After spending billions revamping bedding, bars and lobbies, U.S. hotels are starting to tackle guest bathrooms.

The bathroom upgrades — either part of a broad improvement program or new construction designs — come as hotels enjoy record rates and occupancy levels. In the past two years, rates jumped on average 11%, says lodging consultant Bjorn Hanson of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Spiffier bathrooms can justify or speed up rate increases, he says. They also can distinguish a hotel from rivals and please guests accustomed to showcase bathrooms at home, he says.

The bathroom is so key, says Embassy Suites brand manager Jim Holthouser, that it can "make or break" a guest's stay.

Many luxury hotels are making bathrooms bigger, replacing bathtubs with tiled, walk-in showers, adding body spray fixtures and providing double vanities. Less-expensive hotels are replacing man-made countertops with granite, installing curved shower rods and upgrading showerheads in existing bathtub showers.

Hoteliers recently realized the need to invest in bathrooms because guests had "a better experience at home than what we were delivering in the hotel room," says John Wallis, a Hyatt executive.

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