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 bedside 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.

It is difficult to gauge how many of the country’s 53,000 hotels still put Bibles in the rooms because most major hotel franchise companies let individual hotel owners and managers decide whether to make the Scriptures a standard amenity.

But a recent survey by STR, a hospitality analytics company, found that the percentage of hotels that offer religious materials in rooms has dropped significantly over the last decade, from 95% of hotels in 2006 to 48% this year.

Among the reasons for the change, according to industry experts, is a need to appeal to younger American travelers who are less devout than their parents or grandparents and to avoid offending international travelers such as Muslims or Buddhists.

And then there is this practical issue: Many newer hotel brands install shelves rather than nightstands with drawers next to the bed, making it difficult to be discreet about offering a Bible. A copy of the Scriptures on a bedside shelf makes a more pronounced statement than a Bible slipped into a drawer.

“In an era of not offending anyone, I think hotels have a conundrum,” said Carl Winston, director of San Diego State University’s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management program.

Hotels also have been under pressure lately from atheist groups.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes separation of church and state, wrote to 15 major hotel companies last year, asking them to keep Bibles out of hotel rooms.

The group succeeded in the last year in getting hotels operated by Arizona State University and Northern Illinois University to remove all Bibles from their rooms. 

The foundation also created a sticker that reads: "Warning: Literal belief in this book may endanger your health and life." The group has encouraged its supporters to affix the stickers on any hotel room Bible they find.

“We are trying to educate the hotel industry that a quarter of our population is not religious,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the group.

STR officials cautioned about 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. Still, industry experts say the changing demographics in America and the surge of international travelers in the U.S. are creating more reasons to keep religious materials out of hotel rooms.

“A lot of international hotels are trying to reach a very diverse group of travelers, and religion now has become a really sensitive topic,” said Linchi Kwok, an assistant professor at the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona.

Bibles started to become a hotel standard in the late 1800s when three traveling businessmen founded Gideons International with a plan to spread the Gospels by placing the Bible in hotel rooms across the country.

The nonprofit group now has about 270,000 members in 200 countries. In its latest fiscal year, Gideon International spent about $100 million to distribute Bibles to hotels, prisons, hospitals and other locations, about the same amount as in 2015, according to the group’s financial statements.

Jeff Pack, Gideons International’s director of communications, said he isn’t sure why the STR survey shows a decline in religious material in hotel rooms, considering that the distribution of Bibles by his group hasn’t dropped.

“The decline of religious materials in hotels, as cited in the survey, is reflective of increasing secularism and independence in the world,” he said. “This has resulted in an erosion of spiritual awareness.”

Two years ago, Travelodge hotels in 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 upon 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 a Book of Mormon out of four new brands, AC, Moxy, Protea and Edition hotels, spokeswoman McLemore said. But company executives reconsidered, she said, and instead moved to keep religious materials out of only the Moxy and Edition hotels because the AC and Protea hotels are geared toward more traditional travelers.

Marriott has opened nine Moxy hotels, with at least 40 more hotels under construction or in the planning phase. Four Edition hotels are open and nine others are set to open in the future.

Intercontinental Hotel Group, the giant British company that operates the Holiday Inn brand, among others, doesn’t require managers of its more than 5,000 hotels in nearly 100 countries to put Bibles in each room.

“Our hotels have the flexibility to offer religious materials to their guests if they choose to do so,” spokeswoman Caroline Huston said.

James McKnight, pastor at the Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship in Los Angeles, said he isn’t offended when he finds his hotel room doesn’t include a Bible. He said that travelers who regularly read the Bible probably already have one with them, either in book or digital form.

“I don’t expect the owner of a hotel to have the responsibility to give me the sacred text,” McKnight said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

This article cites a recent survey by hospitality analytics company STR showing that the percentage of hotels that offer religious materials in rooms had dropped from 95% of hotels in 2006 to 48% this year. After the story was published, STR discovered an error in the results of the latest survey. STR now says that 79% of hotels surveyed this year have religious materials in their rooms.
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