I remember being on a family vacation at about the age of ten, and as we were packing up to leave the hotel room, my father started to pack the hotel towels into our suitcases. My mother looked at him with a puzzled expression and asked him what he was doing. He replied, without fanfare, that we were taking the towels home.
“No!” she immediately exclaimed. “That’s tacky.”
They argued about it for a minute or two, but my father finally acquiesced and returned the towels to his rack. His argument had been that the hotel simply expects patrons to take the towels with them, not unlike the mini-soap and the mini-shampoo. My mother had a very different view on the situation, and couldn’t imagine (a) that the hotel wanted us to take their towels or (b) what need we had of the scratchy, white, and oft-used hotel towels at home anyway.
Technology Bests Criminals Again
If that family vacation had been taken today, however, my father might not have been so quick to start packing the towels. These days, many of the fanciest hotels are incorporating radio frequency identification, or RFID-chips, into their towels and robes.
There’s nothing new about RFID-chips. They have long been used to prevent the theft of books, to track the movement of animals, and to prevent illegal logging, but up until now they were not part of a hotel’s security system.
As of April 2011, three upscale hotels have invested in the RFID technology. They’ve put tags on their towels, their bathrobes, and other linens. A hotel in Hawaii says that before they tagged their towels, they would lose an astonishing 4,000 per month to people like my Dad. Now that everything’s tagged, that number has fallen to 750. While there are still 750 towel thefts per month, it’s a heck of a lot better than 4,000. The hotels are said to save almost $16,000 per month. Remember this the next time you’re tempted to take a towel or a bathrobe home with you as a vacation memento!