Towel Tracker: Turning That Towel Theft Headache Into A Guest Pleasing Amenity

Stealing hotel towels has been a recurring joke in sitcoms and standup comedy routines for decades. But in real life, towel theft is no laughing matter. In a Hotels.com survey of 8,600 travelers, 1 in 3 people admitted to stealing “souvenirs” from hotels and resorts, and not surprisingly, towels were the number one item stolen by Americans.

Hotels and resorts have taken different steps to address chronic towel theft. Some hire employees to manually sign out towels to guests, while others put up warning signs about fees charged for stolen towels. Despite these measures, enormous quantities of towels continue to vanish, and the painful price tag for replacement towels is often viewed as the unavoidable cost of doing business.

That’s the way Michael Edwards used to view replacement towel costs: unavoidable. Edwards is General Manager of The Cove at Yarmouth on Cape Cod, and he recalled, “We used to have a staff member dispensing pool towels 13 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we were still losing about $6,000 a year in towels. At operations meetings, we always had to order new pool towels. I was tired of hearing it, and it just became automated—the cost of doing business.”

Marc Adcox, Assistant General Manager at the Island Vista Resort in Myrtle Beach, faced similar problems. He stated, “We gave guests a pool towel card, but it was not really trackable and we experienced substantial towel losses.” While searching for a solution to this problem, Adcox received a brochure about a high tech towel management system called Towel Tracker.

Towel Tracker (www.toweltracker.com) is comprised of two vending machine-sized cabinets, one for clean and one for dirty towels. Resort guests swipe their room cards through a reader on the clean towel cabinet, then open the cabinet door and take the towels they need. Each towel has a washable RFID chip imbedded in it, and when the cabinet door closes, the cabinet scans the remaining towels and can tell exactly which ones were taken. The towels are then assigned to the guests’ account—just like borrowing books from the library. When guests put used towels into the return cabinet, the RFID tags are scanned again, and the towels are removed from their accounts.

Chuck Burgett, Towel Tracker’s Director of Sales, stated, “With Towel Tracker, resorts know exactly who did not return their towels, and they can handle it any way they choose. They may also offer guests a nicer, premium towel because they’re not worried about towel loss anymore.”

Adcox eventually had a Towel Tracker installed at Island Vista Resort, where it had an immediate impact. “Before Towel Tracker,” he explained, “the front desk staff spent half the day trading pool cards for pool towels. People would come through the lobby with wet towels, and having all that towel traffic at the front desk was dreadful, because people were dripping water all over the place.” Today that problem is gone, because the Towel Tracker sits on the pool deck. Adcox says guests view it as an exclusive amenity: “Guests love it and have commented on the nicer towels, the convenience and ease of use. Towel Tracker has provided us with unprecedented inventory control.”

Nine hundred miles north at The Cove of Yarmouth, Edwards also decided to have a Towel Tracker installed. “Every hotel is looking for ways to curb costs,” he stated, “and the numbers involved motivated me to give it a shot. The cost savings will pay for the Towel Tracker within a year and a half, and that swayed me.”

Since implementing Towel Tracker, The Cove has experienced a 75% reduction in towel loss and recouped about 75% of costs for missing towels, by charging a fee for them. Edwards further noted, “We no longer need an employee to dispense pool towels, so we’re also saving about $18-20,000 a year on payroll.”

Best of all, the response to Towel Tracker has been positive. Edwards said guests are pleased with the upgraded towels being offered, and they view Towel Tracker favorably: “It turned out to be viewed as an amenity… they think it’s pretty cool.”