Food & Hospitality World takes a look at how the linen industry is evolving and growing in response to the changing demands of hotels in India By Rituparna Chatterjee
A new breed of travellers have emerged, who are more demanding than their predecessors. Right from the time they enter a hotel, they want to feel completely at home. They see luxury more as an experience, rather than a physical commodity. Adding a new dimension to the layer of luxury in a guestroom as the linens. Linen manufacturers in India are designing more options than merely the traditional white linen. “Improved spending capacity of hotels and customer demand has given the linen industry an opportunity to introduce higher quality and variety of linens in the market,” states Dhanish Dharmarajan, executive housekeeper, Alila Diwa Goa adding that, the linen industry in India has grown multiple fold in the past 15 years.
“Decades ago, there was a trend wherein hotels and institutions would repeat the same product year over year. For example, five years ago, one could find the same linen being used across every hotel. Even guests were tired of seeing the same plain and striped bed linen in majority of hotels they would visit. Very few exclusive hotels, would dare to experiment with their linens and that too it was limited to their exclusive suites. The scenario used to be the same with bath linens as well. All that a guest could find in a hotel bathroom were plain terry towels,” opines Nitin Mohan, managing director, Linen Craft. However, the scenario changed. With the entry of large number of global players in the Indian hospitality industry, the demand for linen and related products increased manifold. These new players increased the bar for standards and performance for linen and therefore launched the linen industry on a growth trajectory. “They have introduced with them the global linen standards to the Indian hospitality industry. While earlier, the maximum thread count that hotels used was 300, today it is being stretched to 1500,” adds Mohan. Presently, the linen industry is growing at a rate of 12 – 15 per cent annually and will continue to do so, avers Ashit Doshi, CEO, Fine Linnen Company. Of the various segments within the textile industry, bed linen and bath linen contribute to 2/3 of the total market size.
Despite the positive growth trajectory over the years, there are numerous challenges that this industry continues to face. For instance, it is dominated by the unorganised sector and only less than 10 per cent of the market is organised. “The Indian linen industry is one of the major revenue producing industries for the country’s economy. Even though the linen industry is recording such a good growth annually, the market is dominated by the unorganised sector. There is a huge scope of growth if it is more organised,” mentions Rana Chetia, executive housekeeper, Hyatt Pune.
Moreover, the present day linen industry in India is highly fragmented lacking standardisation. Similar is the state of the laundry industry which further deteriorates the quality of linens thereby shortening their useful life. “In several countries abroad, the industry has reached a level where a single party – often a third party – is responsible for maintaining the entire linen of the property and the job is done impeccably. The prime most reason why India has been far behind in this evolution is the lack of focus from entrepreneurs,” reveals Madhur Singhal, co founder, Linenwalas. He adds, “So often a typical retail textile shop or a small textile unit would be serving the needs of local hotels – without keeping in mind the special requirements of the institutional industry. Similarly, those linens would be washed by the local laundry person.”
Fierce competition among large and small scale vendors and producers to meet the demand has also complicated the situation. “There is a high demand for quality linen and indigenous raw materials do not meet the demand; hence plenty of linen raw materials are being imported which makes the market uncertain at times due to overseas inflation,” points out Dharmarajan. Adding a different perspective, Doshi, states that lack of knowledge amongst users on quality and the right product has made this business sensitive to price. “Most hotels do not look at long term advantage by using fine quality which will enhance customer experience, whiteness and life of the linen. Hotels in India only focus on budgets and in the long run, lose money by using products of inferior quality that do not last long. Hence more awareness is required,” suggests Doshi.
New age linens
Global hotel consultancy firm HVS London recently conducted a study titled ‘A New Breed of Traveller’ to ascertain how the changing nature of hotel guests are driving change in the hotel industry. The report highlights that the impact of rising affluence, globalisation and technology has led to modern hotel guests valuing experiences and the feeling of ‘being connected’ over traditional hotel luxuries. Linens are no exception to this rule as this new segment of traveller is looking for more options in this space. In hotel rooms the linen is broadly divided into bed linen and bath linen. Bed linen comprises of bed sheets, duvet covers, pillow slips and bath linen includes bath towels, bath sheets, face towels, bathmats, bath robes, to name a few. “In India many hotels offer a linen menu to their guests, so as to attain maximum guest satisfaction. Earlier pillows and duvets were confined to just hollow fibre filling for standard rooms and duck and goose feather down products for the luxury segment. Today a luxury hotel can offer up to 20 selections for pillows, which includes microfibre, soya, memory foam, bamboo and even horse hair,” states Mohan adding that, a majority of their clients have shifted from regular plains and stripes to jacquards and patterns. Even the composition of linen is being changed. Earlier linen made of 100 per cent cotton was being used, while now many properties are using a blend of cotton and polyester or even a 100 per cent polyester based linen. Polyester blends provide durability to linens. Other compositions include bamboo, organic cotton, Egyptian cotton, microfibre, nylon, etc. Even the yarn and weaving technique for linens is being upgraded. As for thread count, hotels are opting for ones ranging from 550 GSM to 700 GSM.
With more demanding hotels, linen manufacturers are now offering the option of customisation. For instance, Linenwalas produce customised linens for more than 200 properties in India and abroad. “We offer blends in several fabrics which increases the strength and makes it more durable. Also, the feel is more or less maintained. Several of our clients not only ask for customised embroidery and prints, they also ask for customised weaving of their design in the fabric itself. We are also planning to launch a collection of next-gen designs of linens which moves far beyond the normal plains and stripes,” reveals Singhal. Likewise, Fine Linnen Company is customising linens in different thread counts/designs and even embroideries. “People are now wanting to try blended (cotton/polyester) fabrics. They have a longer life and the cost of laundry too reduces marginally,” adds Doshi.
For instance, Alila Diwa Goa for their beds use linens which are 100 per cent cotton with a 400 thread count. “There is an assumed 25-30 per cent of linen replacement required for damaged linen also there will be lost linen too. Purchasing of linen is done on a yearly basis,” states Dharmarajan. While Hyatt Pune uses bed linen ranging from 350 to 400 thread count and bath linen from 550 to 600 GSM. “We spend approximately Rs seven to eight lakh per annum for purchasing new linens for rooms and the purchasing is done either half yearly or quarterly depending on factors like discard, misuse, missing, etc,” mentions Chetia. Whereas, The Lalit Mumbai has allocated 20 per cent of their total housekeeping budget for linens. “As we have in-house laundry we maintain three pars of linens and purchase as and when required,” points out Rinku Mandal, executive housekeeper, The Lalit Mumbai.
The tech factor
The hospitality industry globally has long awakened to the advantages of using Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) in their properties. Its usages include – RFID hotel locks, room energy management, asset management and loss prevention, laundry management, vehicle management, RFID lockers and guest recognition system. RFID enabled linen manager system was also introduced to tackle issues faced by hotels worldwide with regards to the management of their linen. Even though the RFID system is widely used by hotels outside India, the system is yet to gain popularity in the Indian hospitality sector. “At Hyatt Pune we do not have a RFID system but for controlling the linen inventory we do have a data collection and reporting platform system which helps in maintaining the inventory and ordering of linen,” states Chetia. The reason why not many hotels in India are adopting this technology is due to the high cost involvement, avers Dharmarajan. “But surely this technology will revolutionise laundry management by increasing productivity, helping in loss prevention in terms of exchanging linens, highly reducing the time spend by the hotel staff in managing their uniforms and eventually reducing the need for a high PAR due to total visibility,” reasons Mandal.
For maintaining a strict control of the linen stock, Alila Diwa Goa conducts a physical linen inventory check once a month. “Cost minimisation by laundry management is up to 19 per cent. Laundry is a major cost factor when it comes to operation – heat, light, power, water, chemicals and manpower are required to run the show. By introducing efficient methods we can bring down the operating cost and minimise the impact on the environment,” suggest Dharmarajan. As for The Lalit Mumbai, the hotel takes ample care in laundry to keep minimum level of discard and proper inventory. “In laundry we use quality chemicals to enhance the life of the linen, we check the quality of water used in laundry, having AMC for all laundry machines,” says Mandal.
While Hyatt Pune takes into consideration various factors like the laundry cycle, replacement linens and emergency situations to manage their linen inventory. Every month they conduct a quality audit in coordination with one of the leading suppliers of laundry chemicals by using a data collection and reporting platform. “The audit helps us to identify the issues which require attention. Over the years the system has helped us to monitor the reordering of linen and it had reduced the reordering cost by 15 per cent,” boasts Chetia.
Sustainability has become the latest buzz word among hotels. From energy efficient lighting to water-saving bathroom products, hotels are adopting diverse technologies to minimise their long term operational cost and contribute towards the environment. Eco-friendly linens are one among such initiatives. “There are eco-friendly, microfiber fabrics available having longer life and greater absorbency. Hotels are slowly adapting these products due to the high cost involvement. For a longer operation these eco-friendly linens will reduce the laundry operation cost and linen cost. The chemicals which can be used are natural cleaning agents or organic products,” states Dharmarajan. Some of these chemicals include Eco booster, Hi Tide, Eco Soft, Eco Sour to name a few.
But where does the future demand lie? “I think green, textured and designed linens are already in the hotel business and will be widely used in the near future,” predicts Dharmarajan. Adding to this, Chetia states, “I believe in the near future the demand for linens made from natural materials that include bamboo, coir, jute, paper, sea-grass, sisal, sisool and wool will increase. Also the demand for linens which have a quicker drying time will increase. Futuristic hotel bed designs will open up the possibility of using bed linens made out of modified spandex material, which will be more comfortable, easy to make bed and would not require ironing.” In addition, people will start using blended fabrics in plain / satin weave without any designs, adds Doshi. Plus there would also be a shift from plains and stripes to more modern designs. “However, in India, the biggest challenge still remains to be the laundry and till the time it evolves, the usage of organic textiles would be limited,” opines Singhal.