Bible shortages in hotels—a case of supply or demand secularism?

The hotel industry is cutting back its distribution of religious literature in its rooms, although it is unclear whether this reduction is the result of customer disinterest or due to the secular perceptions of those in the hotel industry. The Los Angeles Times (December 6) reports that hotel managers and franchises are feeling the need to diversify but are also facing protests from secularist groups about their traditional practice of placing Bibles and other sacred texts in hotel rooms. Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company, has recently decided to offer no religious materials at two of its newer millennial-oriented hotel brands, even though the company supplies a Bible and the Book of Mormon in the rooms of every other hotel in the franchise. Marriott’s decision mirrors others in the industry, who are quietly phasing out the long-held tradition of stocking religious material in hotel rooms. Reporter Hugo Martin adds that it is hard to gauge how many of the country’s 53,000 hotels still put Bibles in the rooms because most major hotel franchise companies leave it up to individual hotel owners and managers whether to offer such texts.

A recent survey by STR, a hotel research firm, found that the percentage of hotels that offer religious materials in rooms has decreased significantly over the last decade, from 95 percent of hotels in 2006 to 48 percent this year. Industry experts cite such factors as the need to appeal to younger American travelers who are less devout than their parents and the concern not to offend international travelers from other faiths. Hotels also have been under pressure lately from atheist groups. STR officials cautioned against reading too much into its survey, noting that managers representing only 2,600 of the more than 8,000 hotels responding to the survey answered the question about religious material in rooms. In its latest fiscal year, Gideons International spent about $100 million to distribute Bibles to hotels, prisons, hospitals, and other locations—about the same amount as in 2015. On the supply side, hotels such as Travelodge in Britain removed Bibles from their rooms “in order not to discriminate against any religion,” the company said. Intercontinental Hotel Group, the giant British company that operates the Holiday Inn brand among others, does not require managers of its more than 5,000 hotels to put Bibles in each room.