(eTN) – Everyone needs one although most people don’t like to talk about it. Even the most modest motel room has one, and luxury hotel suites have many. There is one near every food and beverage outlet, health club, swimming pool, and lobby.
As hotels look to differentiate their properties from the competition, this is the space that is gaining increased attention from architects, interior designers, manufacturers, and guests. In some cases, it is the only part of the hotel that is discussed over cocktails and dinner. Kept out of sight and ignored for so long, this necessary amenity is finally taking center stage, and guests are willing to pay bigger bucks to have one (or more) in their hotel rooms.
What’s In a Name
Some call it a latrine, lavatory, loo, head, privie, water closet, commode, bathroom, restroom, or john. Celebrities boast about it, Leonardo DiCaprio has one and so does Will Smith, while Demi Moore discusses it on late night television with Jay Leno. Major hotels like the Halekulani in Hawaii, the Grand Hyatt in Atlanta, send out press releases to bring attention to the amenity, and Rafael Vinoly Architects (NY) installed them in the new Vdara Hotel and Spa, Las Vegas, Nevada. What is it? The Toto Toilet!
There is a cultural influence on the use and design of toilets. In 1500 BC, the ancient India Manusmriti Vishnupuran prescribed a drill for married couples prior to using the toilet. They had to chant a mantra, wear a sacred thread, cover their head with a cloth, be silent, face the north or south (depending on the time of day), not touch water during the process, and when finished, hold the water pot in the right hand, using the left for cleansing. The rules were changed or modified depending on family class, illness, infirmities, celibate, or sainthood.
The first flushing water closet with a wooden seat was developed by King Minos of Crete over 2800 years ago, and a toilet was discovered in the tomb of a Chinese king of the Western Han Dynasty dating from 206 BC to 24 AD. Chamber pots were used in the Middle Ages and the contents tossed out a window. In the 16th century Sir John Harington developed a flush toilet (prive in perfection) for Queen Elizabeth I, his Godmother, to use in Richmond Palace.
It was, however, not until the 19th century and a cholera epidemic (1832) in Europe that killed millions of people, for lawmakers, medical experts, inventors, and the public to realize that disease was spread through open sewer systems, and the control of human waste became a priority. By the 1840s sanitary sewers began to be installed, and they carried an outlet for waste water, encouraging the development of indoor plumbing and working water closets.
The First Hotels
Reading the market research of the time, Boston’s Tremont Hotel (1829) introduced the concept of indoor plumbing, and Isaiah Rogers, the architect for the property, had eight water closets installed on the ground floor. Five years later, Rogers built the Astor House with 17 water closets and bathrooms to service 300 rooms.
The modern gravity flushing toilet (cistern) was finally developed in 1872 by the British plumber, Thomas Crapper (whose name became a euphemism for the toilet when WWI soldiers returned home). In 1908, the Statler Hotel in Buffalo offered a room with a bath for US$1.50, and the toilet became a standard fixture in hotel rooms throughout the country.
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Kazuhika Okura, Toto’s founder, was born in Tokyo in 1875, graduated from Keio University and joined his fathers’ fine china trading company. To become familiar with the United States, Okura attended Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie, NY, and then entered the NY branch of his fathers’ organization. Over the next few years, he made several trips to Europe to research the ceramics industry. Inspired by what he saw, he started Toto (1904) and eight years later opened his own sanitary research laboratory.
We get to thank the Japanese for many things from just-in-time manufacturing to the Walkman and not the toilet. While Toto toilets have dominated the Japanese markets for decades, it was not until 1982 that the Washlet was introduced and became the world’s first toilet equipped with an automated bidet. Current estimates determine that 60 percent of Japanese households have the Washlet in their homes, while Japanese hotels publicly advertise the product as a hotel feature. Tokyo Inn, one of Japan’s largest hotel chains, includes the Washlet as a standard in all their properties. For some guests, the Washlet is more important than Internet connectivity.
Jason Fitzsimmons, the AVP of Sales for Toto USA, in an exclusive interview stated, “Toto is founded on innovation with a focus on conservation.” In 1989, Toto was introduced to the US market and today is certified by ISO 14001:2004 and ISO 9001:2000.
In addition to being the most desired of toilets, Toto USA meets the requirements for the Buy American Act (BAA) of 1933 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that President Obama signed into law on February 17, 2009 to restart the US economy with new projects that put Americans back to work.
Toto USA is based outside Atlanta, GA, and according to Fitzsimmons, “Over 1500 engineers at Toto are dedicated to reviewing and designing new products and improving the bathroom experience.” While some companies outsource their market research, Toto believes in keeping staffers, engineers, and designers close to the product. “Employees are used to testing new designs. Their comments are anonymous, so they are free to point out any shortcomings, and they are rewarded for better designs by enhanced career paths,” according to Fitzsimmons.
Fitzsimmons added: “The customer who selects Toto is one who seeks a hygienic experience combined with a sense of luxury, while reducing water and energy consumption. Toto combines high efficiency with luxury.”
The Toilet Is the Destination
Toto options: For existing toilets, the Washlet can be a welcome addition, while the best choice for high-end properties, the Neorest is the talented performer with the right answer to the question “What is the very best way to keep guests personally clean?” Toto can light up your life when you enter the room, warm the seat before sitting, offer a bidet function, and provide a choice of water flow. It can also hide activity sounds with a faux flush that replicates a geyser. In addition to the heat and the spritz, it dries and deodorizes (the guest and the room), flushes automatically, and the lid rises and lowers hands-free. The toilet can be musically programmed thanks to a built-in audio system and will power up or down depending on usage patterns.
Toilet Selection Saves Trees
Toto Washlet offers guests the ability to use 50–90 percent less toilet paper and, in some instances, reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Noting that Americans use 3.2 million tons of toilet paper annually, requiring the killing of 54 million trees, the use of the Washlet is a major contribution to the minimizing of carbon footprints.
For travelers who may, unfortunately, find themselves in a hotel without a Washlet or Neorest, Toto has developed a portable version that has all of the hygienic benefits of its hotel sister. It can be used on road trips and camping. Filled with water, a push of a button releases a spray that assures fresh warm water cleansing in facilities with dubious standards.
Product Differentiation: Toilet Envy
It is not easy to develop a competitive edge in the hotel industry. Brands have focused on beds, pillows, scents, service, and price. The savviest hotels are now focusing on the toilet. Sian Griffiths, the director of communications for Peninsula Hotels commented: “While ‘washlets’ in general and Toto-brand toilets in particular are perceived overseas as a luxury item, these are not considered a high-end product in Japan – to the average Japanese person, it’s a very normal facility to be found everywhere throughout the country, including department stores, restaurants and cafes, hotels and guest houses, public toilets, and in most homes. As they are viewed as a standard amenity, it would be considered very strange if a hotel – and especially an up-market establishment – did not offer them as a normal part of the bathroom fixtures and fittings.”
While some hotels are busy installing transparent glass to separate the toilet from the bedroom and others are providing scenic views while seated, we can only hope that all hotels will catch up to the Japanese notion of providing a positive Toto experience for each and every guest.