AWFUL: IHG Hotels Will Move to Bulk Toiletries Across All 17 Brands

When you ‘make a green choice’ to let hotels save money on housekeeping, at least they’ll usually give you points so you can share in the savings (but not at the Hyatt Regency Seattle).

Marriott revealed that wall mounted toiletries save a couple thousand dollars per hotel each year. That’s a big savings across all of their managed North American properties who are making the switch from individual bottles.

Now IHG will replace mini bottles with bulk toiletries across all 17 of its brands. Naturally they say they’re doing ‘what customers expect’ by giving customers less and not sharing the savings they’ll reap across “843,000 guest rooms in more than 5,600 hotels” when the change goes into effect during 2021.

The problem is that wall dispensers are awful and must be stopped.

  • They don’t get refilled properly and when they do get refilled hotels are more likely to use counterfeit products.
  • They’re germ magnets.
  • And guests have been known to put stuff in them you wouldn’t want there. Even where there have been safeguarding locks in place I’ve had rooms where those weren’t locked.

California is working to ban plastic toiletry bottles in accommodations altogether by 2023. It turns out this is a gift to corporate hotel interests under the fig leaf of the environment.

Customers may not like this. But what if customers had no choice? Hotels could cut costs and not worry about competition. California’s proposed ban would be a gift to hotel bottom lines by enforcing a cartel that limits how customer-friendly their bathrooms can be. Enforcing a ban means hotels save money, and competitor hotels can’t compete on experience with single use toiletries.

Of course cheap bulk wall mounted toiletries aren’t the only way to replace individual plastic bottles. The first time I stayed at The Nines in Portland I discovered individual Bee Kind toiletries in a heavy paper – so biodegradable – packaging.

If hotels were doing this for customers and for the environment they’d consider changing the packaging, rather than moving to bulk wall mounted provision of shampoo or they’d consider adding amenities with the savings. Instead the environment is used as a fig leaf for cost cutting and customers who care about the environment and hotel quality shouldn’t put up with that.

(HT: Jonathan W.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Good thing I don’t like hotel toiletries. Even highly regarded brands feel like bought dollar store ones and slapped their label on them.

    Bulk toiletries are icky. Switch to:
    – Paper. Not cheap, fragile, probably few suppliers. I’m assuming short shelf life.
    – Biodegradable platics (e.g. PLA). Cheaper, but still cost more than non-biodegradables. Not too fragile, okay shelf life.
    – Refillable and resealable single-use containers; if rigid, e.g. stainless, they’d connect to a dispenser that itself would be cleaned after every guest (and the guest, not housekeeping, would connect it). Softer materials might not be resilient enough, or might not be easy to sanitize, but wouldn’t need the dispenser. The containers would be managed like the bottle deposit programs in many states – shipped out, sanitized/refilled/resealed, and sent back. Probably expensive up front, and shipping out partially full ones might cost extra, but a stainless one would last hundreds or thousands of guest nights.

  2. @@ptahcha – yes I suggested that they used paper the first time they stayed there, they’ve been wall mounted for awhile, it’s cheaper

  3. I agree that we need to do something about single use plastics. One drawback of the bulk dispensers– hope that not all hotels will cheap out on whatever they put in the dispensers- the RI I stayed at last month… their bulk stuff seriously dried out my hair. Even the leave in conditioner didnt make a dent in the terrible condition of my hair. As soon as we moved on to the next destination, my hair immediately improved after the different products used at the next hotel. Germs? Well, our immune systems all benefit from some, don’t we? What’s to say there aren’t any germs on other surfaces in the room? If we went down that line of thinking we’d all stay home in our “sanitized” environments.

  4. I love how germaphobic some people are (especially in the US). If germs scare you, you really shouldn’t be travelling (it’s not the shower gel that’s going to kill you!)

  5. If refilling with counterfeit products was actually prevalent, I feel like that would be corrected pretty quickly by the toiletries brands themselves. I am sure the hotels sell this “branding opportunity” for a pretty penny, but I am also sure that for the price they pay for that increased brand visibility, the toiletries brands get rights to both planned and surprise inspections of hotels and their staff to ensure the brand is being properly presented to guests. With real penalties due from the hotels back to the brands based on their performance.

    CPG brands do this all the time in supermarkets, to ensure proper display and presentation of their products against contract. Would translate easily here. So I think travelers can generally trust that the toiletries described on the big bottles are what you get.

    No branding opportunities on the bedding though…

  6. I know I’ll be in the minority here, but I think that this is a great move. The small bottles are simply wasteful and contribute to plastic solution. This is a step in a positive direction.

    I’ve used large-format bottles in a number of places and the horrors outlined (while I’m sure that they do happen in some places) are greatly exaggerated.

    Yes, people will still bring their own small bottles and create waste (or do as we do and bring small carry-on-sized bottles that we reuse and refill at tome), but for those who choose to use what the hotel offers, they are being moved in the right direction.


  7. I already bring my own supplies, since I can’t count on the provided toiletries being compatible with my needs. However I enjoy the mini bottles as a chance to try something new (I would think that behavior would translate into more retail sales of full-size products).

    But since now it has apparently become a thing to lick or take a bite from someone else’s delivery food, or food on grocery shelves, you can bet I won’t be touching bulk toiletries with a ten foot pole.

  8. Perhaps the move to bulk dispensers will allow IHG to provide higher end toiletries. This would surely help overcome some travelers’ trepidation about using them.

  9. Why are bloggers so obsessed with people pouring bodily fluids into bulk dispensers, but think nothing of drinking from the hotel room coffee maker, drinking from the cups, laying on the sheets, sitting on the chairs, using the hair dryer, and so on and so on. Is there REALLY proof of some insidious ring of hotel guests extracting fluids and sneaking some into a shampoo bottle? Couldn’t they just as easily do this with a full single-use bottle?

  10. I do not have the scientific expertise to comment on the consequences of single-use plastic in oceans, etc.

    But I have the political know-how to realize that the fervent opponents of single-use plastic are surely exaggerating the consequences

    I also don’t care about fish in the ocean as much as I care about my personal health and safety.

  11. Of course, it’s not about the “fish in the ocean,” but about the health of the ecosystem that will have far more reaching consequences to your health and safety than all of the imaged and over-hyped issues of the evils of bulk shower products. The scientific background of these atrocities would be interesting to read as well, if they actually existed 🙂


  12. I bring my own toiletries so this doesn’t really impact me but is there really that many issues of tampering and filling with fake product? I’ve stayed in several HIE lately and I see the replacement containers for the new Watkins product on the housekeeping carts. They are new bottles.

    Is there new issues besides the one from your blogs last year? The examples you cite in the old articles are from a few hotels in China and one airport bathroom. Hotels are germ factories in general. And I don’t consider anything I get or experience at a HIE or Courtyard premium enough that I’d want to remember it later.

    I’d rather focus my complaint effort on the 3 out of 5 hotels I’ve stayed in the past month with super loud/broken AC units.

  13. Much ado about nothing. Guests should bring their own toiletries. End of problem.

  14. God why are people so focused on germs and all that could wrong. Gary I sense a pattern given blogs you have written on TSA security pat downs and other examples where germs may come into play. As someone else noted – get over it you are likely to catch something from many other places and it you were really that paranoid you should never leave home. BTW I hope the replies about being their own shampoo are women – I really hate to there are men that worried about what they use to wash their hair. SMH

  15. It’s great that so many of you guys bring your own toiletries. I do that too, along with all of the various other items that hotels have cut out over the years, like slippers, pens, notepads , Q-tips, razors, Etc. Shall I bring my own pillow next? What about towels and toilet paper? I bet the hotels would save a lot of detergent and money if they just asked us to bring our own sheets and towels, and then to reuse them when we went home. And the reason why I bring my own toiletries is not because I don’t like the hotel’s, it’s because I was unlucky enough to have someone add the ink from their fountain pen into the shampoo. It was mess and is hard to get off your skin. 4 star hotel in the US, obviously not the hotel’s fault unless it was a disgruntled employee and not a previous guest.

  16. Rarely stay at IHG and obviously don’t expect much during my rare stays at HI and HIX properties. I was kind of warming to Intercon properties but if they move to this model then they will be 86’d from my list.

    The suggestion to BYOB is idiotic. This is impossible for those of us who take 2 week biz trips with carryon luggage (particularly when transiting UK or Germany where the security personnel rigorously enforce the 1-quart “kippie” ziplock rule).

    The bigger problem is the California rule – as if I needed more incentive to exit the state. Good riddance

  17. Gary, how about if customers had a choice pay $100 extra per night to get them and make the world less green or Bring your own soap. If you want to try out new products go to the Macy’s counter, I am sure every retail clerk in the men’s fragrance section would love to pull the $$$ out of your wallet to sell you.

    Unless you have ever been to a DUMP site ( I mean a real land fill) to see the crap WE humans through out each day. To see how much plastic WE humans have dumped into the oceans. To see how much plastic WE humans have fed birds, fish, seals etc Then I do not think you have a judgement call.

    It is like my grandfather said only a pig farmer knows the true value of a pig. It is called FOOD . A pig farmer does not waste any part of the pig. (yes they are called Pig Oysters for a reason). Pigs do not eat plastic, paper or any other stuff, it just gets stuck in there and KILLS them way too early.

  18. I hate the bulk as well, but for any hotel I can drive to I bring my huge empty shampoo bottle and fill them up. Since I stay at a different hotel every night, I usually have 3-4 full bottles that will last me until the next local trip.

  19. I pay hotels to provide me a bar of soap and shampoo in a sealed container. How hard can that be?? Why is it even worthy of a discussion?

  20. Gary, I usually agree with most of what you write but on this issue, you are on the wrong side of history. Plastic in the environment is being found more in more in pretty much everything we consume, from beer to water to fish:

    And US cities are scrapping their recycling programs now that China is refusing to take our garbage:

    We don’t know yet the long term health impacts, but I prescribe to the precautionary principle. Even though cost savings might be a contributing driver, it is the right thing for these large hotel chains to do. For our health and the health of the planet.

  21. I’d like to add that I hate, and I mean really despise, that Tea Tree oil shampoo/conditioner in the photo. I’ve found it in Springhill suites. OMG, please don’t let that spread.

    It has a really strong menthol mint scent. Who would want their head to smell like mint all day? I used it just once, that was more than enough.

  22. Single use plastic has to go. Wall mounted shampoo and soap dispensers have been used in Europe for years. So far, haven’t read anything negative about them. One reason I always carry my own toiletries is that so many of the hotel provided amenities (IHG for one) are made in China. No QC issues there. I know we are all clamoring for Chinese shampoo and body lotion. Now you know where to find them.

  23. I don’t mind the wall mounted dispensers. I haven’t yet found them to be empty, and the peppermint or tea tea oil in the ones that are pictured above are pretty nice. I bring along my own toiletries anyway and it’s nice not having to worry about running out if you don’t have housekeeping for a few days.

    I think the most common defect I run into at a hotel is around the thermostats in the room, followed by an inability to connect to the hdmi port on a tv, followed by pillow quality. I also don’t like the trend to remove full size desks from the room. Toiletries don’t even register on the scale for me.

  24. @Charlotte – IHG will not start using higher grade toiletries because that is missing the point here. This is all a backdoor, “let’s save the environment”, way to reduce costs, i.e. increase profits. It is much cheaper for hotels to use bulk packaged toiletries. Just go into any local supermarket and see how much cheaper per 100ml a liter bottle of shampoo is that the same brand in a 100ml bottle.

  25. Gary got called out here and does not respond. He must be putting out his weekly 50 gallon size recycle bucket of used shampoo bottles

  26. I’m in hotel management, and surprisingly, many of the bulk solutions are more expensive to the hotels than the small bottles. You can’t change them when they’re really empty, so there’s a considerable amount of waste. Also, they are a bit of a logistical problem (as in “housekeeping does not spot empty dispenser”). Most dispensers for the big brands wouldn’t be actually refillable (bottles will have to be changed when nearly empty). So that move, i am quite sure, will benefit the manufacturers of the stuff most money wise as pricing per guest isn’t really that much different in many cases.

  27. I’m not too worried about the shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. But please bring back bar soap for sink and bath.

    IHG places identical dispensers secured to wall with soap and lotion. It’s rolling the dice when trying to guess the soap after a late night bathroom break without turning on the blinding lights.

    People with poor eyesight can’t wear glasses in shower to read small print off bottles.

    No one in our family carries a sponge for using liquid bathwash (wet item in our bag to grow mildew?), which means most of the bathwash just gets wasted and washed away. I traveled with my family and my two teenage daughters used a full bottle in one day, leaving nothing for my wife and I but to go back and forth to the hand soap dispenser.

    Also had a close call with an eye near the metal dispensers nozzles sticking out at us. Looks like a possible injury/lawsuit on the horizon.

    Bars of soap are easy to tell are new, so you don’t have to wrap them with much for packing material.

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