LA Times

Luxury hotels compete by offering exclusive beauty products
Hotel Bel-Air and others raise the fancy quotient in guest rooms and suites.

By Valli Herman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer – September 28, 2008

WITH A harpist strumming gently in a garden gazebo, swans drifting across a pond and waiters circulating with gourmet hors d’oeuvres, the Hotel Bel-Air recently unveiled its newest bid to up the luxury quotient.

No, it wasn’t some over-the-top innovation in bedding or an exotic turn in room service.

The fuss was about soap — and shampoo, hair conditioner, shower gel and body lotion. The oft-overlooked little bottles in the bathroom are now at the center of the battle for the hearts, minds and well-moisturized complexions of luxury hotel guests. And landing a collection of exclusive bath and spa products has become the latest must-have coup among top hotels. Call it Soap Wars.

The five-star Hotel Bel-Air’s launch party was for Halcyon blue, a relatively unknown Australian luxury brand of bath and body products that feature essential oils. In North America, the only place to lay hands on them is this hotel. Guest rooms are stocked with travel-size sets of the products, which also appear in full-sized sets that sell for $115 in the gift shop (and show up as a perk in top-of-the-line rooms).

Across town in Pasadena, two days after the Bel-Air event, the Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa held an elegant luncheon to launch its exclusive spa product, Ajne Rare & Precious, a custom-blended fragrance previously available in Los Angeles only in gift baskets destined for Oscar nominees.

“You can get candles anywhere. You can get oils anywhere,” said Lisa Marie Potts, spa supervisor at the Langham. “We needed to get something special for a special property.”

Exclusivity is today’s prized commodity, and even previously well-regarded body product lines, such as Molton Brown and Crabtree & Evelyn, no longer deliver the aura that helps differentiate luxury hotels.

“Today’s traveler is very sophisticated,” said Paul Tchen, former general manager of the Peninsula Beverly Hills who’s now based in Shanghai. “Guests expect a premier experience at every point of the stay.”

Limits on liquids in carry-on baggage have forced air travelers to value anew the grooming supplies hotels provide. Offering a steady supply of high-quality bath products promotes goodwill and, hoteliers hope, loyalty.