If there’s one thing guaranteed to make Morris Kiruga’s blood boil, it’s the lack of thought that goes into the hotel amenities.
I am face palming in the bathroom an hour after I get to the hotel. It’s early September and I am on a largely-unplanned run around Mombasa. At my final stop, I realise that I left my toothpaste next to the sink at the previous hotel.
I have about thirty minutes before I go to explore this Lamu-themed beachfront hotel. I will also divert to see its turtle-hatching project, before I fall in love with the butterfly sanctuary. In the visitor’s book, I will get poetic, emotional even. But first, I head back into the room and power up the laptop. It is time I answered this question – for myself and humanity, I tell myself. Why don’t hotels provide toothpaste?
In your standard hotel bathroom, you’ll find soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, and body lotion. Some will add shower caps, and a kit with sewing equipment and earbuds. But outside of hotels in Asia, few will add a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Why? Don’t they care about our oral hygiene?
A simple Google search leaves me with more questions than answers. No one seems to know when and why the hotel service industry chose not to include toothpaste among its bathroom amenities. In the end, I find there are nearly as many theories on this as on whether aliens exist.
In 2013, Daniel Engber explored this question for Slate. The investigation involved talking to a number of hoteliers, and exploring the many theories. One is the so-called “giant vat” theory – that hotels have huge vats of amenities in their basements where they refill the small bottles. But this would be impossible to do with toothpaste, which comes in squeezable tubes, and is only used once.
It requires a lot of research to design a hotel room, and the bathroom amenities are part of the experience. It’s a science to calculate which cap design and font work. The idea is not just to create an experience, but also to create memories. Actually, the hotel hopes you will filch a few things to remind you of your visit later. It doesn’t cost them much – although it does if guests start leaving with towels and robes (and, I’ve been told, even duvets and pillows).
Then there’s the expense theory which goes something like this – toothpaste would raise the hotel’s costs without any real benefit. Unlike soaps and lotions, toothpaste isn’t seen as an aspirational product that shouts ‘luxury’ to guests.
But this argument doesn’t hold water. For a five-star hotel, toothpaste would be a marginal cost, especially when compared to some of the more unusual items that appear in hotel rooms. And couldn’t toothpaste manufacturers cut prices for bulk purchases by hotels, as it would give them a chance to introduce their products to consumers? It sure would give them a better line than “recommended by dentists.”
Another notion is that people don’t like packing shampoos and body lotions because they might leak into their luggage. Toothpaste, on the other hand, is easy to transport, and can easily be taken on board a flight as hand luggage.
As a perennial victim of airline liquid bans, this one is close to my heart. I have lost body lotion, deodorant and cologne a few times. I never learn. After the security guards toss them into a bucket beneath the table, you can say hello to ashy elbows and sweaty armpits. Woe betide if you are travelling to far-flung places with little in the way of replacements.
I never seem to lose toothpaste though, so there might be something there.
But most of the common amenities predate the ban on fluids above a certain quantity so even this one isn’t convincing.
At the end of my impromptu research, I realise that no one knows the actual reason. Or perhaps there is none. The most honest answer Engber got during his investigation is that hotels don’t do it because other hotels don’t do it, either. For example, when a few hotels added coffee and a kettle to their standard room, competitors followed suit. Hotels are not adding toothpaste because we are not asking for it.
Here is how Engber summarises it: “We don’t get toothpaste in our rooms because we don’t ask for toothpaste in our rooms; we don’t ask for toothpaste in our rooms because we never knew we could.”
Here’s a secret, and listen closely: most hotels will give you toothpaste for free if you call the front desk. Although some might add the tube to your tab.
Morris Kiruga blogs about travel, culture and more at owaahh.com