Trendy Hotels Bail on the Bible

A mainstay in hotel nightstands, the Bible is disappearing from luxury lodgings.


Nov. 16, 2007&#151; -- High-end hotels have been racing to boost their amenities, offering flat-panel TVs, wireless Internet, expanded room service menus and even intimacy kits that include condoms.

But one mainstay of the hotel room appears to be fading in these trendy places: the bedside Bible.

Since 2001, the number of luxury hotels to include Bibles and other religious materials has dropped by 18 percent, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

That doesn't mean that Bibles are disappearing entirely; the number of hotels, motels and inns with in-room Bibles has increased from 79 percent in 1988 to 95 percent today.

But now, nearly a century after the first Bibles started to appear in rooms, luxury hotels and resorts seem to be bucking that trend.

Kimpton Hotels used to provide copies of the New Testament and sometimes a book of Buddhist inspirational phrases.

But a year and a half ago, the chain removed the books from rooms in its 42 hotels, according to Mike DeFrino, senior vice president of hotel operations.

The move was part of a larger push to be more environmentally friendly, DeFrino said, and also included stripping phone books from individual rooms.

Instead, Kimpton now offers copies of the New Testament, Old Testament, Book of Mormon, the Quran and Buddhist and Hindu texts at the front desk.

How many times do they get a request from guests for such books?

"Rarely," DeFrino said.

"People don't ask for this stuff. It's not something that they're interested in," he said. "They don't ask for phone books and they don't ask for religious books generally."

But it's not because guests are shy.

Some of Kimpton's hotels, particularly its Monaco brand, offer guests the chance to have goldfish in their room through their stay. DeFrino said roughly 15 percent of guests request a goldfish.

Kimpton isn't the only chain with a lack of bedside Bibles.

The Hotel Gansevoort in New York and the soon-to-open Gansevoort South in Miami Beach don't and have never had Bibles in the rooms. Instead, the hotel has opted for a library of assorted religious texts and books available upon request.

Elon Kenchington, chief operating officer of the Gansevoort Hotel Group, said the hotels tried to re-evaluate everything that has been done by other hotels in the past and "not be sheep."

"The industry, like most things, evolves and changes," he said.

Kenchington said a couple of guests each week request the religious materials, but he also believes many people carry their own prayer books with them.

He said Gansevoort tries to put as many luxury items in a room that space permits.

"We'd rather surprise them with things they wouldn't expect, like iPod docking stations and plasma TVs," Kenchington said.

Bibles became a common item in lodging starting in 1908, when Gideons International placed its first Bibles in hotel rooms.

The group's objective, "winning others to Christ," is advanced by distributing 63 million Bibles worldwide each year to hotels, motels, hospitals, nursing homes, domestic violence shelters, schools, prisons, the military and elsewhere.

Not everybody reads the prayer books, but a lot of travelers apparently do. One survey by travel publisher Fodor's found that more than 20 percent of guests read the Bible while in their hotel rooms.

But not all hotel guests want to read in their rooms -- let alone read the Bible. And some hotels that market themselves more as destinations rather than as places to rest your head have taken notice.

When the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened in 2003, it was Atlantic City's first new casino hotel in more than a decade. It also chose not to stock its 2,000-plus rooms with Bibles.

It did, however, choose playful do-not-disturb signs that read "tied up" on one side and on the other asks housekeeping to "tidy up."

The hotel and casino does offer religious books in the lobby. The library there has loaner editions of the Gideon Bible and a dozen other books for various religions.

When the casino opened, a spokesman told reporters, "What about the Koran, the Greek Bible, the Old Testament, New Testament, Jehovah's Witness? We opted, instead of excluding everyone, to include everyone."

As hotels have downplayed the prominence of the Bible, the Nashville-based Gideons have remained silent, declining to comment on the trend.

While boutique hotels appear to be leading the trend, a survey of nearly 10,000 hotels across the country by American Hotel and Lodging Association highlights some other notable Bible trends.

Apparently the cost of a hotel stay makes a big difference.

The more you pay for a hotel room, the less likely a Bible will be there. Only 73 percent of luxury hotels provided a Bible compared with 99 percent of economy hotels.

Location also plays a factor. Hotels with the lowest percentage of Bibles were in urban areas or were resorts. Those with the most were located near interstate highways and at airports.

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