Enjoy your dirty towel, compliments of the luxury hotel staff

For the past decade or so, hotels have been in the business of making us feel good about our role in protecting the environment.

An example of the cards now found in most hotel and motel rooms:

Dear Guest,

Every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once.

You make the difference:

-A towel hanging up means “I will use again.”
-A towel on the floor means “Please exchange.”

Thank you for helping us conserve the Earth’s vital resources.

It’s a win-win for the hotels: They get to thank you for how noble you are being for not asking for more towels. They look noble for suggesting that you go be your best self and perform such a selfless, kind act.

And the hotel saves money on washing.

You get to use your old dirty towel, even though you very explicitly paid a premium for clean towels to be provided each day. So, are they giving price breaks for that washing they no longer have to do, the mildly mildewing towels selflessly left on the rack by all the conscientious guests? (Yeah, I realize a few were just guilted into it by the little nagging sign or maybe a nagging spouse, who was inspired by the nagging little sign.)

No price break? Where does that money go? Hmmm.

  • The hotel gets to look noble. The staff suggested that you save the Earth!
  • You get to feel noble. You are saving the Earth!
  • The hotel has less washing to pay for.
  • The hotel gets to keep the washing money you already gave them when you paid for the room, and you feel like you did the right thing. (The best thing. You are officially a caring person.)
  • You get a dirty towel — and you feel really good about it.

The Earth remains pretty much unsaved, but, yeah, less laundry was done. That adds up. But then why didn’t the prices go down a notch back when all the little towel cards appeared?

If hotels really want to save the Earth, that’s fine. But they might want to donate that saved money on washing to a good cause, too. Otherwise it’s just a scheme where they get to make you give them a donation out of guilt, and they get higher profits.

Nothing has substantially changed for the Earth, and a hotel did less washing and saved money on soap and staff and stuff. Some water is conserved.

The big question is: Are we paying a hotel’s rates for a room with clean towels, or are we paying for the hotel to give us a guilt trip that the hotel then profits on? What kind of business model is that?

You can now even forego bed making too, which, of course, takes away from the number of chambermaids they’ll need on each shift. (How noble.)

If hotels want to look less like guilt-inducing profiteers, they could promote some new programs:

  • Please donate your turndown service to a messy middle-class family in need.
  • Please enjoy our dirty-towel discount, or let us donate the profits from our saved washing supplies and labor to a charity of your choice.

Or perhaps they could go in another direction. How about hotels take their extra “please enjoy your filthy towel” money and use that towards washing those notorious, seldom cleaned hotel bedspreads once in a while? That might do a lot for guests’ peace of mind.  

But for now, we can just enjoy the good, smug feeling one gets from helping a hotel turn a slightly bigger profit while it praises itself for its own high-mindedness and regard for ecology.

If we really want to help the planet, it would be a much better choice to not fly to another location at all. Stay home, and help forego the need to burn all that polluting jet fuel. Don’t stay at a hotel.

(And I’ll be pretty impressed when I see a big luxury chain make that suggestion, won’t you?) 

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