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. Well…..I’ll just pack an empty bottle or two…maybe even three or four and refill them from the bulk dispenser. I’m not about to give up my free shampoo, which I have taken home for years (why go out and buy something you can have for free), because hotel executives wish to be politically correct!

  2. Let’s see how many hotels mount the dispensers at an appropriate height for wheelchair users in accessible rooms. Of the ones I have encountered so far, the answer is zero.

    PS – consider is misspelled in the last paragraph.

  3. FFS: And those little paper ones you suggest? Guests would probably use 1/4 of the contents, then throw them away, paper packaging and contents, thus not really achieving anything

    I hate that hotels are still doing this. The alternative is the bulk supplies. In fact, the alternative is non at all.

    In 2015, there were 1494 hotels in London alone. Let’s assume that half of them offered single use plastic. Let’s assume half the guests used them and binned them. let’s assume they weigh 10g each. Let’s assume 100 rooms per hotel.

    That’s 136,327KG of plastic a year. Just from London.

    Wake up Gary.

  4. Single-use plastics are devastating to the environment. While IHG obviously just wants to make more money, I fully support phasing out millions of plastic bottles from ending up in the ocean.

  5. Silly question but why don’t you just bring your own? I always travel with a small bottle of shower gel with me or a bar of soap in a container, if your on a longer trip then just go to the mall and buy one, its hardly going to break the bank is it.

    Why do people expect that hotels should provide everything just because they have always done so, they used to do alot for customers more but times move on and getting rid of these single use plastics is the right thing to do (appreciate that you mention there are alternatives to plastic).

  6. @Paul – single use plastics aren’t ‘devastating’ though there’s some issue, let’s not exaggerate – but as I point out in the post you can do single use without plastic.

  7. Nothing awful about this. If the hotel saves a bit of money while doing the right thing, I see no issue. Gary, you are just behind the times… perhaps a follower of the esteemed US president?

  8. Good God. Get over yourself Gary. Apparently you don’t go to the beach or eat seafood. This crap is killing the oceans. On the west coast you can see a thin line of micro plastics (ground up plastics) on most beaches in most days. In Houston, the bayous are full of single use plastic. Fish have plastic showing up in them all the time. Don’t be a stereotypical Texan and get educated. You have start with something and this is a start.

  9. If the hotels really cared about the environment, they’d use corn-based plastic lookalike for the mini bottles. They’re 100% biodegradable and customers wouldn’t notice any change.

    The difference, of course is that it would add around $.03 per bottle to switch from plastic to corn-based plastic lookalike. So NEVER believe the hotels when they claim any move they make is for the environment instead of saving a few pennies!

  10. @garyleff

    I’m afraid you are wrong. Single use plastic IS devastating, its harming millions of miles of coastline and countless miles of open ocean.

    In 20016 we produce 335 MILLION tonnes of plastic and only approximately half of that is destined for single use- that’s crazy and a waste of resources.
    We buy 1 MILLION plastic bottles a minute and only 25% of them are recycled within the US- where are the rest going- landfill or into the ocean.

    It’s madness, people sticking their head in the sand and saying ‘its not a problem, is not a problem’ won’t make it go away.

    I’m from the UK and they have added a charge fo plastic bags when you do your grocery shopping and since it was introduced there has been a 86% in plastic bag usage, you just remember to take your own now- it becomes habit.

    I hope that other hotel chains follow suit and we just all get into the habit of taking our own gel/soap.

  11. Glad to see this change.

    I’ve been traveling this summer and have seen a lot of hotels in Europe with just ONE product in the shower. It is a combo “shampoo + body wash” liquid. I am not a fan of that.

    If a hotel has wall mounted shampoo AND conditioner I am happy.

    But PLEASE continue to still give at least one bar of soap. Not all of us like using shower gel.

  12. @Alan

    Agreed. And I learnt a fab trick in Armenia a couple of weeks ago: Rather than ending up with soggy soak, just break bits off at you need it 🙂

    @Gary As others have pointed out, you really do need to take a look at your plastic consumption. You’ll be arguing for the coal industry next. Have you got shares in Sysco, perhaps (suppliers of all thoseplastic bottles you so love)?

  13. Gary I strongly disagree with you that this is an awful change.
    This is a necessary step towards the right direction: plastic waste is really hurting the environment and this needs to stop.
    There’s nothing wrong with wall-mounted dispensers, and your reasons for being against them are nonsense.
    In addition, I sincerely hope you will realize at some point that this is the right way to go for the future.

  14. @Oh! Matron! – you’re completely missing the point or maybe not reading the post. Hotels want you to think the choice is “plastic or bulk dispensers” but that’s not true at all, there are paper individual use toiletries they can use. They’re going bulk for cost savings alone.

  15. @Scott Fraser – talking about the total amount of plastic tells you nothing (1) about its impact, and (2) the role that hotel toiletries play, but is ultimately a non-sequitur when they can just as easily use paper but won’t because this is all about cost savings and not the environment. Don’t be fooled!

  16. Seriously? Telling someone there’s “some issue, but let’s not be dramatic? This coming from the same guy who continues to write these dramatic posts claiming the hotel bathroom experience is being ruined by hotel companies under the fig leave of environmentalism?

    Of course the hotel companies are going to try and claim environmentalism, much like I’m sure you’d try to claim posts like this are not about generating clicks.

    Well done.

  17. Glad to see others are pushing back here. I agree – there’s no reason for the waste of all the individual packages. And using the ‘biodgradable’ paper variants? You’re still cutting down trees to make those, which are then wasted or often probably not even recycled properly.

    All the ‘reasons’ why bulk are bad are just laughable – and easily solvable.

    Plus – why is it a bad thing that these companies want to save money? Seriously, costs go up every year – either they maintain/expand margins by doing things like this (which are actually logical, says the rest of the world). Or they ‘cut’ somewhere else that we’ll dislike. If the marketing reason for this is saving the environment – I’m totally fine with them also saving money on it.

  18. @gary

    Not missing the point at all. It wasn’t that IHG are moving to bulk, it was your misguided opinion

    Opinion in the absence of fact is prejudice.

  19. I agree with Gary and will let any hotel that does this that I am not happy and do not plan to stay with them again. I do not want bulk mystery lotions/liquids. Hotels are customer-service businesses first and foremost, no?

    Losing my business (and Gary’s and people like us) probably won’t impact them at all now, but when the economy turns south, you better believe they will feel the impact.

    This is not a binary, either/or decision either.

    There is a proven, “fake” plastic resin called polylactic acid, or PLA that is made from corn and is completely biodegradable. If hotels really cared about the environment, they’d switch to these containers and keep everyone happy. Instead, they go for the tiny bit of cost savings and anger their customers in the process. Dumb thinking.

  20. It’s funny how hotel rates don’t drop when hotels limit services and amenities as part of “going green” or other initiatives. For example, Residence Inn properties aren’t cheaper than other brands despite not having full daily housekeeping.

  21. Change ALWAYS starts with the low hanging fruit. Sure the hotels might save some cash by doing this, but what is REALLY happening (your aging yourself by not realizing this, Gary) is the banning/shaming of single-use plastic is becoming mainstream. Everyone is getting behind it as the right thing to do. Go ahead and resist, but the world is leaving you behind. First little bottles and straws, then plastic bags, then everything else. It will start with the rich countries then gradually spread to the poorer ones. Ultimately, this is a wonderful change that will benefit the environment (and our kids) long term. AND it’s hardly unprecedented: I compare it getting rid of led-infused gasoline, and CFCs… (bet you would have resisted those things too – goodbye ozone layer).

    Later on, if there’s demand, hotels can also bring this stuff back in bio containers as a way to differentiate themselves.

  22. I think this is a great move. Paper or corn-based products dont solve the problem as you’re still manufacturing, packaging, and shipping something of which a majority will be thrown away, needing to be shipped and processed and again.

    If you have a problem with the bulk dispensers, then travel with your own products.

  23. @MrDioji

    This. If Gary is so caught up on the cleanliness of dispensers, he’d never sit on a plane seat again

  24. @Jason:

    And THAT in a nutshell is exactly why the current “Millennial” generation has a well-deserved reputation as being incredibly ignorant and completely reviled by those that came before them, despite their supposed, great formal educational credentials. (or at least great amounts of educational debt)

    When you disagree with someone, you do not “shame and ban” them, you use that thing inside of your skull to collaborate and invent novel solutions that everyone can get onboard with. For example, what’s the problem with biodegradable, corn-based plastic substitutes?

    “Shaming and banning” = fascism.

  25. What Gary was saying is that one should have a choice:
    – if you like to save the oceans then use a wall dispenser ;
    – if you are concerned what kind of &^%$ in that dispenser, then you should be able to get the individual bottles delivered to your room for free.
    Finally, even now everyone who hates small plastic bottles has a choice to travel with his/her own bar of soap and shampoo in a glass container.

    Your carryon is made of plastic anyway and I hope it is not biodegradable. It is also made possible by many years of research in large corporations. This is why it is light and durable. Save travel.

  26. I personally think this is fantastic whether the hoteliers are saving money or not. Seems a bit odd to say this is “awful” but to each his own, I suppose.

  27. There ARE great, biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. I go to Africa frequently for safaris, and every place I have stayed has offered some kind of individual packaging made from a renewable, cheap resource.

    Most offer toiletries in small packaging about the size of a Splenda packet. The material ranges from heavy paper to wax-paper to avocado pit paper. The most unique was individual, hollow bamboo tubes (bamboo is a grass that can grow 1 foot per day) with both ends of the tube sealed with cardboard. The used tubes–if not taken by the guests–were collected, sterilized, and refilled at the toiletry company.

    My Millennial daughter uses solid cubes or tablets of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash (LUSH) that work as well or better than liquid packaged products. They are compact, space-saving, can be encased in paper packaging easily, and are easier to transport because they weigh less.

    There are many decent, cost-effective, and superior options which benefit the guest, the environment, and the corporate bottom line. But my guess is the bean counters are clueless as to thinking in anything but black and white. Same attitude as the bean counters at the airlines.

  28. Gary,

    You’re way off base here. Single use plastics, especially those that are barely used before being discarded, are horrible for the environment.

    If you are worried about what’s in the wall unit, being your own. Are you seriously mad about taking 30 extra seconds to pack in order to make a big environmental change?

    This is an AWFUL take (using your language).

  29. Disagree with you here, Gary. Tiny plastic bottles are so wasteful and unnecessary (and mini paper bottles aren’t a huge improvement either–think of the waste involved in manufacturing and shipping the packaging, and the waste of the leftover product inside the paper package). I’m glad they are moving to the large refillable bottles in all hotels.

    And all businesses think about their bottom lines and make changes that improve the bottom line. If the result of the change is an environmental improvement then I don’t care what they call it!

  30. Something can be primarily about cost savings *and* still be better for the environment. This certainly isn’t awful.

  31. @Too Much Flying

    Not a Millennial but thanks for the judgement. Unfortunately, when it comes to the environment, “shaming” and eventually “banning” is how it works. Pictures of disgusting clear cut forests all over the northwest led to the shaming of loggers who practiced it, and ultimately the (mostly) banning of it in public forests (and severe reductions in private forests_. Clear cutting is no longer a widely accepted practice. Pictures of cut up dead whales and factory ships led to the same sort of change, first the shaming of those who wanted to whale, then the banning of the practice.

    The need to have millions of tiny bottles manufactured for ONE TIME use/pleasure and an unwillingness to evolve is something commonly associated with the aged/obsolete. The world is constantly changing. What is acceptable changes. Sometimes this sort of evolution is GOOD (at least according to the vast majority) when it comes to environmental progress. For me, I like being outside (would be much more difficult minus an ozone layer), I love forests, and I hate seeing single-use plastic (and microplastics) everywhere. Banning these tiny bottles is a start.

  32. –Plastics are made out of hydrocarbons. As such, the bonds that hold the carbons together break apart over time, even faster when exposed to sun. In other words, plastics are naturally biodegradable, however, it takes too long. Even high quality plastic, such as early NASA space suits are disintegrating.
    –When I did a report on plastics companies in the 1990s, chemical companies had already invented plastics that degraded faster. Current biodegradable plastic technology is much better than the 1990s. Widespread adoption of so called biodegradable plastics would resolve many of the current issues of plastic pollution.
    –Rather than ban all plastics straws type of solutions, pushing industry to adopt biodegradable plastics would reduce plastic pollution dramatically.

    I agree with Gary, the large containers may save the hotels money in the name of environment, but it is a totally disgusting trend, and will most likely do nothing to save the planet. Moreover, replacing all plastic with substitutes most likely has some nasty unintended consequences. WTH, if you get some kind of hepatitis, because the plastic container has been filled with soup that has been diluted with local feces water to save money, and you put you hands into you mouth after washing them, do go crying to me.

    Ok, everyone can go back to virtue signalling now.

  33. I’m perfectly happy to let the market sort this one out. If customers consider this a major service failure it will not survive. If there are other market-friendly solutions, other hotels will try them. I have to assume that IHG has done enough research to believe they will not be economically damaged by this move.

    This is most likely motivated primarily by cost factors rather than any burning concern for reducing waste — but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a significant waste-reduction benefit. This one is probably a win-win.

    As far as people being concerned that they might have to touch something that was touched by another human being or that people are going around ejaculating into the larger dispensers, while I have sympathy, I think this is best addressed by those people seeking help for the underlying psychological issue rather than forcing the entire world into expensive and inefficient accommodations.

  34. Aside. In case you are wondering, feces water is a big problem in the Southern California beaches now. This is due to untreated sewage from large homeless populations washing into the ocean. So this is not just a 3rd world problem.

  35. Good lord. Hepatitis? Spoken like a true Oil and Gas person. Don’t worry your job is safe: we will still need oil and gas for a very very long time… long after you have departed this world in your plastic coffin.

    Unless you plan on EATING your shower gel (contaminated with the gizz of the past guest) the likelihood of contracting a disease is pretty darn remote.

    In terms of contamination – grow up and relax. People don’t go around doing what you describe very often – AND – what stops it from happening in plenty of other locations? Fast food run by teens? Grocery stores? Bulk food? Rubbing your fecal matter all over the apricot you picked? Or maybe it does happen and it really doesn’t impact us very much.

  36. “They don’t get refilled properly and when they do get refilled hotels are more likely to use counterfeit products.”

    I can see this happening..,… but.,.. is there actually any verifiable proof that hotels have in fact knowingly used “counterfeit” products? Just a question.

  37. @Jason. Obviously, hepatitis is just one example. What about flesh eating bacteria. I have never gotten it, but I know two people who have. Who know what they will pore into the containers, to save money. People are speculating that pesticides are accidentally in the alcohol in Dominican Republic and it is causing deaths. Maybe someone will accidentally put in pesticides in your soup (LOL: maybe good if you have lice, but otherwise not so good). Suppose the hotel ran out of the good soup and someone decided to mix industrial cleaners with water as a short term fix. Bleach in your soup dispenser, whoops. The examples are almost infinite. You can mock each example, but added together, it is disgusting.

    In any case, I recommend everyone get Hepatitis AB shots. I have.

  38. Actually, I’ll bet you can catch HIV/AIDS from semen in a hotel dispenser. The chances are remote, but still.

  39. Good decision; hope that it becomes mandatory in every hotel, everywhere.
    There is no reason why the dispensers cannot be kept sanitary. The ones used in Aloft properties are key locked and are refilled frequently.
    In any case, if you believe there are freaky people who might want to contaminate them, what makes you think they would do the same to the miniatures: ie, what’s to say the previous occupant of a room hasn’t added something to one of those waiting for the next guest to checkin ? ( although it wasn’t something that had crossed my mind as a concern prior to reading this thread).

  40. As someone with longer hair that tangles easily, I welcome this because I find the single use conditioner (or even two of them) to contain so little product that it is useless. The wall dispensers actually give me enough product and let me leave my own shampoo and conditioner bottles at home instead of lugging them with me on a trip.

  41. Gary – you need to update the Nines – they went to wall-mounted bottles as well. The only thing left in small paper container is the lotion.

  42. Related sidetrack: I have a friend that caught flesh eating bacteria from the match in a wrestling tournament. Everyone else was fine, but he was in the hospital the same night. The bacteria attacked his muscles. He almost died. It took him almost a year before he was able to return to wrestling. Never cleaned soup containers is a recipe for disaster to that unlucky person.

    Segue back to travel, I think almost never washed airplane seats are disgusting too.

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