Hoteliers know what guests take with them: Towels, toilet paper, washcloths. Mundane stuff, mostly.
But what guests leave behind is much more interesting: snakes, arrest warrants, nun’s habits, riding crops, artificial limbs, and even a baby or two.
Don’t worry, however, since the forgetful parents always come back -- for the baby at least -- while the other items probably remained lost.
Not a lot of serious study has been done about what hotel guests leave behind, but in January, the 30 Novotel Hotels in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji released a report on the subject.
Despite any lack of attention, however, this is a subject that deserves some attention. It does have some serious overtones.
Many lost items individually are not worth a lot of money, but it all adds up -- to millions of dollars. The experience of the Hotel Wyndham in Canada may be typical: During a four-month period, there were 347 lost items that mainly included wallets, credit cards, checkbooks, cash and jewelry.
Many travel commentators have also weighed in on the “lost” issue.
Heavyweight travel commentator Rick Steves, for example, has revealed his painstaking hotel-departing ritual as he faces an experience “tinged with the risk of leaving something behind.”
“I spread out the cover of my bed so nothing gets lost in a big wrinkle,” he says. He corrals every object in the room to spread it out on the bed.
His toiletry kit is so small that it’s obvious if something is missing. He tries to remember his alarm clock, a necessity.
He surveys electrical outlets to be sure there’s nothing there. He makes sure there are no re-charging cords left behind.
“I physically feel my security pouch to confirm that my passport - the only item easy to feel without opening it - is in there,” he says.
The Novotel study (apparently no Steves readers there to take his advice) include some unusual items, such as handcuffs and kinky clothing or other sex toys and even entire bags of clothing.
“Anything that you take on holiday, we get left behind,” says Robert Davy, manager at Copthorne Hotel and Resort in Solway Park.
Don’t think all items left behind are cheap, either.
The George in Christchurch five years ago found a pearl necklace valued at $16,000. Its owner is still a mystery.
“We didn’t know who the owner was because we found it left in a safe and it could have been there for some time,” says general manager Bruce Garrett.
Hotel policy for lost items varies. Hotels may keep such items anywhere from 30 days to six months, but many report that most items are never claimed. Generally, unclaimed items go to charity but there are exceptions. At the Hotel Roanoke in Canada, a housekeeper found a live fish swimming in a bowl. The owner never called, so the fish was given to the employee.
Another hotel study last year by Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express in the UK also uncovered some unusual items - such as $5,200 in cash, a Gucci watch and a monk’s fancy dress outfit. The hotels reported that phone chargers and underwear were the most recovered.
Each year, the hotel staff finds:
- 42,000 phone chargers worth around $1 million.
- 40,000 items of underwear worth about $300,000.
- 14,000 toothbrushes worth around $30,000.
- 11,500 pairs of glasses worth around $1.9 million.
- 5,000 hair straighteners worth about $750,000.
Says Jane Bednall from Holiday Inn, “It’s quite unbelievable just how much is left behind by our guests each year. The phone chargers would easily stretch across the English Channel.”
Both Travelodge and Swallow Hotels, in a recent survey, said something most people might be loathe to part with is often left behind: artificial limbs.
“But cell phone chargers are No. 1,” says Florida Iturralde, front-office manager for a Fairfield Inn Marriott in California.
However, “pretty much everything you can think of has been left here,” says Angel Lopez at the Comfort Inn of Stockton, CA.
A Travelodge branch in Edinburgh found an inflatable sheep in an unmade bed, while housekeepers reported something perhaps even more unusual: occasionally finding corpses of guests they thought were just sleeping.
A Travelodge survey found the ten most common items left behind were: mobile phones and chargers; toiletries; clothing items; shoes; books; night accessories and adult toys; jewelry/watches; laptops; electrical gadgets including I-pods and digital cameras; false teeth and artificial limbs.
But there are other very unusual items left at Travelodge: a suitcase stuffed with collectible celebrity sunglasses, a la Elton John.
And those artificial limbs? Far more common than you might think.
The Travelodge chain reported finding 80 of them, just in the year 2008.
The Best Western chain in California has reported cast-off wedding dresses were left behind from vacated rooms, leaving the question of whether or not the bride actually got married or was left at the altar.
Food is also routinely left behind -- sometimes not just single half-eaten sandwiches, either.
“One time, someone left three or four huge salamis, the deli kind that are about two feet long,” says Shellie Stapleton, who works at the front desk at the Best Western Executive in Manteca, CA.
One Comfort Inn maintains a several-pages-long log of the left-behind items that crowd a walk-in closet.
“The closest is so packed we have to climb over stuff to get to the back,” Lopez says.
Some hotels say the most common items left behind are pajamas. But the Marquis Reforma Hotel in Mexico reported someone left about 100,000 pesos - or $10,000 - in a cereal box in the room safe. He later came back to claim it.
Cell chargers, sunglasses, toiletry bags and shirts left hanging in the closet are the most reported items, according to managers at the Casanova Hotel in Barcelona.
Apparently, unlucky fishermen leave behind coolers and bathing suits at the Marquis Los Cabos, Mexico, which along with towels are the most forgotten items. The most unusual item left behind: dentures. Never claimed.
Back to Steves, who has some final advice on leaving things behind:
“One advantage of packing light -- you rarely leave something behind. I can’t remember forgetting anything in a hotel for years.”