Industry Update
Opinion Article 4 March 2020

Help Save The Planet By Eliminating Hotel Bathroom Toiletries

By Chekitan S. Dev, PhD, Professor of Marketing at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in the SC Johnson College of Business

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What's the problem? Hotel bathroom toiletries are like 12 noon check in check out: an archaic practice that persists only because no one has thought to change it. When hotels first began to offer bathroom amenities, it was considered a 'luxury' item for use and something interesting to take home. This inertia is partially driven by hotel bathroom toiletry companies that are part of a billion-dollar business globally. Today, many guests do travel, or can travel, with their own toiletries and don't really need hotel toiletries. But if it free, travelers will use what is provided so they can save their own stock. The problem is most bathroom toiletry containers are never fully used so end up being wasted and filling landfills.

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What's the solution? In an increasingly cluttered hotel marketplace, brands are using every means to differentiate themselves from the competition. One obvious place to do this is in reducing, and ultimately eliminating, what I call their 'clutter footprint' which is different from carbon footprint as it is much more visible, cluttering landfills and washing up on our beaches all over the world. Bathroom toiletries are the next obvious 'save the planet' choice because most guests have their favorite brands and can be encouraged to carry them. My prediction, and an appeal to the hotel industry: stop stocking toiletries in bathrooms.

How would this work? Guests will be encouraged to travel with their favorite brand of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. For guests that forget to carry toiletries, hotels can stock them, just as many hotels do today with other amenities (e.g., toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, and shaving cream), making them available in one of several ways: a question asked when making a reservation (would you like your bathroom stocked with toiletries), offered upon check-in, available for free in vending machines on hotel floors, or on-demand from the front desk.

How big could the impact be? Even a 10% or 20% reduction in hotel bathroom toiletry use will result in huge cost savings and eliminates literally tons of plastic. The savings from cost of stocking hotel bathrooms, and one less item for housekeepers to worry about so they can focus on cleaning the room, can then be repurposed to improving amenities that do matter, such as providing alarm clocks that don't need a Ph.D. to operate, bright bedside reading lights, or window blinds that close all the way.

Why now? I expect the elimination of hotel in-bathroom toiletries will be ultimately welcomed as a brand standard worldwide. As every sector of the travel industry comes under scrutiny for their clutter footprints, travel brands are well-advised to examine every step in the customer experience and extract as much carbon and clutter as the can. While hotel bathroom toiletries were once a 'nice to have' amenity, today reducing and ultimately removing clutter is a key strategic imperative for all hotel brands. RIP: hotel bathroom toiletries.

Chekitan S. Dev

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