Friday 28 October 2016

Inside the mind of a thief

If a hotel is selling porn, then Sarah Carey is going to depart the establishment with a fluffy item in her bag

Published 13/04/2015 | 02:30

Sarah Carey
Sarah Carey

I was staying in a hotel recently, at someone else's expense, and I robbed a towel. Yes. I'm a towel thief. Been at it for as long as I've been staying in hotels. As is usual with criminal behaviour, it's a question of a deprived childhood.

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Before Christmas, I wrote here about the hardship of sandpaper-quality towels in our home. My parents were agricultural people who didn't hold much with luxury. Combined with a hard-water supply from the well, and the absence of a tumble drier or fabric conditioner, our towels were excellent for exfoliation, but not comfort.

It created a life-long craving for luxurious bath sheets. But they can be expensive. So, when you're somewhere nice, and the towels are even nicer, the temptation can be a bit much.

The problem for the hotel industry is how to put a stop to nefarious criminals like me. Just recently, I read about a company called Linen Technology Tracking, which claims it puts tracking chips into hotel towels. I'm using the term "claim" because, while this may indeed be the case, it could be a ruse. You don't need to put chips into towels to identify towel thieves. You just need guests to believe that you have, thus creating paranoid visions of alarms going off as they nonchalantly check out.

In fairness, my thievery is an on-off thing. I've stayed in many hotels and not stolen a towel. If you were to construct an algorithm to calculate the likelihood of linen larceny, the inputs would have to include: a) personal economic circumstances; b) standard of hotel; c) quality of towel; d) current need to renew domestic supply; e) chances of me being in that hotel again; and f) who's paying the bill?

If an employer is paying for the room, the scales of moral relativism are tipped in favour of robbery. I feel like one corporation is merely ripping off another, and both are legitimate targets, being morally dubious entities in themselves. If I'm paying for the room myself, I feel a greater sense of moral liability for any misdemeanours that take place during the occupancy.

The size of the hotel chain is also relevant. You wouldn't like to cost a family-run guesthouse any money. But an international conglomerate that's making a pile of money from the porn movies its executive guests are expensing, for $10 a go, doesn't illicit much guilt on my part. If they're selling porn, I'm taking a towel.

The most effective strategy I've seen to stem the tide of theft was in a fancy hotel in America. I was there, like most of the other guests, as a corporate customer. The rooms were stocked with two luxury towelling robes. I usually leave the robes alone, as I am very small and those robes are too big. But the other guests must have been pretty fond of them, as the deterrent had been well worked out.

The usual response from robe-supplying hotels is a passive-aggressive notice in the wardrobe informing guests that they are for sale at reception. But in this establishment, they realised that a key factor in the theft was the identification of corporations as fair game. So this notice declared that these robes were the responsibility of the housekeeping staff, who had to account for each one on their floor.

Oooooh! How brilliant. In a sinister, Orwellian way. This was no longer a victimless crime! Who would steal a bathrobe if they thought a poor, oppressed hotel maid would have to explain the missing item? I'll bet that notice slashed the incidences of the crime. It may also have harmed their repeat business. I'd never stay in a fascist premises like that again.

These days, the issue is largely academic, as I no longer work for the sort of companies that pay for nice hotels. The recession means that both the hotels and standard of towels are in sad decline. Unlike other crimes, towel theft is a side-effect of affluence.

Poor-quality towels in poor-quality hotels just aren't worth the time it takes to justify the crime.

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