward embracing “green” operations continues to take hold among hotels and motels, with some lodging companies even introducing new, eco-friendly hotel brands to appeal to conservation-minded guests.
NO TRUCE IN ‘BED WARS’
Since Westin started the “bed wars” with the introduction of its “Heavenly Bed” in 1999, higher-thread-count sheets, triple sheeting and ultra-thick bedspreads and duvets have increasingly become standard fare among the major U.S. luxury hotels.
And while luxury bedding programs have been attractive to guests, they’ve forced laundry operators to make adjustments to clean and preserve these often-delicate, almost-always-expensive textiles.
As thread counts increase, so does the weight of the linen, for example, which can impact equipment choice and wash formula settings.
“The largest change is in finishing systems and the need for more control over wash liquor levels and cylinder/drum speeds in washer-extractors or tunnel washers,” says Matt Alexander, an independent consultant whose New York firm specializes in the design and management of laundry, housekeeping, textiles and valet services.
In many cases, the textiles are being processed in equipment that isn’t designed for handling such delicate goods, according to Glen Phillips, a Minnesota-based consultant whose international consulting and engineering firm specializes in textile maintenance.
“Most laundry equipment was designed to operate on high extraction speed in order to remove moisture,” says Phillips, who points operators toward washer-extractors with variable-speed-drive motors as better choices to launder the “fragile” textiles.
“We’re seeing ... items that have just ripped down the middle,” explains Phillips, whose company maintains an independent testing laboratory. “To those who don’t know what they’re doing, they can ruin a great deal of linen in a very short period of time.”
“Finishing equipment has gone wider — at least 130 inches and not less than 136 inches is better,” Alexander says. “We see ironers needing greater production potential to keep up with demand and the necessity for more control in the wash process.”
Hoteliers should consult their laundry service before making textile selections, Phillips advises. He relates the story of a Far East hotel group that installed taller beds in one of its properties and purchased a supply of 132-inch-wide sheets. The laundry soon pointed out that its ironer was only 110 inches wide. “They pretty much had to fold the sheets in half to process them.”
Imported textiles now have a vast majority of the hospitality market share, according to the consultants, with companies such as Milliken & Co. and Standard Textile being among the few remaining U.S. manufacturers.
The shift from domestic to import has also triggered a shift in product quality, they say.
“We have seen enormous fluctuations in the quality, consistency and durability of (imported) textiles over the past few years and all at a time when hoteliers are investing more and more in high-end, luxury textiles,” Alexander says. “Some of the products in use today simply do not hold up to the heavy commercial use required for economic application in a hotel environment.”
“As more and more of these textiles are being manufactured offshore, they’re not vertically integrated,” Phillips says. “You have no consistent quality control. If any one of those (manufacturing) processes is not done correctly, everything falls apart.”
Writing specifications for textiles and properly sourcing the goods are practices that would benefit any operator, Phillips adds.
Installing water reuse/reclamation systems and implementing linen-reuse programs are two green strategies linked to laundry services. By asking their guests when they would like their sheets and towels changed, the hotels of the Hilton Hotels Corp. reportedly save more than 12 million gallons of water a month while also reducing wastewater and the use of chemicals and energy.
But how do these and other initiatives demonstrate a hotel’s willingness to conserve resources?
“Similar to other forms of certification, a well organized and certified green program can represent a level of commitment to the environment that can provide assurance to hoteliers and their guests that the property has achieved a level of success that is difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate through self-regulation,” Alexander says.
The notion of going green is not new, Phillips says, but it does seem to be on everyone’s minds these days.
In its 2008 Lodging Survey, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) reported that 68% of its member properties use energy-efficient lighting.
Switching to low-wattage, high-output light bulbs is a simple, cost-effective way for a chief engineer to lower a hotel’s costs, Phillips says.
“He can go from a $3 light bulb to a $10 or $15 light bulb, and it can attack his bottom line pretty quickly,” he says.
But one has to be careful when taking certain conservation measures, because the choice might save energy but create a problem elsewhere.
Lowering the temperature on the water-heating system from 140 degrees to 110 “might make their gas bill look better, but it doesn’t do anything for the quality of the textiles being processed in the laundry,” Phillips says.
The Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System encourages sustainable green building and development practices such as installing solar panels for heating, taking advantage of natural light, and building with recycled materials.
Phillips supports green building for new properties but questions its feasibility in existing buildings.
“Trying to take an old building and adapt it to the LEED program is, I don’t want to say impossible ... but it’s extremely difficult.
“If you want to be as environmentally compliant as you should be, then we almost have to start with a virgin piece of ground.”
HERE OR THERE?
Economy motels often use on-premise laundries, even locating them just behind their front desk so attendants can do laundry while registering guests, Phillips says.
Alternately, a large OPL or a freestanding, dedicated facility can realize economies of scale that allow it to operate at a low cost, Alexander says.
The future of OPLs in tomorrow’s motels and hotels is truly yet to be determined, he adds.
“In most markets across the U.S., many commercial laundries have failed to meet the rising expectations of the hospitality industry,” he says. “In many of these markets, hoteliers and laundry companies have driven the market cost for textile services to an unachievable low cost ... below what a commercial laundry company can make a reasonable return on investment and sustain their business.”
Phillips says he’s encountered instances overseas in which hotel projects were denied municipal water hookups for OPL purposes because the local government was protecting the water supply for residential use. Meanwhile, commercial laundries were granted permits because they utilized high-efficiency equipment.