Under pressure from brand companies and in response to guest preferences, many hotel owners are replacing tub/shower combinations with walk-in showers.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Slowly but surely, the once-standard tub/shower combination in many hotel bathrooms is becoming a thing of the past. Due to changing guest preferences, along with brand company recommendations and mandates, owners building new hotels or renovating existing properties are installing walk-in showers without tubs in many guestrooms.
Executives from several brand companies said in general they “recommend” or “encourage” owners to convert a majority of bathrooms from tub/shower combinations to walk-in showers only. For the most part, brand company recommendations are for showers only in king-bedded guestrooms and in some double rooms.
“There is not a hard-and-fast percentage, and it varies by what we learn by speaking with the ownership and researching the expected demographics of a hotel,” said Vito Lotta, senior director of design for Hilton Worldwide Holdings.
He said the standard for new-build, full-service properties in the Hilton system is for all king rooms to have showers without tubs. The company also recommends a percentage of double rooms to have showers only.
“In some cases, that number might be 40% of the queens with tubs and 60% with showers only,” Lotta said. “However, we encourage owners to go to the minimum amount feasible. It could go as low as zero rooms with tubs, of course excluding what is required for accessibility.”
The recommendations are similar for new-build and renovated select-service properties in the Hilton family. One exception is Tru by Hilton, the company’s new midscale brand, said Rich Leahy, director of focused service design. For that product, nearly all guestrooms will have showers only. A few rooms will have bathtubs, as guided by regulations from the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Like Hilton, Marriott International prefers that owners completing renovations consider converting bathrooms with tubs to walk-in showers only, said Deborah Huguely, VP of global product development.
“In general, select-service (product improvement plans) require full bathroom updates, with a priority on tub to shower conversions,” she said in an email.
Driving the change
A number of chain executives, hotel operators and owners said it’s more than brand requirements that drive decisions to eliminate bathtubs in favor of showers.
“In some cases it might be dictated by the brands, but you’re crazy not to do it, especially if you have an older property,” said Phillip Bullard, corporate director of facilities for Hotel Equities, an Atlanta-based hotel operator. “Showers make a bathroom look new and modern. How many homes do you walk into today that have tubs in the master bathrooms? It’s all walk-in showers.”
Lotta said the decision also is contingent on the types of guests a hotel attracts.
“It all depends on the perception of guest interests and the feedback you receive,” he said. “If it’s more business travel than leisure travel, it’s not likely these people will be spending time soaking in a tub. They’re going to get in and out of the shower and get going. However, at a destination hotel they might consider soaking in a tub.”
That perception extends to cleanliness and maintenance of guest bathrooms.
“In this day and age, more people shower than take a bath,” Leahy said. “And in a hotel, it’s a rare moment in which someone is going to take a bath and dump their body into a tub of water they didn’t clean.”
According to Bullard, officials at Hotel Equities believe bathrooms with walk-in showers offer an operational advantage.
“Housekeepers can clean them faster, and it’s much easier on their backs if they’re equipped with the right tools,” he said.
The age of a bathroom and its condition can also help owners determine when it’s time to convert from tub/shower to shower-only, Leahy said.
“Sometimes you get to a point where a tub needs to be refinished or the tile is outdated and needs heavy maintenance,” he said. “That can be a tipping point where it becomes easier and more cost-effective to pull out the tub and replace it with a shower than to continue to make it function beyond its natural lifespan.”
Guest and employee safety can be another issue.
“There are a lot of safety issues showers can eliminate,” said Don Haggerty, VP of renovation and construction for The Hotel Group. The company recently completed a renovation of a DoubleTree property in Billings, Montana, in which tub/shower combinations in 95 rooms were converted to walk-in showers.
“One issue is the shower curtain in a room with a tub,” he said. “You can’t see out of a shower curtain, so if someone walks in, you don’t know they are there. Also, there is the issue of stepping in and out of a tub. The older we get, our balance isn’t as stable.”
According to attorney Stephen Barth—a professor of law at the University of Houston and founder of a hospitality law website—a large number of guestroom accidents occur to both guests and housekeepers getting in and out of bathtubs.
“If you have a walk-in shower, a bench for leg shaving and a portable showerhead, and of course, the appropriate slip-resistant tile, you will eliminate most of the injuries that occur in and around the tub area,” Barth said.
Is it worth the expense?
Cost is a significant challenge for owners contemplating tub-to-shower conversions. According to the 2016 Hotel Cost Estimating Guide published by Jonathan Nehmer + Associates and HVS Design, the average per-room cost to convert a guest bathroom from a tub/shower combination to a walk-in shower ranges from $1,624.30 for an economy property to $3,198 for a luxury hotel. The estimate includes the cost for a new shower pan, surround, valve and showerhead.
“Given the expense of ripping out the tub to put in a shower, I don’t think many owners would do it if they weren’t forced by the brands,” said Warren Feldman, CEO of Jonathan Nehmer + Associates. “And frankly, as a hotel guest I’ve stepped over the tub into the shower for more than 35 years of travel, and it’s not such a horrible experience.”
Bullard said he estimates a 43% cost difference between renovating a tub and installing a walk-in shower. For a recent Hotel Equities renovation project, it cost $3,165.50 per room to install a walk-in shower versus $2,222 to resurface the tub, recaulk and install new surrounds, showerhead, shower rod, grab bar and other finishes.
Feldman said tub-to-shower conversions create space perception problems.
“Obviously, no one is going to accept a shower curtain, so the door to the shower has become a huge design issue to solve when doing a tub-to-shower conversion,” he said. “Years ago, we started installing radius shower curtain rods to make the tubs feel bigger, but now when you put a glass wall there you’ve lost that extra four or five inches of space you gained (with the radius rod).”
However, Feldman said in the future costs might be reduced through new design innovations, such as panelized shower surrounds that look like tile.
“The quality of the surround materials has really improved, and I’m seeing the same thing with shower door options,” he said. “Over time, these improvements will drive down costs, at least a little bit.”