Thieving guests, so the marketing manager of a legendary Berlin five-star hotel recently told us, the industry is fighting against since mists.
The greatest coup during her tenure until then was the disappearance of quita a great painting by a grand modern artist was more than ten feet long (the painting, not the artist), had been taken away from the staircase of the hotel at bright daylight. Which guest and how it was taken, remained unresolved - staff attitude ranged from outrage to respect, because at least this theft had required some talent and nerve.
The most pilferages, however, are neither a question of talent nor of nerves - mainly opportunity makes many thieves, and the fluffy terry cloth towel, the beautiful coffee spoon, the fancy letters workbook are not only compensation for the "outrageously high price", but also an attractive travel souvenir. It requires just a little risk if you put it into your case before leaving. Mistakenly, of course. And even in well educated bourgeois circles nobody takes offense because of it, just on the contrary: there is even some recognition among friends with stolen trophies to splurge. What can hoteliers so against it? Next to nothing - but there are a few tricks to keep the theft rate within certain limits.
The most important: You must notice the theft as immediate as possible; and you can do this only with attentive housekeeping. So if you can rely on their lynx eyes and the loss is unequivocally associated to a certain person, the procedure is easy at least for regular customers: "Our policy is to write the missing bathrobe just on the regular guest's next bill", the marketing manager explained us with a grin.
Most would lift an eyebrow though, but afterwards usually pay the amount without complaints. Admittedly, the receptionist must be somewhat tough. At the same time, the documentation is also important to identify kleptomaniacs: Who has outed him- or herself as incorrigible repeat offenders, shall be put - as well as notorious complaint writers - on the black list.
The next trick is simple, however the success will remain uncertain: Refrain from this ungood habit to make the guest gifts all the time and everywhere! Many hoteliers long time ago have already overexaggerated this in the desperate hope to bribe pilferers among their customers (and to cope with the grim competition).
Nowadays you may feel like attendent of a children's birthday party: Prizes and rewards just for nothing! Not only the little shampoo bottle in the bathroom, the ballpoint pen next to the phone and the fruity greeting at the table, also stationery, mineral water, SPA slippers, comb and hygiene sets are literally thrown after guests.
But especially for the critical cases, this might lead them rather to take everything else for free – they will help themselves even more. So stop the all-inclusive-culture, opt for "no frills" - such as the successful budget airlines - but keep all this articles still on request with the housekeeping, so that those clients who really need it can easily and unresistedly have access to.
Next trick is IT: The US company Linen Technology Tracking equips bed linen and towels with a water-proof microchip, working similar to the hitting RFID tag that will alarm as soon as one crosses a security barrier without authorization. The system was tested in three American hotels, allegedly dropped the theft by more than 80 percent, the hotels saved $16,000 according to Linen Technology Tracking. Already, the reference to the tags should have prevented theft. Hopefully the RFID is reinforced against hot showers or other temperature changes (use your imagination), otherwise the complaint rate by honeymooners migth overrun the savings.
A trick which is suitable only for premium houses: If the boy picks up guest's luggage directly from the room and friendly then asks whether anything was forgotten, then still the bad conscience strikes with reasonably honest guests. Many - so it is experienced – will then send away the waiter without luggage and immediately set back the stolen things. Respectable guests, however, will do not feel bothered.
The note on hotel property represents a further threshold - that all of the desired things can be bought also in the shop, including the indirect yet friendly message "This bathrobe is not yours!". Sure, only a few guests as a consequence of the denied theft will actually buy a bathrobe in the shop, but it is not totally ruled out. Therefore you should set the price for such items in the shop as low as possible – finally, it is less an additional business, but branding in a particularly serious case: the customer will always remember your property and brand in the future, when he or she uses the bathrobe.
In plain language: Many articles in hotel shops are just too expensive, because finally the buyer is doing advertisement for you free of charge in two ways: Wearing your logo and singing your song directly or just indirectly. It is a striking example of how a chance is wasted.
You can also avoid the whole thrill: Abolish the logo on towels, bathrobes, ashtrays and ensure that at least the souvenir effect subsides. A white terry cloth looks like thousands of others, no longer worth of theft. On the other hand, then, does its premium image even on the track. This is quite a dilemma, we know for sure.
Thus if you asked us, try just the opposite: Stitch in big letters: "This bathrobe was stolen from the xxx Hotel" on the bathrobe, and so on – then you are definetely the one who laughs last. And this coup is not only cleverer than any theft but also will have a viral marketing effect. There will be only a few weeks, and your shop is going to be sold out.
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Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry always has fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing – work-live-balance as its best.
Roland also heads the annual 4Hoteliers ITB Berlin news micro-site journalist and video/photo teams. For more info: www.4Hoteliers.com/itb
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