Combating Rampant Hotel Towel Theft Through Use of Technology

Via Bruce Schneier, hotel towel theft is a much bigger issue than I had ever imagined, though my impression was based solely on the fact that I don’t ever take hotel towels. (I suppose it was especially irrational to hold this impression after Priority Club held a towel day in 2003.)

I would have expected the incidence of towel theft to have dropped now that most travelers pay for checked bags, extra towels in the luggage presumably spill over into a need for more checked bags and thus hardly remain free.

Apparently in Nigeria last year someone was sentenced to 3 months in jail for stealing two towels. The hotel that was victimized was a Hilton, not a Priority Club property, the culprit should have waited for the next amnesty and selected hotels more carefully.

Schneier notes one hotel that has saved $16,000 per month by reducing its towel thefts each month from 4000 down to 750 by attaching washable RFID tags to its towels. I assume that they aren’t actually tracking down towel thiefs, rather by letting guests know that the towels are tagged this serves as a deterrent. Presumably the deterrent would work just as well by telling guests that the RFID tags are in the towels, without any need to make the actual investment, at least as long as they are able to keep their lack of technology investment a secret.

My favorite comment from Schneier’s blog came from Dirk Praet:

It would be way more fun to embed a slightly more complex chip into the towel that either blows up or sets fire to the luggage. And then have the thief arrested on terrorism charges.

A towel is, indeed, a practical and highly valuable tool.

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. Things like this just annoy me greatly. How anyone can think they should be able to take towels, bath robes, batteries from remotes, etc. from a hotel is crazy. It just adds to the cost for the rest of us.

    I have enough trouble finding room in my luggage for the amenity kits airlines give out, much less finding room for towels 🙂

  2. I’d be thrilled if they would use this RFID technology to ensure that each day’s service leaves me with a full standard set of clean towels. If they have a a quick bathroom scan, with a beep or buzzer that sounds if the count of towels come up short, then this could be used for verification at the completion of the cleaning service as well.

    I think forgetting to replace towels is the number one most common housekeeping gaffe I see.

  3. Presumably all this towel theft means that there are fewer threadbare towels around, which has to be good for the rest of us.

  4. Isn’t this why hotels hold your credit card, for such incidentals? I thought if you broke something, if a bathrobe was missing, or a towel that the hotel would charge your credit card on file.

  5. I’ve never experienced a hotel towel that made me WANT to take it home with me…unless you count those that have an occassional long hair woven into the cloth, hanging on for dear life, those are pretty much irresistable to me 😉

  6. Linen costs are going up. Some hotels have responded by reducing the weight of their towels. So you get flimsier towels now except at luxury places.

    Also, most hotels now only offer 2 bath towels instead of 4. I have heard from a friend inn the hotel business that when they have 4 towels in the room, people often use 2 and then steal the other 2 towels, since they are still unused and neatly folded and can be put right in your suitcase.

    No one wants to steal damp, used towels. So hotels now offer only the minimum number they think you will need.

    It’s all going to get interesting when these new efficient lightbulb requirements go into effect in California and anywhere else. Some of those lightbulbs cost $15 each. They will be stolen – hotels will have to replace lamps with overhead lights or something.

  7. Hotels have to buy by the case which costs hundreds of dollars. One towel is about ten dollars. Credit card companies fine hotels for charging for theft, the only recourse is to turn the thieves into the police for theft. risk losing a customer. So they keep raising rates to make up for the loss. Which costs everybody. Tip the maids,they only get paid minimum wage and it takes 30 minutes to an hour to clean a room. Some people are real slobs. And the thieves lie about the theft anyway.

  8. YES! RFID towels, bed sheets, and glasses and let the guest use the system to verify I’m not sleeping in the same bed as the last person that didn’t stain the sheets. Oh wait, the hotels will never do this. But seriously I suspect this is bonk. Unless you tie to each individual room each time you clean the towels this would be impossible to track. You’d be better putting the security tags on each one and have an alarm go off when you go out the door but I don’t think those will survive the heat of washing more than a few times so you’d have to re apply them and while I don’t steal towels if I ever stayed at a hotel that did this I’d probably have fun with the the system.

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