Some hotels in this country and overseas have made a startling discovery: Short of rebuilding, there's not much that they can do to improve their guest rooms.
They've added the requisite amount of bathrobes and designer soaps to the bathrooms. And, in some cases, they have installed more comfortable beds.
But now, many hotels have added a distinctive touch to help with the total guest experience: fresh flowers.
"Not long ago," says Victor Emery, director of the Savoy in London, "it was not unusual to walk into a hotel room and be greeted by a tacky bouquet of plastic or fabric flowers. Today, we feel that if the flowers can't be fresh, there shouldn't be any at all. We want people to remember us by the good things we do."
A Certain Thoughtfulness
Emery's view is shared by many hoteliers who believe that simple, fresh flowers indicate a certain thoughtfulness to guests. And more often than not, flowers in guest rooms go a long way toward making the stay a more positive experience.
At the Beverly Hills Hotel, flowers and gardening are the full-time responsibility of William Gusman, 56, who has been with the hotel for 37 years. He commands a crew of eight full-time gardeners charged with caring for the hotel's 16 acres. The hotel's five lawn mowers are constantly in use, landscaping the grounds, filled with dozens of varieties of flowers, as well as 100-year-old magnolia and cypress trees.
But the gardeners are always hard at work on special projects for guest rooms and bungalows.
When Queen Juliana of the Netherlands stayed in Bungalow Five, Gusman and his gardeners filled the room with tulips.
But VIPs aren't the only ones who get flowers. Each morning, 250 roses are delivered to guest rooms. And in a back room of the hotel, Ann Schinto, the flower room supervisor, constructs dozens of bouquets of tulips, daffodils, roses, pansies, petunias, ranunculuses, lilies and daisies.
Flowers Aren't Free
All of this additional flower work doesn't happen without a substantial cost. The Beverly Hills Hotel spends $135,000 a year on cut flowers and uses 23 million gallons of water for its gardens.
"Guests notice what we do," Gusman says, "and the garden work adds to the general good feeling they have about the hotel. I know they appreciate it."
And some guests seem to appreciate his work more than others. Each month, the hotel has to replace dozens of white chrysanthemums, tulips and other plants that guests pull out of the ground to take home with them.
But no one seems to take flowers more seriously than the folks who run Rosewood Hotels. The Hana Ranch Hotel on Maui has its own 11 1/2-acre nursery on the island that supplies other Rosewood hotels with many of their flower needs and grows orchids, ginger and papaya.
Jams and Herb Gardens
Each year the hotel also makes its own papaya and mango chutney jams. And the Bel-Air Hotel has its own little-known herb garden.
But the Rosewood group doesn't stop there. Twice each year, Rosewood President Robert Zimmer flies to Holland on special flower buying trips.
"We like to use the term flower emergency here," says Rick Duren, who handles the complicated floral chores at the Crescent Court hotel in Dallas.
Duren supplies flowers to 147 rooms a day at the hotel and makes special arrangements for regular return guests on request.
"There's a growing awareness about flowers," Duren says. "Our guests have become accustomed to them, and for many, having flowers in the room has become almost an addiction."
Duren uses 75 varieties of flowers and plants "from every continent except Antarctica."
Overseas, many hotels take good advantage of native flowers. The Sheraton Herradura Hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica, abounds in live orchids and other exotic plants.
The Salt Lick Lodge in Kenya, on a 28,000-acre game sanctuary, grows all its flowers. The Corfu Hilton boasts an in-house hothouse and six staff gardeners.
In Barbados, the Hilton's 14 landscaped acres are used to grow oleander, fragrant frangipani, hibiscus, red and white ixora and bougainvillea to be used in guest rooms. Chief gardener Everton Springer conducts regular garden tours.
At the Mauna Lani Hotel in Hawaii, Carol Caldwell works with a staff of four to provide flowers and special arrangements for guests. "Our philosophy," she says, "is that all the flowers should be locally grown."
100 Special Bouquets
Every morning at 6, Caldwell gets her special deliveries of heliconia, anthurium and ginger. "It's not unusual," she says, "for us to do 100 special bouquets a day."
Thirty staffers and nine full-time floral designers at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla., put together a minimum of 200 special floral arrangements a week. "It's quite a challenge," says Brenda Nichols, who supervises the work. Nichols also owns a special floral shop in the hotel. Five thousand flowers are used each week, including 600 orchids that the hotel buys just to float in guests' tropical drinks.