July 6, 2012 at 9:35 AM ET
There are, it seems, two types of hotel guests in the world: those who pack up hotels’ proprietary items and those who don’t. If you’re among the former and feeling guilty, a reprieve may be in your future.
Hotels, especially high-end ones, are offering amnesty programs, inviting guests who may have slipped a silver spoon or brass room key into their pocket the opportunity to return it, no questions asked.
Among them, you can add the historic Waldorf-Astoria in New York, which launched an amnesty program for purloined property earlier this week.
“We know there are treasures out there that belong to the Waldorf; we see them going up on eBay all the time,” Meg Towner, the hotel’s social media manager, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “We’d like them back and we’d like to know where they came from.”
The program seeks items filched between the hotel’s opening in 1931 and 1960. Significant pieces will be displayed in a lobby museum and in the hotel’s digital archives; others may be highlighted on the hotel’s Facebook page, along with the stories behind the sticky-fingered incidents that prompted their disappearance.
“The stories are the best part,” said Keith McClinsey, director of sales at Marriott’s Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., which ran a similar amnesty program in 2007. “Someone returned a coffee creamer from a wedding in the 1920s,” he told msnbc.com. “They also sent pictures of the wedding, which we included in an exhibit of the items.”
Other returned items included a banquet chair from the 1920s, a champagne bucket from the 1940s and a five-gallon punchbowl that went missing during a holiday party in the 1950s. According to McClinsey, someone even tried to return a bathtub that was removed during a renovation, but the hotel politely declined the offering.
More recently, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa launched an amnesty program in February as part of efforts to mark its 100th anniversary. Since then, the hotel has received more than 130 items, said spokeswoman Deneen Perrin, many of which are now on display in glass cases around the property.
Many of the items weren't actually pilfered, but rather, bought in the hotel store or during post-renovation furnishing sales. But, stolen or not, the majority of people still took pains to maintain their innocence. “Of the 130 or so items we received,” said Perrin, “probably 100 said, ‘I didn’t steal it but…’”
Or there’s the silent approach: A former guest pulled up to the front of the hotel, handed the doorman an original doorknob that he’d taken on a previous visit and drove off without leaving his name.
He probably needn’t have worried as no hotel worthy of its reputation is going to prosecute someone for returning an item, whether they pocketed it themselves, found it among a deceased relative’s effects or even purchased it on eBay. Ultimately, they just want to share another chapter in the hotel’s history and, if appropriate, tell a good story.
So if a five-gallon punchbowl from The Mayflower happens to be sitting in your china cabinet, McClinsey would love to hear from you.
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.