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Hotel Guests Believe in Taking it With Them

You won't believe what hotel guests try to steal.

Thursday, February 14, 2008
David Wilkening
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Hotel Guests Believe in Taking it With Them

Wash cloths, towels, chandeliers and even duvet covers? Nothing unusual about hotel guests walking off with those relatively inexpensive items, says Karen Lampert, general manager of the upscale Whitelaw Hotel in fashionable South Beach, Florida

“That happens all the time but they usually don’t take a 42-inch plasma TV. They just walked out with it, which was shocking to me,” she says.

Surveillance cameras caught the culprit who eventually reimbursed the hotel at least part of the $1,000 cost of the TV, which had recently been installed.

But hotel thefts, sometimes of outrageous items, are nothing new.

And no hotels are immune: stealing happens in the big chains, roadside hotels, boutique outlets and even luxury resorts.

Televisions have been reported stolen more than once, even in broad daylight. Hotel manager Marcus Roberts remembers watching a man walk out the front door of an unnamed hotel carrying a television set.

“We didn’t stop him at the time. Pretty soon we realized, ‘hey, that TV belongs to us,’” he says. In this case, the man was arrested and charged with theft.

A study of British hoteliers found that women are more likely to steal from hotels than men. Two out of three women confessed they had walked out with usually inexpensive items. Only 59 percent of the men said the same. But sometimes guests have creative ways of stealing, at least when it comes to smaller items. A majority of the women in the survey who admitted to stealing said they would refill mini-bar liquor bottles with tea or water to make them look untouched.

That same survey of 1,000 hoteliers found towels were the most commonly stolen item. Bathrobes were in second place. Toilet paper is not worth much but it is also popular with pilferers.

The Sagamore, The Art Hotel in Miami Beach, is very popular with bachelor parties. But here, where guests are typically paying $900 a night, thefts are also not unheard of.

“We sometimes have DVD players missing or clock radios,” says Henry Schaeffer, general manager. He says the hotel’s policy is always to have guests’ reimburse the hotel, though the hotel apparently winks at small items such as missing towels.

Hotel guests steal up to $100 million of goods a year, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

The Today Show’s travel detective Peter Greenberg tells this story, which is hard to believe:

A general manager at a Holiday Inn told Greenberg that a couple once requested a room near the parking lot because they were moving and wanted their U-haul to be close to the room. The next day when housekeeping went to clean the room, every single item was missing. The couple had loaded up their U-haul with furniture and other items and disappeared. Their home is presumably decorated in all-Holiday Inn style.

Greenberg reported another man made off with an entire marble fireplace from the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel in California.

Other hoteliers report thefts of everything from live koi fish to heavy statues.

  • Perennially popular with rock ‘n roll bands, the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco will not be checking in one reggae singer who took one of the koi fish from the courtyard fishpond. Not only did he take the fish but hotel personnel noticing a strange odor found the guest had cooked the fish on a hot plate in his room.
  • A thief at the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon chiseled out and stole a statue built into the wall of a suite. Guests are usually associated with stolen items but in this case, a former assistant manager was found to be the culprit. He admitted it took close to an hour to chisel out the statue.
  • One of two 250-pound iron statues resembling greyhound dogs who kept watch in the garden of the Broadmoor Hotel and Resort in Colorado Springs “took a walk” with an unknown guest. The missing statue was later found in an un-booked hotel room apparently because the thief could not complete the job.
  • Another guest at the same hotel once stripped an entire room. He or she took a television, artwork, even a mini-bar by using an exit stairway.

The most popular item for guests to steal is far more mundane: washcloths. Holiday Inn loses about 100,000 a year.

Guests can also take items that turn out to be useless. Guests were so persistently stealing the remote controls at the Grand Hyatt in Dallas that the hotel started selling them for $14. The only problem: the remotes only worked in the hotel.

What can hotels do about thefts? Typically, hotel managers attempt to get reimbursement for expensive items and often just write off inexpensive amenities such as wash clothes.

In most cases, hotels do little or nothing because the smaller items are not worth the trouble. Some hotel managers also point out that Holiday Inn towels and Marriott drinking glasses with the hotel’s name on them are a form of free advertising. At least one unnamed chain prepares for thefts by factoring them into their operating budgets.

Some hotels have tried to turn negative stealing into positives. The Holiday Inn chain in 2003, for example, issued a “Towel Amnesty Day” saying they “did not want to hear your towel’s story,” but simply a returned, distinctively green-stripped Holiday Inn towel.

Some hotels have tried to use thefts as a promotion. The Doral Golf
Resort & Spa celebrated its 45th anniversary last year by searching for what it called “Pieces of the Past.” The hotel asked guests to turn in hotel items such as room keys, menus, towels and anything else. Participants who sent items to the hotel received 15 percent discounts for their next stay.

Roger Gerard, who teaches at Shasta College and writes often about hospitality issues, says all these thefts add up to substantial sums and probably even lead to higher hotel prices.

“Having worked in hotels over the years, I’ve often been told by my supervisors that the high rate of theft by guests leads directly to higher room prices,” he says.
Lampert at the Whitelaw where rooms are in the $200-$300 range, also manages the Metropole Hotel Miami, which is even more upscale where suites can push the $1,000 mark.

“The most curious part of stealing is that it happens in even higher priced hotels,” she says.

But not televisions, at least not at Metropole, where they have been so solidly bolted to the wall that potential TV thieves would have to take part of the room’s structure with them.

“I’ve learned my lesson,” says Lampert.

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