A stuffed marsupial, a grandfather clock, a Persian carpet, a chandelier, a rowing machine, batteries from the TV remote, toilet brushes – the list of items that guests have stolen from hotels runs from mind-blowing to mundane. And who is above temptation? Swank hotels in particular are crammed with what would appear to be transportable bling. That Chinese vase in the hallway, that Dyson CSYS desk lamp? Just what your home needs.
Pilferage is usually a lot more niggling and ordinary than that, but the cost of missing towels, pillow cases and light bulbs can become a major leakage in a hotel's bottom line. Little wonder then, that hotels are looking to tech to make sure what they put in their rooms stays in their rooms. And the chance making of with that Siberian goose down surround pillow from the White Company undetected? Close to zero.
"Hotels are increasingly turning to RFID tags to safeguard their property," says hotel and tourism consultant Peter Hook. "The tags are so small that they can be sown into towels, bath robes … anything … and tracked wherever they go. So if you 'accidentally' put the fluffy bathrobe or BOSE radio clock in your suitcase, the hotel can see it – literally – walk out the door."
According to a Novotel source, hotel larceny divides according to gender. "For women it's mostly toiletries and decorator items – cushions, bed throws, candles. Women really get into thieving at weddings – with floral decorations, chair covers, ribbons and more going missing regularly. Men, if they do steal at weddings, tend to go for glasses or alcohol."
Hotels undergoing renovations present an opportunity for theft that some guests find irresistible. Televisions, soft furnishings, pictures – anything that can be taken down to the parking garage and stowed in a car trunk is likely to grow legs, and who's to know that the guest dressed in overalls and a high-vis jacket isn't part of the renovation team?
A fancy hotel room will come loaded with goodies and with such largesse at the fingertips, it's hardly surprising that some fingers stray into mischief, sometimes inadvertently.
"One poor young man came to check out and the minibar person had checked their room and the entire minibar was missing," recalls Ginni Post, director of communications for AccorHotels Pacific. "It was at a hotel that had half bottles of French champagne in their minibars so a charge of $289 was added to his account. He nearly fainted, grabbed his duffle bag and slowly produced said minibar in full, saying he thought it came with the room."
There are some things that can disappear into your suitcase and the hotel won't mind a bit.
"Hotels don't care if you take the branded bathroom items," says Peter Hook, "because they often throw out the bottles after a guest stays, even if it has been barely used, people take them to gyms and other public places and it is nice advertising and it's a good reminder for guests they stayed there. However, taking the branded bathrobe is not viewed with the same equanimity."
Bibles are less likely to disappear, and it has nothing to do with the eighth commandment, "thou shalt not steal". Gideons International, the organisation that supplies bibles free of charge to hotels, doesn't particularly mind if their bibles are removed, and they're happy enough to replace damaged or missing bibles.
Curiously, towelling hotel slippers are one item that some guests are reluctant to take but no hotel is going to recycle slippers after they've been used. Cheap and easily replaced, towelling slippers are ideal for inflight footwear.
Bed linen and towels are common disappearances but when a guest pillages on a grand scale it quickly becomes legendary. Jodie Bell, Novotel St Kilda Rooms Division Manager, suspected something amiss when she assisted a couple on check-out, heavily laden with luggage and boxes after a one-night stay. After lugging the goods out the front door, Jodie was even more surprised to find a car packed full. A quick check of the guests' recently vacated room showed all was in order, but then came a call from Moorabbin Police Station. Highway Patrol had stopped a heavily loaded vehicle which was being driven erratically and found it loaded with hotel loot. Turns out the guests had raided the housekeeping storerooms and trolleys and helped themselves to quantities of towels, linen, tea and coffee sachets by the hundred, stationary, boxes of toiletries and a portable heater.
The explanations some guests come up with when they're busted come straight out of the lame-excuses playbook.
According to the Novotel survey, "We had one case a few years ago where a guest even tried to steal the flushing mechanism from the toilet and another had removed a TV set which was still drilled into a bench. He said he was just taking it to be repaired!"
But often it's what guests leave behind that reveals much about what goes on behind closed doors. In the case of Novotel's hotels, the list includes a fake leg, illegal substances and associated smoking paraphernalia, a nun's habit and a four-month-old baby which was swiftly reclaimed, but hardly anyone ever comes back to recover sex toys that get left behind.