Checking Out: How to Stop Hotel Guests Stealing From You

Hotels go out of their way to make sure we have a comfortable sleep and that, generally, you have a pleasant stay in their establishment. Nice fluffy pillows and bathrobes, gorgeously warm slippers, soft towels, fragrant shower gels… just a selection of the items you might find in your hotel room so you can enjoy that little extra comfort.

Some guests can’t resist the temptation to pack them into their luggage, though, and walk away with a little unpaid-for souvenir of their visit. Hotels expect this — although they don’t condone it — but now they’re facing a bigger problem: thieving hotel guests are ‘upgrading’, so to speak, which means they’re going for larger, more luxurious items.

Yes, that’s right. Some are now trying to sneak out bedware and other bulky items. In a survey by the hotel and spa reviewer Wellness Heaven, researchers spoke to 634 four-star hotels and 523 five-star ones, mostly in Europe, and found that five-star hotels are more likely than four-star hotels to see large items go walkabout than smaller ones. 

Just what’s going on?

Five-star hotels are 8.1 times more likely to experience mattress theft than four-star ones, according to the research. Artwork is also big on thieves’ lists, with 37% of the highest-tier hotels reporting thefts, compared to just 6.6% of the four-star ones. TVs, tablets and coffee makers have all gone missing, too.

Interestingly — and perhaps shockingly — the quality of the hotel seems to determine the items guests consider fair game. Five-star hotels have to watch out more for big items vanishing, whereas four-star ones see batteries and remotes go mysteriously missing. The one area in which both levels of hotel coincided was the fact that hangers, bathrobes and towels were the items guests steal most frequently (not that it’s any consolation to the hotels, which have to replace them).

Getting tactical

The guests/thieves are devious, to say the least. Some wait until the middle of the night, which is when the hotel reception desk may have closed for the day. 49 of the hotels who took part in the research reported that someone had made off with a mattress from the establishment since 2018 and, in one case, a hotel suggested that thieves were able to steal a mattress by taking the lift directly to the underground floor. This would have bypassed the reception desk and allowed them to get away a mattress to the good.

The fact that people will steal items at all is a little bizarre, to say the least. Housekeeping staff go into the rooms after the guests leave and can check whether something is missing — and if it is, then they know who stole it and can report it. The problem is that hotels don’t like to report thefts because they don’t want their guests, potential or otherwise, to associate them with crime. A visit from the police is never a good look! 

The question is if people are capitalising on this reluctance, what can hotels do to stop guests stealing from them?

Here are a few suggestions:

Install CCTV

Establishments should make the most of CCTV and set it up in the most prominent areas of the hotel: the reception, the lobby, the corridors, the lifts, the car parks and the hotel entrance. They should also make it clear to guests that they’ve implemented these measures, which will help to deter thieves.

This isn’t the only type of technology hotels can use. They can now track towels and other such items by stitching small microchips into them. If the towel leaves the premises, the microchip alerts the hotel. Staff might not necessarily confront the light-fingered guest(s) right there and then, but a charge for the towel may appear on their bank statement or credit card statement later. Sneaky? Yes, but why not when someone is pinching your property?

Gift something

There’s a slight sense of ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ about this, but what hotel owners and anyone else who runs some type of accommodation have to understand is that a lot of guests steal things as a souvenir. By providing them with a promotional item that they can take home, such as a mug or, possibly, a bathrobe, you can deter them from taking stuff that you’d rather they didn’t. Don’t forget, too, that because these items are promotional you’ve budgeted for them and the ‘loss’ won’t harm your bottom line.

Warn them of the consequences

Some hotels make it clear to their guests the costs of items such as bathrobes, slippers and other items in the rooms and what will happen if they take items from the room. They even have their own catalogues so that if guests really like a particular item, they don’t feel the need to steal it: they can just buy it directly from the hotel. This even extends as far as bedware and other furniture in the room. If the guest decides to go down the more dishonest route, the hotel can then charge them for it regardless, just as it would for any damages.

Screen employees

Employees may not be guests, but it doesn’t mean that they’re all going to be loyal to you and not help themselves to items from the hotel or to property belonging to the guests. You can protect yourself and your hotel property by screening them for any criminal convictions and also run a credit check on them for any signs that you might not be able to trust them. The world moves in strange ways and you never know when they might be in on schemes to steal from the hotel.

It seems hotel guests have become so confident (or desperate) about stealing from hotels and are so willing to do it that they’ve even ‘upgraded’ to more luxurious items. Mattresses, artworks, coffee makers and other large, expensive items are all fair game, it appears, but hotels can take several measures to minimise their losses and beat sticky-fingered visitors at their own game. Who knows — they might already be taking them. Can’t say you haven’t been warned now!

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