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  • Kate Reddin

From sticky fingers to brand evangelists: The case for lost hotel amenities

Slippers, Towels and Branding: The Case For Lost Hotel Amenities

There’s a scene in the movie Casino where a high-stakes gambler is preparing to leave his Las Vegas hotel room. Despite having won over $2 million on the casino floor, we see him filling his suitcase with towels and shampoo. After that, we see him boarding a private jet for the ride home.

Apparently, even the super-rich find those little extras difficult to resist.

Why is this? Maybe it’s the idea that hotels have endless supplies of such things, and taking them does no harm to anyone in particular. Maybe it’s the feeling that, since hotel rooms are ‘home’ for a day or two, everything inside is fair game. Maybe it’s as simple as wanting a souvenir of a pleasant stay. A keepsake that offers a sense of place.

Whatever the reason, missing amenities are a notorious problem for hotel owners and managers. Towels, slippers, stationary are all routinely taken. Even the odd flatscreen TV goes missing. This trend often results in terse little notices, reminding guests that if they abscond with anything, (most often bathrobes), their account will be duly charged. Some properties are even using towels fitted with tracking chips. Walk through the front door with a little something extra, and it could be the most embarrassing moment of your day.

It’s not that hotels want to send a message of stinginess, but so many drops in a bucket have a way of adding up. If no action is taken, a property’s bottom line can be seriously affected. The natural instinct, therefore, is to fight against the outgoing current and try to retain as many of these amenities as possible.

But what if properties actually turned and swam with the current? What if this “sticky finger syndrome” were embraced as a branding opportunity, a chance to put the hotel’s name and story in front of more people?

It’s a question which, at the very least, is well worth asking.

For their part, Emirates Airlines have come up with an answer that’s working for them. Amenities are not only a branding opportunity, but one to be taken advantage of in robust and creative ways. They’ve partnered with Buzz, an Australian product design firm, to create a popular series of stuffed animals for kids. This, in addition to more conventional amenities, has allowed them to create a strong identity as a fun, family-friendly airline.

Emirates certainly isn’t the only believer. When Forbes takes the trouble to publish a list of the top airline amenity kits, you know that more and more airlines are taking amenities seriously in terms of brand development.

Are hotels in a similar frame of mind? Well, if tracking chips installed in towels are any indication, the answer is ‘not exactly.’ But perhaps they should be. It’s true that certain items are expensive to replace, and if every guest helped himself or herself to a towel, operating costs would soar. But it’s still possible to work within reasonable limits and give guests what they want. Slippers, for example, are the second most common item taken from hotel rooms. Rather than provide the ubiquitous white slippers, why not make them into a well-branded product that helps your hotel tell its story, and encourage guests to help themselves? Or, instead of the cheap plastic writing implement, what about providing high quality pens suitable for business, scribbling across the pads of executives everywhere? Turn your guests into travelling billboards.

The possibilities are many, and although the returns may be difficult to pin down exactly, evidence shows that customers—especially hotel guests—love branded amenities, and will often take them whether it’s allowed or not. Failing to leverage this fact may actually be the imprudent way to go.

My reasons for putting this argument forward are purely professional. That said, my father was a seasoned business traveller. I used to love the souvenirs he brought back from exotic hotels like Shangri-La in Singapore, The Peninsula in Hong Kong, The Dolder Grand in Zurich, Savoy in London or Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Over some 50 years of travelling there were shampoos, sewing kits, shoe shine and even one ashtray. These “little extras” were part of my inspiration for entering the hotel business and put names in my head that I wanted to visit one day. In the same way, my love for travel was kindled by amenity kits given to him by airlines like Qantas, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay.

It’s only natural for hoteliers to look for ways to reduce the cost-per-occupied room. But in a landscape as fast-moving and competitive as this one, carving out a distinct brand cannot be considered anything but a priority. So, rather than just looking at the cost-per-occupied room metric, why not consider a brand-extension-per-occupied-room investment? In other words, where brand development is concerned, it’s possible to see generosity and prudence as two things that overlap significantly.

The hotel in Casino ends up preventing that high-stakes gambler from leaving town. They bring him back to the property for a complimentary stay, and before long, he has given back all his winnings and coughed up a million of his own. The moral of the story is that some casinos want to keep people coming back over and over until their pockets are empty. Where hospitality is concerned, the object is to keep them coming back, plain and simple. If this means putting a little something extra in their pockets at check-out time, it may be worth it.

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