Read of the Day: “The Mystery of the Missing Hotel Toothpaste”
6:00 pm, July 9th | by Weiyu Li
While even a cheap hotel will provide a flagon of shampoo and a few bars of soap, we never seem to receive toothpaste, one of the most indispensable toiletries. In today’s Read of the Day, Salon’s Daniel Engber rounds up theories that seek to explain the absence of hotel toothpaste and investigates them one by one. After talking to a number of industry insiders, Engber surmises, “We don’t get toothpaste in our rooms because we don’t ask for toothpaste in our rooms; we don’t ask for toothpaste in our rooms because we never knew we could.”
A couple of years ago, the travel section of the Washington Post reported on a post-recession trend in the lodging business: high-end hotel swag. The big chains have been competing, the article said, on fancy accoutrements. In place of standard alarm clocks, they’re furnishing their rooms with iPod docking stations. In place of house-brand bottles of shampoo and conditioner, they’re offering L’Occitane.
“Amenities wars” like this have been breaking out for decades. In 1987 theLos Angeles Times described an industry so embroiled in freebie one-upmanship that a hotel in Wabasha, Minn., was offering live cats to its guests. As the “goodies war” intensified, hotel executives decried the wasteful arms race it had produced. “Amenities have truly gotten out of hand,” the president of Regent Hotels told the newspaper in 1990. “So much of it is just garbage, or it simply insults the guest.”
Still, after a period of toiletry retrenchment, the amenities war erupted once again in 2005. This time, it started with a fight over which hotel could claim the most luxurious bedding and ended—as such conflicts often do—in the bathroom. Hilton Hotels launched an upgrade to its toiletry kit, stocking baskets with body lotion, body wash, mouthwash, moisturizing soap, a shower cap, a sewing kit, a vanity kit, a shoe mitt, a shoehorn, and an aqua brush with pumice.
But through all these cycles of competition, one fact has remained more or less the same: Hoteliers never deigned to add a tube of toothpaste to the growing bonanza of cosmetics. Now, as always, any guest who wants some toothpaste—or deodorant, tampons, or any other item that isn’t provided in the room—must request it from the front desk, through the hotel’s “forgot an item” program.
Why has toothpaste been relegated to this supplementary status? I asked this question of executives at 18 North American hotel chains, and most provided the same pair of explanations. First, they said their in-room amenities are chosen based on extensive consumer research. In other words, if the hotels aren’t giving you toothpaste, it’s because you don’t really want toothpaste. “If such requests did begin to trend,” explained a representative from the Wyndham Hotel Group, “we would evaluate our brand standards and offerings.” (Update, July 3: There is at least one major exception to the rule. A Hyatt spokesperson reports that all of that company’s hotels in North America offer in-room tubes of Aquafresh toothpaste.)
To read the full essay, click here.