Open the drawer in any hotel or motel room and you might still find a few old-school tools. There may be a pen, paper—and a Bible, with a distinctive embossed seal. Yraditional phone books may have increasingly become a thing of the past. But religious texts are still largely a staple, and a connection to the pre-wifi hotel culture. So why do hotels have bibles in the bedside drawers?
Old Tradition, Old and New Testaments
The tradition got its inspiration when two traveling salesman shared a hotel room back in 1899. They bonded over their religious beliefs, and decided to start an organization for Christian businessmen. The two salesmen found another partner and called the group the Gideons. The reference was to Old Testament judge known for his leadership of a small, indefatigable army.
In 1908, Gideons International started giving Bibles to hotels. It was a way of catering to their members and growing their organization. Even today, the Gideons approach a hotel when it opens and offer to supply enough bibles for each room. The Gideons don’t sell their bibles but rather donate them, backed by self-generted funds. They replace bibles that get worn out, which generally takes about six years. And, of course, they replace those that have been removed by guests. Pilfering is not frowned on by the Gideons—after all, they are hoping to spread the word. Today, the Gideons report that they have more than 2 billion bibles distributed across 200 countries and in more than 95 languages. Thy don’t just do hotels, either: they distribute bibles to hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, domestic violence shelters, and prisons.
A Declining Trend
The trend has both encountered some downswing over the past few years: Iin 2006, about 95 percent of U.S. hotels provided a Bible in a bedside drawer, but only 79 percent did by 2016. There’s also been some diversification, When it launched in the 1950s, the Marriott chain started providing both a Bible and the Book of Mormon in each room, since its founder was a Mormon. Other hotel chains offer Buddhist and Hindu texts—and some offer none. According to hospitality analytics company STR about 80 percent of economy and budget hotels still offer a Bible, while only 57 percent of luxury hotels provide religious materials. Marriott has even scaled back its own practice, not providing any religious texts in its newer Moxy and Edition hotels.
Part of the decrease in bible inventory may have something to do with accommodating younger consumers, who may prioritize wifi over Scriptures during a hotel stay. But the custom has also been affected somewhat by design factors. As more boutique-style hotels think outside the box in terms of décor, rooms may be less likely to have the easy-storage desk drawer, outfitted with empty shelving instead.