By:Barbara Delollis USA Today
When you walk into a hotel in the U.S. today, you’ll see many items – chairs, draperies, lamps – that were made in China, Vietnam, Malaysia or elsewhere overseas.
But that’s gradually changing, hotel designers and furniture makers tell Hotel Check-In.
There’s a small but growing trend among hotels to buy more items from local, regional or U.S. vendors.
Hotel owners, developers and designers are increasingly deciding it’s worth it, even if they pay a little extra for a U.S. product.
Why? There’s time and risk involved with ordering items from overseas, plus showcasing locally made goods can give the hotel a patriotic or community-minded spin.
- The Hyatt Regency Minneapolis recently finished a $25 million revamp that used “Made in America” as its central theme. More than three-quarters of the items purchased for the renovation came from the USA, says designer Michael Suomi of New York-based Stonehill & Taylor. The guest bathroom counter tops, for instance, feature granite quarried locally and purchased from a century-old Minnesota company.
- The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, in Greensboro, Ga., is in the midst of redecorating to give guests a lighter, more modern look with many U.S.-made products, says Megan Ybarra of the Dallas-based interior design firm Duncan Miller Ullman. The hotel found wall coverings from Kentucky, guestroom carpet from Georgia, and a Texas metalwork firm was hired to custom-make the metal branches that form the base of guestroom ottomans, she says.
- The InterContinental Chicago’s 477-room renovation emphasizes locally-sourced materials and furniture, says Dan Egan, the hotel’s sales and marketing director. Guest rooms contain drapery from Union, Ill., headboards from Jasper, Ind., wall covering from York, Penn., and room signage in hallways from McCook, Ill.
- Montague, a 20-year-old guestroom furniture maker, last April invested in its first-ever factory – and it’s located in North Carolina, says Misty Delbridge, who runs the company’s U.S. division. It made sense, because hotel owners are increasingly seeking products made here and the factory was in danger of closing down, she says. A Hilton hotel in Texas, for instance, is having the company prepare two model rooms for a renovation – one outfitted with furnishings made in Vietnam and the other with furnishings made in the U.S., she says. Montague still has about 70% of its products produced in China and Malaysia.
No. 1 priority: Put heads in beds
Another factor driving the growth in U.S.-sourced products is hotels’ rush to renovate in as small a window as possible so that rooms can stay filled with paying customers, says Delbridge. It’s especially true in New York City, where some hotels can be sold out or almost sold out most nights of the year.
“If the cost (to purchase U.S.-made furniture) is 10% higher and the hotel can gain revenue back in six to eight weeks, they’re all about it because then they could have a ‘Made in America’ story and gain revenue,” Delbridge says. “These companies wouldn’t do it just for the story. There’s got to be an advantage in it for them.”
Hotel renovations are faster paced than building new hotels from scratch, notes Ybarra, who worked on the Ritz-Carlton Lodge project. It typically takes about 18 months to renovate a hotel, which since the recession has been the most common activity among hoteliers, vs. about three years to build a new one, she says.
“Our clients are willing to pay an extra dollar or two to not have the hassle of waiting,” Ybarra says. There’s also the risk of complications, she says, citing long waits at U.S. Customs and a time when pirates took over containers filled with items for a Turks and Caicos hotel.
Sustainability regains momentum
The sustainability story was a big deal in the years leading up to the recession, says Suomi, who’s worked on projects ranging from the trendy Ace in New York to the mid-priced Hyatt House chain.
Back then, some hotels sought to earn green certification that required them to comply with a wide variety of environmentally friendly rules regarding construction, plumbing, landscaping and even air quality. But interest died down – especially among the major chains, he says – once developers saw the added costs. The economic collapse hurt interest even more.
Today, as travel and hotel profits rebound, Suomi says interest in sustainability is rising again – but with a twist. Hotels hope they can use what he calls “social sustainability” to distinguish themselves from rivals while at the same time making a favorable financial decision.
“If you’re socially sustainable in a way that really benefits the local communities, you involve them in the products of the hotel and you create an enormous amount of good will, then everyone will want to show it to their mom.”
More people are also realizing that American firms may be more price-competitive after factoring in the extra costs for shipping, trucking and warehousing items from Asia, he says.
Ybarra also notes that it’s getting easier to find items made in the USA. For the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Georgia, they bought 100% of the guestroom carpet from a vendor in the same state and all wall coverings from Kentucky, she says.
But there are some exceptions. Suomi says that for the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, one of the main items they could not find in the U.S. was a special wall-to-wall, patterned carpeting that’s custom-made for hotel ballrooms. The carpeting used to be manufactured in Pennsylvania until the last mill shut down and the looms sold to a Chinese company, he says. Ybarra identifies light fixtures as being harder to source domestically.
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