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What can you get away with stealing from hotels?

What can you get away with stealing from hotels?

Telegraph Travel spoke to a number of hotel groups and the consensus was that toiletries are fair game

By Felix Legge –

I am not a thief. But when I find myself in the comfort of a hotel room swollen with tiny shampoo bottles and different sized pieces of soap, kleptomania stuffs me straight into her bag and runs away with me.

It can happen to the most upstanding among us. We’ve paid for the room, so we wrongly feel entitled to its contents. The gatherer instinct takes over and we become that man from The Road, combing our luxury wasteland for anything we can slip into our trolley. Only our morality and the size of the bag we brought stand in our way. Maybe I’ll need fifteen monogram paper bathmats. I don’t care if the word of God is meaningless to me in Russian. Those curtains would fit my shed.

David Elton, partner of Homegrown Hotels, a small hotel chain, said: “People will steal just about anything they can. Bathrobes, coat hangers, bed linen, mattress covers, towels, pillows, toilet-seat covers – pretty much everything in a room.

“With a small independent hotel there’s maybe more of a pang of conscience, but in bigger chain hotels people are less scrupulous.”

But is it technically theft? Just what, in the eyes of the law, can we get away with taking?

I spoke to a number of hotel groups on the subject and the consensus seemed to be that toiletries are fair game. The assumption is if it cannot be reused then it can be taken. Likewise, small items with hotel logos, such as stationery, won’t be overly missed; you can assume you are providing a nice bit of publicity when you flash your stolen pencil on the bus.

If the free toiletries are what you want, then go wild, said Jacob Tomsky, author of the best-selling Heads in Beds, a memoir of ten years spent in the hotel industry.

“Hotels have plenty of items, all cute and travel-sized, waiting in store rooms and all you have to do is pick up the phone and ask. And checking out from the hotel isn’t like going through airport security. No respectable hotelier is going to want to pry open your luggage and search for shampoo. We hope you take the amenities. We want you to use them later and think of us.”

Indeed, he even condones taking your swag bag farther afield:

“Consider the unmanned housekeeper’s trolley a smash and grab situation. Pack your bags full of almond butter hand cream and guava face soap with espresso crisps. 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, or, even better, out of toilet paper, and thought you’d save them the trouble by grabbing it for yourself.

“Think of it this way: these amenities are here for you, they are yours. We are in no position to dispute the claim that when you wash your hair you prefer to dump fifteen bottles of lavender and poppy seed shampoo all over your scalp like some gooey shower freak.”

Towels are usually the item that straddles the do-I-don’t-I boundary, but from the hotels we spoke to, it is clear that these are certainly not yours to take. Despite a reported 68 per cent of British travellers confessing to towel theft, items that can and will be reused are out of bounds.

I spoke to the Metropolitan Police on the law regarding towel-lifting. “It is a crime,” its spokesman said. “If we were to receive allegations, we would follow them up.” In reality, it appears most hotels would be more likely to blacklist a guest over a petty theft, charge the items to their card, and save the police the trouble.

In Japan however, 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. So perhaps you should think twice next time the soft fabric starts testing your scruples.

Previous Telegraph Travel research has compiled a list of the most frequently stolen items. Among the more unhelpful items commonly taken are batteries, light bulbs and kettles. I once met someone who claimed to systematically strip his hotel room of batteries as a matter of principle. Such is the sense of entitlement a little chocolate on the pillow instils in a customer.

When it comes to independent hotels, such as The Pig, in Hampshire, I’m told “people like to walk off with the quirky things”.

And while it’s true that a foyer ornament makes for a memorable keepsake, some of the most unusual items stolen also include a grand piano, wheeled out of the reception, and an owner’s pet dog. One person in America turned up at the hotel with a removal van and took everything. For a full list of the most bizarre items stolen from hotels, click here.

So how do hotels practice damage limitation without risking angering or embarrassing their guests?

Many, such as the Ritz-Carlton, encourage you to buy the objects that take your fancy by selling them in the gift shop or online. “A guest room should feel like a home away from home,” says Robert Thrailkill, general manager of the Conrad Miami. “If the guest enjoys something enough to want to take it home with them, they are welcome to do so, but at a charge.” If you see the coffee machine on sale in reception, they hope you’ll remove the one bulging from your wheelie-bag.

In the US a couple of years ago, a few chains invested in electronic tags for their various luxury linens, in order to monitor the whereabouts of bed sheets and bathrobes. If it’s tagged and you take it, you risk a naming and shaming when the alarm goes off.

And when it comes to toiletries, impracticality becomes an ally. “The trend in luxury hotels is to go bigger and bigger with toiletry containers so most guests don’t or indeed can’t take them, leaving them to be refilled”, said Mr Elton.

Ultimately, it seems you should use your better judgement, or, if your better judgement isn’t up to much, ask the hotel, even if that means losing the little frisson of excitement you get as you wrap the hairdryer up in your pyjamas. But given the eternal allure of the freebie, and given that people with a questionable moral compass usually lack the self-awareness to realise it, I feel hotels are probably fighting a losing battle

 

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“There will be no charge for anything. We are happy to help.” Huh?

Every once and a while someone does something really kind to restore my… OK I can’t say the words. I have very little faith in “humanity” with the garbage going on in Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, you get the picture.

Every great now and again someone does something truly compassionate and professional and it deserves mention. Not just by way of thanks, but due to the aforementioned countries and the miserable self serving nature of so many of our species. We owe it to each other to be mindful of the compassion that does exist and give that some press as well.

This Thanksgiving we had the kids over for a fine pig-out; ate till we hurt and then had desert – the usual. Next morning we were in our little enviro-Prius headed up to the wine country. I always bring my very new and very expensive camera with me when we go to the wine country. It was raining though, so I decided to pop that in the hotel safe and just shoot with my iPhone to keep my “Ferrari” dry.

Days pass, wine flows, spa treatments and gastronomic delights are had, and finally the hotel bill is paid. On the way out of Sonoma we stop for a breakfast of Jazz and eggs only to find that Guy Fierri had beaten us to the punch. Triple D indeed is everywhere in the Sonoma area.

Blissfully deserted roads lead us past the resplendently sunlit SF Marina all the way to our little Woodside turnoff. The car is parked, I run (bags in hand) to the door with a comfort stop in mind. The wifes bag goes on the bed, my bag goes on the chest in the office next to – oh shite – the empty camera case. Remember the part where I said I put the camera in the hotel safe?

Comfort stop quickly forgotten I yell out the window for the number of the Lodge we stayed at, half in terror that I’m going to get a “what camera?” response. I fear that I’ve travelled too often and become somewhat jaded. There is some solace in the fact that the staff had seemed genuinely nice in general, particularly the girls in the spa; not the snooty “Bitchy Barbie’s” one can often encounter in such places.

Instead the response I get from the desk of the Renaissance Lodge in Sonoma http://www.thelodgeatsonoma.com/ was “we’ll send someone right up to check on that for you.” In the interim the call is immediately connected to the Concierge, Cindy Riggs, who listens to the situation and agrees to contact FedEx to arrange the return of my abandoned baby. Cindy then offers to call me back with details when available and takes my number.

Still slightly trembling, half expecting the “what camera?” I wait. Thanksgiving in Sonoma is the busiest weekend of the year. Thoughts are running rampant with visions of crowds still checking out demanding her time, housekeeping staff grinning sleazily as they slip my “baby” in with the soiled sheets for a quick trip to the laundry room where, yes, the parked pick-up truck is then loaded with a mysteriously wadded bed sheet… oh the agony of the human mind. Then, barely a half hour later…

the phone rings, it is Cindy. “Mr. Ulrich we have located your camera and given it to housekeeping…” AHAA just as I feared – the swine “and they will be making the arrangements to have it shipped to your home.” Oh. This feels better. “I’ll call you with the details.”

Within another half hour she calls with the details. I ask for her address to send her a little “thank you” and she declines.

I ask her what the shipping charges will be and am pleasantly shocked to find that there will be none. Same question regarding having the thing boxed up, insured, etc. “Mr. Ulrich, there will be no charge for anything, we are happy to help.” When is the last time you have heard that? There are no words that could make a 30 year road warrior (me) and a 25 year corporate travel manager (my wife) any happier.

The FedEx tracking number, address confirmation, and shipping details arrive minutes later via email. Along with them arrives an official statement from The Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma thanking us for our visit, and for allowing them to be of service.

In this era of hidden costs and baggage charges it’s nice to see that the art of actually caring for people and showing honest compassion to a weary traveler is not dead. It lives in Sonoma.

Thank you Cindy.

 

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