How to prevent guest theft in hotels

Hair dryers, TVs, artworks - some guests even go so far as to take the furniture away with them. According to surveys, theft from hotels isn’t always petty. But security measures and a tactical approach might help.

Text: Karen Cop // FOTOS: iStock

Hotel theft – when it’s mentioned the first things that spring to the guest’s mind are pilfered purses or even jewellery stolen by the chambermaid. And the guest is in a comparatively good position: Should they fall victim to hotel theft it is generally the hotelier who is liable in Germany and most European countries. In reality, however, it is hoteliers who are the most frequent victims of theft. A survey by the Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (GfK) market research institute revealed that one in two Germans have taken something away with them after a hotel visit. “As a hotelier you are never 100% protected against theft from rooms”, says Simon Wieck, Managing Director of prizeotel Germany, speaking on behalf of his CEO Marco Nussbaum.

From a hotel towel to a piano

In reality, however, some hotel guests are regrettably prepared to steal more or less anything that isn’t nailed down. In fact, some even regard taking toiletries and soap away with them as normal, though the items that disappear are frequently of a much higher value. The “Wellness Heaven Hotel Guide” asked 1,093 hoteliers in European 4- and 5-star hotels what light-fingered guests are especially fond of getting their hands on. Top of the ranking of most coveted items are towels (77.5 per cent), followed by bathrobes (65.1 per cent) and clothes hangers (49.3 per cent). But artworks (20.2 per cent) are also frequently targeted by thieves. A hotelier from Italy even reported: “Once, as I was strolling through the lobby, it struck me that something was missing. A short while later I found out that three unknown men in overalls had taken away the grand piano.” It was never seen again.

Hotel surveillance

So what preventative measures can hoteliers take? Simon Wieck: “prizeotels are or will be equipped with an extensive camera surveillance system in public areas such as the lobby, front office, bar, corridors, lift stops, car parks and hotel entrance. There are many notices posted in prominent positions throughout the hotel drawing attention to the presence of this system, which can play a key role in preventing theft.”

Items with a hotel logo as souvenirs

It is often the hunting instinct which turns otherwise law-abiding people into casual thieves. This means that towels and cutlery inscribed with the name of the hotel are in particular danger because guests like to take them away as mementoes of their stay. A shop in the lobby selling bathrobes with the hotel’s insignia and its own toiletries is a clear indication that while these items are desirable, they are not included in the room price. Not labelling towels and cutlery with the hotel logo in the first place is also an option for preventing the hotel’s property being regarded as a possible souvenir. A fork then becomes just the same as any other fork.

Legal action or a gift?

For a theft with a value of less than EUR 50 it’s barely worth the expense of taking legal action. In cases of theft of more valuable items there is the more discrete and charming option of putting the hotel bathrobe sticking out of the guest’s case on their bill or charging it to their credit card as they check out. This can be done if the theft was obvious – if it was observed by staff, for example.

It is down to the individual hotelier to decide whether or not it is desirable for the guest to take away open soaps or shampoos. Some hoteliers regard the dissemination of the brand as welcome publicity that will also remind the guest of their stay when they get home. The important thing here is to remove the uncertainty from the guest: You could offer the item as a “gift from the hotel”. Or, if you don’t want the guest to take the item away, place a sign on it indicating, for example, what happens to a used bar of soap or an open shampoo bottle.


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