What sort of person steals the light bulbs from their hotel room? According to research released this morning, just your average Joe.
LateRooms.com claims to have asked 8000 hotels whether guests had stolen anything in the last year. Nine out of 10 said that they had, with light bulbs cited as the second most commonly purloined item.
First on the list will suprise no-one: unopened toiletries. So ready are we to fill our suitcases with little bottles of Molton Brown that surely no hotelier even considers it to be theft (See: Rules to stealing toiletries from fancy hotels).
Indeed, when it comes to toiletries, Jacob Tomsky, author of the best-selling Heads in Beds, a memoir of 10 years spent in the hotel industry, suggests taking the swag bag beyond the bedroom: "Consider the unmanned housekeeper's trolley a smash and grab situation. Take three of everything and get the hell out of the hallway. Even if you do get caught, just say you were out of shampoo and thought you'd save them the trouble by grabbing it for yourself." Alex Polizzi, the hotelier and TV presenter, said: "Bathroom amenities we cost in to the price of the room. So feel free to take the shampoo, shower gel, body lotion and soap."
But light bulbs? How do you stop them smashing into smithereens? Wrap them inside a stolen bathrobe, or layer after layer of pilfered loo roll?
Third on the LateRooms.com list were batteries, followed by towels, plants, Bibles (!), bath mats, duvet covers, TV remotes (well, if you're going to take the batteries...) and hairdryers.
And that's just the most commonly taken items. You'll never believe what the most brazen thieves will steal. LateRooms.com said one hotelier reported that a guest left with the flat-screen TV and minibar fridge from their room. That's nothing.
Colin Bennett, a former general manager for the Starwood hotels group, recalled the most brazen theft he encountered during nearly 20 years in the business: "As soon as I walked into the lobby of one hotel," he said, "I immediately realised something was missing - but I couldn't put my finger on it. It transpired that three people had strolled into reception, dressed in overalls, and had wheeled the grand piano out of the hotel and down the street, never to be seen again."
Other seemingly immovable objects he remembered being taken included overhead projectors and innumerable televisions. "Looking back over the CCTV footage, we would see a guest walk through a busy reception struggling under the weight of a television set, yet no one would bat an eyelid," he said.
At the Hotel du Vin in Birmingham, one tired and emotional guest was caught trying to nab a mounted boar's head from the billiard room. Some weeks later, friends of the embarrassed would-be thief purchased the stuffed head from the hotel to present to him as a wedding gift.
"Beyond the usual things, such as shampoos and bath towels, the most frequently stolen items are our sex toys," said a member of staff at the Residence in Bath, a former hotel which offered kinky accessories - at a price - to adventurous guests. "I would call them up to explain that they had been caught. A rather long silence would inevitably follow," she added.
"One incident even saw a hotel owner's pet dog stolen"
At the Franklin Hotel in Knightsbridge, one guest decided to unscrew the number from their door. "We only noticed it had gone missing when the next guest was found wandering up and down the corridor looking for his room," general manager Karen Marchant was reported to have said.
According to a survey by Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine, other items to have been relieved from British hotels include a medieval sword, door hinges and a 4-foot wooden bear. One incident even saw a hotel owner's pet dog stolen. It certainly puts light bulb theft into perspective.
Who is to blame? According to a report published earlier this summer, it's the Argentinians. Hotels.com'sl deduced that our old Latin American friends are the nationality most likely to indulge in misappropriation of hotel items, with 73 per cent admitting to taking property – not including toiletries – from their room. Singaporean and Spanish holidaymakers are also rather prone to thievery, with seven in 10 taking items from their hotel. Germany, Ireland and Russia completed the top five.
So how do people get away with it? Well, in many cases, they won't. For our Travel Truths series, we asked the Metropolitan Police how it would react to allegations of towel-lifting. "It is a crime," its spokesman said. "If we were to receive allegations, we would follow them up."
In Japan, one hotel reportedly had a young couple arrested for running off with bathrobes and an ashtray, and a woman in Nigeria was sentenced to three months in prison for stealing two towels from the Transcorp Hilton Abjua Hotel.
More likely will be a charge on your credit card, or a life ban. "Taking the hairdryer, towels or the bathrobe is not playing fair," said Alex Polizzi. "I will blacklist you. Neither you, nor anyone with your surname, will ever be able to stay at my hotel again."
The Telegraph, London