Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 172: Hotel History: Bibles in Hotel Rooms
January 9, 2017 10:43am
For the past one hundred years, if you opened the nightstand drawer in almost any hotel room in the U.S., you would find a bible placed there by an evangelical organization known as Gideon’s International. The oldest Christian business professional men’s association, the Gideons have been around for more than one hundred years and have been placing bibles in hotel rooms for almost that long. A recent survey by STR found that the percentage of hotels that offer religious materials in guestrooms has dropped over the past decade from 95% in 2006 to 79.9% in 2016.
The Gideons got their start in a hotel room on September 14, 1898, in Boscobel, Wisconsin. The manager of the Central Hotel asked traveling salesmen John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wis., and Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wis., to share a room in a crowded hotel, which was hosting a lumbermen’s convention. When the two men discovered that they were both Christians, they read the bible and talked about starting a Christian traveling men’s association. On July 1, 1899, the two salesmen, joined by a third, William J. Knights, met in Janesville and founded Gideon International.
The Gideons first put bibles at the front desk of the hotels its members stayed in, but it was not until 1908 that they began to place bibles in all hotel rooms. Within 20 years of the first placement of a Gideon bible in a hotel room, the Gideons distributed one million bibles. Because the Gideons so quickly became associated with hotel room bibles, the organization has, at times, had to remind its members that the bibles are but a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The sole purpose for the group is to win men, women, boys and girls “to a saving knowledge of the Lord, Jesus Christ through personal witnessing” and the distribution of bibles.
According to its website (www.gideonsinternational.org), the Gideons have distributed two billion bibles in more than 100 languages to 200 countries, territories and possessions across the globe. Evangelical churches of many denominations support the Gideons’s work of distributing bibles, not only to hotels but also to hospitals and doctors’ offices, jails and prisons, elementary and high schools, colleges and military bases.
Of course, the bedside bible has seen its share of non-religious use. In many cases, motel guests have desecrated the pages and used them as a scratchpad. Ready at hand, it provides a handy repository for all sorts of items that should normally stay out of view. In a pinch thieves use it to hide their money. It’s a perfect place to hide a couple of marijuana joints and makes a great container for a revolver if you carve out the pages.
When the bibles are taken or become too worn, the local Gideon branch will replace them at no charge. Often when a new hotel opens, bibles are given to the housekeeping department which places one in each room. The covers of the New Testaments distributed by the Gideons are color-coded based on which groups they are meant for. Some properties have begun offering other religious books in their hotel rooms, such as The Book of Mormon in Marriott properties or Buddhist religious texts in Nikko properties.
In 2007, Scandic Hotels announced it would remove bibles from its 130 hotels. A spokeswoman said, “We have traditionally had the bible/New Testament available at our local rooms. But all religions are welcome at Scandic so as of today we encourage all our hotels to remove the bible from their rooms.”
In New York City’s Soho Grand Hotel, bibles have never been offered. Similarly, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City declined to accept bibles from Gideon.
On July 1, 1999, USA Today, in an article, “Gideon Bible Reflects How Hotels Have Fallen Behind The Times” wrote:
“A lot has changed on the religious canvas, but this aspect of hotel decoration has not kept up. For example:
Despite this growing diversity, not all faiths desire such a widespread distribution. In an article by Edwin McDowell of the New York Times, Abdul-Rahman Osmam, the senior imam of the Islamic Center of New York, expressed his concern about placing the Muslim Koran in motel rooms: “Guests may take it into the bathroom or some other improper place.” He explained that most Muslims memorize the opening chapter.
More recently, some new hotel brands have opted not to place bibles in their bedside nightstands:
-two years ago, Travelodge hotels in Great Britain removed bibles from their rooms “in order not to discriminate against any religion,” the company said, Still, the hotels kept copies at the front desk where guests could borrow them on request
-the parent company of Travelodge, the Wyndham Hotel Group, said the company does not require bibles in any of its 15 hotel brands worldwide
-At Marriott International, which was founded by a devout Mormon, a decision was made this year to keep bibles and Book of Mormon out of four new brands, AC, Moxy, Protea and Edition hotels
-InterContinental Hotel Group, the giant British company that operates the Holiday Inn brand, does not require managers of its more than 5,000 hotels in nearly 100 countries to put bibles in each room.
On December 4, 2016, in the Los Angeles Times, Hugo Martin wrote, “More Hotels Are Checking Out of the Bible Business”:
“When the ultra-hip Moxy Hotel opens in San Diego, next year, the rooms will be stocked with the usual amenities – an alarm clock, hair dryer, writing desk and flat-screen TV.
But you won’t find a Bible in the nightstand.
Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company, supplies a Bible and the Book of Mormon in the rooms of every other hotel in the franchise. But the company has recently decided that no religious materials should be offered at two of its newest millennial-oriented hotel brands, Moxy and Edition hotels.
“It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,” said Marriott spokeswoman Felicia Farrar McLemore, explaining that the Moxy and Edition hotels are geared toward fun-loving millennials.
Marriott’s decision mirrors others in the industry who are quietly phasing out the long-held tradition of stocking religious material in hotel rooms…”
Despite this growing diversity, not all faiths desire such a widespread distribution. In an, article by Edwin McDowell of the New York Times, Abdul-Rahman Osmam, the senior imam of the Islamic Center of New York, expressed his concern about placing the Muslim Koran in motel rooms: “Guests may take it into the bathroom or some other improper place.” He explained that most Muslims memorize the opening chapter.
These days, when the world’s bestselling book is immediately available on one’s personal digital device, a hotel room without a bible will hardly be noticed.
About Stanley Turkel’s Books
Sam Roberts in the New York Times wrote:
"Nostalgia for the city's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf".
The fact-filled book by Mr. Turkel, an industry consultant, explains, among other things, the history of the hyphen (recently excised) in the name of the Waldorf Astoria, which inspired a mid-block street and even a song.
All of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com and clicking on the book’s title.
If You Need an Expert Hotel Witness:
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Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2015 and the 2014 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of hotel history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion and a greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.
Turkel is a well-known consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases, providing asset management and hotel franchising consultation. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, BlueMauMau, HotelNewsResource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (“Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry” and “Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi”). A third hotel book (“Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York”) was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by the New York Times: “Nostalgia for the City’s caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel’s... fact-filled... “Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf”. In his fifth hotel book, “Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry”, Lawrence P. Horwitz, Executive Director, Historic Hotels of America writes in the Foreword:
“The author, Stanley Turkel is a great story teller…. This book is about risk takers, dreamers, inventors, entrepreneurs, innovators, visionaries, leaders and motivators. This is a collection of stories about hotel pioneers with a passion for inventing new ways to create demand for their product.”
All of these books can be ordered from the publisher (AuthorHouse) by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com.
Contact: Stanley Turkel
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