Coca tea

In past years, travelers would count themselves lucky if they received luxe toiletries from their hotels. A toothbrush would be a bonus. But today, hotels are upping the ante, attempting to make themselves stand apart from the others by offering creative free amenities ranging from car rentals to foot massages.

“These amenities differentiate properties from their competition and allow them to stay ingrained in the local community,” says Chris Davis, director of revenue for South Congress Hotel, Hotel Ella and part of New Waterloo, a hospitality management and development company for hotels and restaurants. “More and more hotels are popping up on a daily basis and as competition increases, finding a niche and exceeding guests’ expectations is required,” he says.

For example, at Casa Palopo, a hotel on the edge of Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands, guests are welcomed with a complimentary foot massage on the hotel terrace while they sip gratis Rosa Palopo (hibiscus juice, watermelon juice and lime).

At the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, guests are escorted to the Nina Sonocco Lounge to sit by the fire and sip coca tea. The tea is made in the Andes and helps guests adjust to the high altitude. Additionally, all guest rooms have an oxygen enrichment system to further the adjustment.

“We are now in a time where everything is about experiences and how they can one-up their competitor, and these are attractive to clients because they want to be able to show off those experiences, probably on Instagram,” says Michelle Lang, luxury travel consultant based in Aventura, Florida. “The market has become more competitive and with lower-end brands like Holiday Inn, for example, offering perks such as free breakfast and the Internet, the higher-end luxury properties have to step up their game and show that they are worth the cost.”

To differentiate themselves, The House, an adults-only boutique hotel on Barbados’ west coast, doesn’t have a check-in desk. Instead, guests go directly to their suite with a glass of champagne, followed by a complimentary 30-minute jetlag revival massage. So as soon as they arrive, the relaxation begins.

And while the old standards like chocolates, fruits or the swan-shaped towel may not impress guests anymore, a hotel doesn’t need to spend a fortune to stand out above the rest.

animal, towel, bed

“They need to think outside of the box,” says Sangeeta Sadarangani, CEO and founder of Crossing Travel Company, based in London and Los Angeles. “Luxury guests like thoughtful and meaningful travel and spaces; it’s all about the experience in the hotel, not just the television in the room.”

Even a unique perfume in the room would make the stay special, Sadarangani says.

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Amenities that tend to be the most successful, however, are personalized, unique items. This could range from a local designer-made bathrobe or bag to a photo frame with the guest’s photo in it to a chef’s created special appetizer or dessert, Sadarangani says.

For children, a special toy or game to match their personalities, kiddie cocktails at the bar during cocktail hour and culinary experiences are very valued and liked, Sadarangani says.

Travel agents can also get in on the amenities action via consortia called Signature Travel Network, Lang says.

“With this program, we have the opportunity to offer breakfast for two daily, either a spa or food and beverage credit and also an amenity. And based upon availability, will be able to do a free upgrade and early check-in or late check-out,” Lang says.

Those amenities are available to the agents at the same rate listed for just the room that others would find online.

“Anytime that I am dealing with a client, they will choose one of those signature hotels over any other, even if the rate is higher, just because of the amazing amenities presented,” Lang says.

After all, everyone wants to feel special, especially on vacation.