General manager Jennifer Rota knew the Distrikt Hotel’s 2010 opening near Times Square posed a challenge: “We’re in a one-block radius with every chain you can imagine, so how are we going to stand out?”
It’s the kind of dilemma that keeps you up at night. Ultimately, Rota zeroed in on the sleep experience, investing in airport-grade windows, upping the thread count to 500, and offering soft and firm pillows as well as turndown service in all 155 rooms.
Guests haven’t been shy about voicing their reactions. An analysis of user reviews across 250-plus websites—from TripAdvisor to Gogobot to Zoover—reveals that the Distrikt’s beds are the most comfortable in America. TrustYou, which specializes in online reputation management, evaluated the mentions of beds at U.S. hotels that got at least 400 reviews with at least 10 bed mentions between January 2013 and January 2014.
The top-ranking hotels are found primarily in big cities like Vegas and Chicago, with nine of the top 20 based in New York—despite or perhaps because of the city’s reputation for sleeplessness. (It also welcomed a record-breaking 54.3 million tourists in 2013.) “I think sleep is probably about 60 percent of the guest’s stay, in New York especially,” says Rota. “It may change in a tertiary market where you spend more time in your room.”
More surprising than location may be the kinds of hotels winning raves for their beds. Sure, multiple Starwood properties made the cut for the brand’s famous pillow-top Heavenly Bed, but some four- and five-star brands are notably absent.
Margaret Ady, TrustYou’s marketing director, believes it comes down to expectations: “If you look at a Howard Johnson, for example, the price is much lower than a Four Seasons, and if the bed turns out to be supercomfortable, travelers are more likely to point that out and be excited about it.”
Encouraging guests to share that excitement online may be especially important for smaller or independent hotels. Georgia’s Lodge at Sea Island did not have enough reviews to be included in TrustYou’s rankings, while the Farmhouse Inn of Forestville, CA, had enough reviews but less than 10 bed mentions.
Another takeaway is that improving guests’ quality of sleep doesn’t necessarily require a major overhaul. Michael Grandner of the University of Pennsylvania’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program encourages hotels to “think beyond the mattress,” and Rebecca Robbins, a researcher at Cornell and coauthor of Sleep for Success!, agrees that small tweaks can go a long way.
“Despite the fact that they're in the business of sleep, so often things go on at hotels that could really be improved,” says Robbins. “There’s nothing worse than having to struggle through on a short night’s sleep.”