Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

Travel kleptomania: is stealing from hotels ever OK?

A survey suggests that 85 per cent of guests take things from their hotel rooms, but where should you draw the line?

Toiletries are commonly taken from hotel rooms by travellers. Courtesy Flickr / afcone
Toiletries are commonly taken from hotel rooms by travellers. Courtesy Flickr / afcone

I like to pride myself on being a relatively upstanding traveller. I make the effort to learn a few words of the local language. I never recline my plane seat too far. I buy locally crafted souvenirs. I’ve even been known to tick the box to pay extra to offset an upcoming flight’s carbon emissions. Yet somehow, once inside a luxury hotel suite, I lose sense of my travel morals. It’s one of the first symptoms in an affliction that I’m prone to. I call it travellers’ kleptomania.

Other symptoms include a strong obsession with all things miniature and an insatiable thirst for stationery. Within a few hours of checking in to whichever fluffy-towel-and-crisp-white-sheet haven I’m staying in, it manifests itself; shampoo bottles, conditioners, soaps, shower gels – they’re all dutifully thrown in my bag. It’s the same with bath salts (ideal for a pamper night) and shower caps (handy for that quick after-yoga shower when you’re trying not to get your hair wet). Even the odd sewing kit is squirrelled away – after all, you never know when you’re going to lose a button.

The only known antidote to my travel kleptomania is the amount of empty space in my luggage. But I’m not alone, it appears. In a recent survey by online travel agency Travelocity, 85 per cent of people admitted to stealing toiletries from their hotel rooms. Luckily, most of us leave it at that, but not all holidaymakers have the same restraint.

This week, a video went viral on Twitter showing a family departing from a hotel in Bali. The entire clan appeared to have been struck down by a severe case of travellers’ kleptomania. Carefully wrapped in (hotel) towels and packed away in their luggage were a number of ceramic bathroom accessories, a hairdryer, a room-service tray, several coat hangers and what appeared to be a portable speaker.

Indian television host and actress Mini Mathur, who posted the video, had strong words for those who featured in it: “The worst example of entitled Indian travellers who are a disgrace to the image of our country.”

There has been much debate over whether public shaming is an appropriate response to the transgressions of these greedy travellers, but Mathur’s overriding point – that tourists shouldn’t see a hotel stay as an opportunity to restock their home – is valid.

The scene was reminiscent of an episode of TV sitcom Friends in which Ross scolds Chandler for attempting to pocket salt and pepper shakers from a hotel. Sitting in front of a coffee table loaded with complimentary toiletries and actively ordering more from housekeeping, Ross tells Chandler that he has taken things too far.

“You have to find the line between stealing, and taking what the hotel owes you,” he explains. “The salt shaker is off limits, but the salt …” Ross trails off as he tips the grains into his hand.

Although Chandler seems to comprehend the logic, the family in the Twitter video appear to have missed this lesson, as have others. A few years ago I chatted with someone from the Palazzo Versace Dubai who said that shortly after opening, they had to install security scanners to run guests’ bags through on departure – they were simply losing too many Versace-­branded items. And while miniature toiletries may seem like a bearable loss for a big hotel, in this day and age, when we’re all trying to be single-use plastic-conscious, perhaps it’s time I sought out a more effective cure for my own travel kleptomania.

Updated: August 1, 2019 02:33 PM

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