Some hotel nightstands looking beyond the Bible

USA Today, July 10, 2003
By Laura Bly, USA TODAY

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City’s first new casino hotel in more than a decade, touts such suggestive amenities as shower stalls big enough for two and doorknob signs that read “tied up” instead of “do not disturb.”

But the 2,002-room, $1.1 billion property, which opened last week, is raising eyebrows for what it doesn’t offer: a Gideon Bible in the drawer. Bucking a ubiquitous hotel industry tradition that dates back to 1908, the Borgata has nixed in-room Bibles in favor of stocking its lobby library with loaner editions of the Gideon Bible and 12 other religious texts, from Jehovah the First Godfather to the Bhagavad-Gita.

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And as the beleaguered hotel industry struggles to lure loyal guests,, the Borgata’s ecumenical move could signal a trend, says Chekitan Dev, professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. The Gideon Bible has become “an unwitting brand standard,” Dev says. “The key is to give guests options. Along with a room-service menu, you could even offer a ‘religion menu.’ “

Founded by three Wisconsin-based traveling salesmen in 1899, the 236,000-member Gideons International distributes more than 60 million Bibles each year to hotels, schools, prisons and other facilities in 178 countries. That’s an average of 112 placements a minute, boasts the Gideons Web site — which includes testimonials from travelers who have found spiritual sustenance in their hotel nightstands.

Some lodgings go even further to spread the Gideon gospel. “God, family and country are near and dear to our hearts here,” says Chris Myer of Branson, Mo.-based Myer Hotels, which often leave an open Bible and an additional “traveler’s prayer” on tables.

A Gideons spokesman, citing a “decentralized operation” and no-publicity policy, says he doesn’t know whether other U.S. lodgings have joined Borgata in declining the offer of in-room Bibles. But more hotels are broadening their religious offerings, says Gerald Zelizer, a rabbi from Metuchen, N.J.

Marriott hotels, in a nod to the chain’s Mormon founders, supplement the Bible with The Book of Mormon. The Society for the Promotion of Buddhism, founded by a wealthy Japanese industrialist in 1975, has placed gratis copies of The Teaching of Buddha in more than 2,300 hotels across the USA as part of a program that extends to 53 countries, spokesman Yosiaki Fujitani says.

And when The Madison hotel re-opens this fall in Washington, D.C., each guestroom windowsill will have a decal pointing toward Mecca. The amenity is common in Middle Eastern hotels but rare here, says general manager Stephen Bello, whose stint in Dubai also has prompted him to offer prayer rugs on request.

Such examples notwithstanding, hoteliers still follow “an antiquated religious road map,” Zelizer says. He suggests that hotel chains meet with leaders of several faiths to determine which religious texts or symbols would be most useful to guests.

But reaching out has its potential drawbacks, he says: “There are so many variables that you could fill the room with religious paraphernalia and wind up with nowhere to sleep.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday July 15, 2003.
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