3 Months in Jail for Stealing Hotel Towels

Hotel guests steal everything from shampoo to the TV remote.

ByABC News
September 15, 2010, 5:28 PM

Sept. 16, 2010— -- Think twice before you take that bar of soap from your next hotel room.

A woman now faces up to three months in jail just for taking two towels from a hotel room.

A court in Nigeria has convicted Bilikisu Dowodu of stealing the towels from the Transcorp Hilton Abuja Hotel, in the country's capital city. She now has to either pay a $20 fine or spend three months in jail.

While this is probably an extreme case of punishment, guests stealing items from rooms costs hotels millions of dollars each year. And we're not just talking about some shampoo and towels.

Guests have walked out of hotels with hair dryers, corkscrews, phones, ironing boards, radios, flowers, bibles, luggage stands, coffee mugs and just about anything else that isn't bolted down.

To stop theft, hotels have secured lamps, TVs and hangers. Artwork has been bolted to the walls and mini-bars have gone high-tech. But at a certain point, hotels have to balance offering nice amenities and making their rooms feel like prison cells.

Upscale chains now don't offer robes, umbrellas and even sometimes linens in their rooms, but sell them instead in the gift shop and have added price tags to the in-room items. The moves have dramatically cut theft.

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John Bowen, dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, said one reason that people might feel comfortable stealing from a hotel is because the consequences are so small.

Nigeria might have tough penalties for stealing hotel towels, but in the U.S. Bowen said criminal charges are rarely pursued.

"The common thing is just to let you know that your credit card is being billed for that item you took with you," Bowen said.

Sometimes guests go for large-ticket items.

"We had a guest that was trying to take a large mirror out of the room," Bowen said about the on-campus hotel. "People get fairly bold in what they try to take out"

The 86-room property loses a few hundred dollars each month due to theft, Bowen estimated.