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.