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Towels, sinks and grand pianos: the bizarre items stolen from hotels

Shampoo containers and food from the breakfast buffet might be considered fair game, but what about towels, dressing gowns and slippers?
Shampoo containers and food from the breakfast buffet might be considered fair game, but what about towels, dressing gowns and slippers? - JGI/Jamie Grill/Tetra images RF

My career as a hotel thief ended in 2014 with a Bangkok hotel receptionist standing over me as the four-star’s concierge gingerly pulled a pair of blue corduroy slippers out of the depths of my suitcase (I’d convinced myself they wouldn’t be reused).

Two years earlier, I had boldly strolled out of the Radisson Blu Chicago into the bitter chill of a windy January day wrapped in the hotel’s grey felt bed-runner. The doorman, concurring that British city coats are no match for minus-17 and shin-deep snow, forgave that raid on the hotel’s soft furnishings.

Most memorable, however, was an incident of larceny I witnessed in an English country house hotel. The perpetrator was an inebriated Fleet Street journalist and the subject of his desire was a flat-screen TV. This the sot scribe ineptly tried to smuggle through reception beneath a white bath towel as the horrified staff looked on.

These are not standalone incidents. A report published this week, commissioned by luxury spa and hotel guide Wellness Haven, surveyed 1,376 European hotel managers about items most commonly stolen from their properties.

It found that towels, bathrobes and coat-hangers were the most pilfered items, with consumables such as batteries and pens more likely to be stolen from four-star hotels and luxury items such as iPads and artworks more likely to be half-inched from five-star haunts.

Items thieved in greater quantity since a similar 2019 study include mini-fridges, lamps and, impressively, hotel mattresses, while among the more bizarre stolen items highlighted by the report are: an entire sink (stolen from a hotel in Berlin), a grand piano (nabbed by men posing as fake movers in overalls from a hotel lobby in Italy) and room numbers (chipped off a hotel room door by a determined hotel guest in England).

German and British hotel guests, meanwhile, are more likely to steal pedestrian items such as towels and bathrobes whereas American guests thrill for nabbing pillows and batteries. Italians prefer wine glasses as a hotel souvenir, while the practical Dutch stock up on loo roll at the hospitality industry’s expense.

Thrifty Dutch tourists are known to load up on toilet paper from hotels
Thrifty Dutch tourists are known to load up on toilet paper from hotels - ozgurdonmaz/iStockphoto

In a classic episode of Friends, Ross teaches Chandler the 101 on covert theft from hotels: “You have to find the line between ‘stealing’ and taking what the hotel owes you,” Ross says as he berates Chandler for trying to recoup a $600 hotel bill by trousering the restaurant’s hotel and pepper shakers.

“Hairdryer, No! No! No!” he schools, “but shampoos and conditioners: Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Amelia Andrews, a wellness entrepreneur, says her family dubs casual hotel toiletries theft: “doing a Ross Geller”.

“We only really go for taking things like body lotion from the room,” the 51-year-old explains. “I’m not brave enough to steal anything like slippers or bathrobes.”

Writer Jill Davis, 45, sees a raid on the in-room tea and coffee supplies and breakfast buffet as a means of getting her money’s worth. “I have been known to take a bag to smuggle stuff out of hotel buffets,” she admits. “I once unpacked after an overnight stay to find my husband and I had both had the same idea of nicking mini jars of Nutella to bring home as a present for the kids. We had eight of them. I only took two but my husband – who is both brazen and has bigger pockets – had swiped six.”

Eight mini jars of Nutella, as pilferred from a hotel breakfast bar by Jill Davis and her husband
Eight mini jars of Nutella, as pilferred from a hotel breakfast bar by Jill Davis and her husband - CHP

Dr Charlotte Russell, a clinical psychologist and editor of The Travel Psychologist blog, says that rising room rates might embolden some guests to think that hotel shower gel and tea bags are theirs for the taking.

“Some of us experience rising prices as being ‘taken advantage of’,” she says. “If people feel they are being exploited they are much more likely to engage in behaviours like petty theft.”

Dr Charlotte Russell
“If people feel they are being exploited they are much more likely to engage in petty theft,” says Dr Charlotte Russell

Hospitality industry professional Roz Colthart believes many hotel guests view their own minor pilfering as a source of pride: “People steal everything,” she says. “I once had one guest who proudly told me and my staff at Malmaison that she had built up a full set of crockery and cutlery by stealing one piece at a time from our hotels!”

While hotels are responding to the larcenous new mood by searching rooms and bags for stolen items as guests check out, others are nudging guests into better behaviours by listing the cost of purchasing the room’s portable items on room-mounted lists. They include Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, which offers guests the opportunity to buy items from its Sir Paul Smith Suite, including £250 striped cushions and a three-seater sofa for a cool £10,900 (try smuggling that one through reception); Savoy Signature, which punts everything from £70 pillows to £172 shave kits to be bought after your stay; and Patina Hotel in the Maldives, which lists all in-room items including water glasses (set of two, $39) and chopstick holders ($19) on its app for delivery directly to guests’ home addresses for their return from hols.

Signs at the five-star Thai resort Chiva-Som make it clear that certain items should not be regarded as complimentary
Signs at the five-star Thai resort Chiva-Som make it clear that certain items should not be regarded as complimentary

It’s an everyday gesture, these days, for spa hotels to install bossy signs warning guests that robes, slippers and PJs shouldn’t be stolen but can be bought at on-site boutiques (see signs, above, from five-star Thai spa resort Chiva-Som). However the emergence of large refillable toiletry bottles in hotel rooms for environmental reasons is doing away with the most common mode of pocketing from many hotels: luxury shampoo and body lotion miniatures.

If you wonder what happened to that (now retired) TV-stealing hack, he was apprehended by the hotel’s MD and frogmarched back to his hotel room, still bearing the TV and towel, though suffered consequences no graver than a red face and a brutal hangover. Martinis and a mattress next time, pal?