Hotels are betting that today's travelers love putting their personal stamp on their guest room, just as they might their espresso drink at a Starbucks cafe.
The Hyatt Century City in Los Angeles, for instance, recently installed a flower cart beside the front desk. Once guests check in, they're offered a small vase and told they can pick a few flowers to bring up to their room, at no extra charge.
They can pick tulips, daisies, irises, chrysanthemums, sunflowers and other flowers, depending on the season, says hotel spokeswoman Adrienne Devore. Flowers are changed out twice a week and the vases are recycled. It's been so popular with guests that more Hyatt hotels likely will adopt it.
The flower-cart concept is only the latest twist on a trend that gained notoriety a few years ago with the "pillow menu" concept, a program embraced by some chain hotels to make customers feel like individuals without requiring hotels to make a significant investment.
Yet today, hotels are allowing travelers to determine everything from the daisies in their room to the shampoo brand in their shower. It's a way to appeal to increasingly important Gen Y and Millennial travelers, who tend to shy away from cookie-cutter experiences.
On a broader level, the Hyatt chain in February rolled out a service that lets people borrow items that they have forgotten at home, such as mobile device chargers, disposable razors, makeup remover wipes and yoga mats. The chain-wide program came after Hyatt spent 18 months studying the needs and expectations of female travelers.
At the four New York boutique hotels that belong to the Library Hotel Collection, customers can order, for free, a number of items to customize their room when booking on the website. Options include coffee makers, lighted makeup mirrors, a mini-refrigerator, down or memory foam pillows, hypoallergenic bedding and eye masks, says Adele Gutman, the company's sales vice president.
Last month, the group expanded the program by placing a card listing the options on guestroom beds. It was in response to TripAdvisor reviews that suggested guests didn't realize the items were available, Gutman says.
The two most popular requests? Memory foam mattress topper and a device developed by a doctor designed to block city sounds and to encourage sleep, she says.
Last fall, Hilton Worldwide's luxury Conrad chain with about 20 hotels rolled out new amenities as part of the industry trend toward offering guests name-brand toiletries instead of generic ones. But the chain didn't roll out just one. It rolled out three different brands so that guests can pick their own.
Today, Conrad customers can choose toiletries from Aromatherapy Associates, a line that contains essential oils; Shanghai Tang, a line from a Chinese fashion label; and Tara Smith Vegan Hair Care, a line from a celebrity hairstylist who makes vegan skin-care products.
Before arriving at the hotel, Conrad guests receive a list of the toiletry options but they can also make their choice when they check into their room or using the Conrad's "Conrad Concierge" mobile app. Aromatherapy Associates products are put in rooms when a guest doesn't make a choice.
Some Custom Options Cost Money
Of course, buying custom-made items usually costs extra and increasingly hotels are giving guests the option of customizing their room or stay for a price.
Several Omni hotels including the Omni Forth Worth are rolling out an online service that lets customers personalize their room and entire stay by placing orders before they arrive. For instance, a guest can order their favorite alcohol and mixers and a couple of $6 slices of Dr. Pepper chocolate cake delivered to their room before they arrive.
The Omni Fort Worth hotel will be promoting the new service with a "Celebrate" guest package aimed at people celebrating a birthday, bachelorette party or other special event, says Omni spokeswoman Anne Tramer. Prior to arrival, customers who buy the package will receive an e-mail showing options to purchase flowers upon arrival or special snacks such as "whiskey and wings" for a bachelor party or a "build your own sundae" for a child's birthday party.
And earlier this week, the Sheraton Waikiki in Hawaii opened "Gift," a store across from the resort's front desk that sells amenities such as Hawaii collectibles, fresh local fruits, local snacks and bottles of wine. The store's open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Unlike a regular retail shop, Gift sells a limited number of items in three price categories — $25, $55 and $75, excluding tax. The buyer — whether the parents of newlyweds or a meeting planner treating a key client, for example — can include a personalized message with the gift when a staffer delivers it to the recipient's room.
"Gift was created to provide guests with a more personalized way of receiving an amenity gift based on what their preferences are," the hotel says in a statement.