If you stayed at enough hotels you’ve probably opened the drawer in your nightstand and discovered a Bible or some other type of religious text.
You might be wondering where this tradition started and if this is still a thing. Other questions might also pop in to your head like who paid for this Bible and why exactly is it there?
In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about Bibles found in hotels and how things are starting to change.
Why are there Bibles in hotels?
Hotels provide Bibles in their rooms courtesy of Gideon International as part of a tradition that has been around for over 100 years. However, with technical advances and shifting attitudes towards religion and inclusion, fewer hotels are supplying these Bibles.
Keep reading to find out more about this interesting tradition and where it is likely headed.
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History of Bibles in hotel rooms
The history of Bibles in hotel rooms dates back to the origins of Gideons International, which is an Evangelical Christian society for men founded in 1899 in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Two traveling salesman from Wisconsin, John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill randomly met at a crowded hotel and were forced to share a hotel room.
In this hotel room they realized they had a common background of being traveling Christian salesmen and that they shared the same passion for evangelism.
They soon contemplated creating a new group that would be named after Gideon who was “a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results.“
In 1899, they decided the goal of this association would be to unite traveling salesman for evangelism.
They realized placing Bibles in hotel rooms would be a great way to increase evangelism and bring peace and comfort to lonely travelers.
And I’m guessing they probably also realized it would be one of the easiest ways to recruit new members (essentially late 1800s guerrilla marketing).
It’s reported that in 1908 they started distributing free Bibles and the first hotel that this took place was the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana, where Bibles were placed in each of the 25 rooms. (There’s some historical dispute as to exactly how this went down.)
Unfortunately, the original location the Superior Hotel burned down in December 1940. However, there is a commemorative plaque on the site of the original hotel.
Today, after distributing millions of Bibles to hotels over the span of decades, the association has evolved into more of a global force working to provide “scriptures to all people in nearly every facet of life.”
Related: Is It Safe to Use a Hotel Room Safe?
Interesting facts about Bibles in hotel rooms
Taking them home may be okay
Whether you can take one of the Bibles with you is sort of a gray area. Some would say the Gideons would be happy for you to take a Bible with you and help to spread “God’s word.”
Others would say that by taking the Bible you are preventing other travelers from using it while on the road which cuts against the goal of the Gideons.
Hotels with Bibles should be able to readily replace them for free so it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to replace a Bible.
I’ve seen accounts of Gideons saying that they would be happy for someone to take a Bible so I think it is permissible for a hotel guest to take a Bible home with them (if they truly feel the need to do so).
A lot of people may use these Bibles
It is estimated that each Bible placed in a hotel room can reach up to 2,300 people and that they have about a six year lifespan. Also, it’s reported that about 25% of travelers read the Bibles, according to The Gideons International.
They distribute a common version of the Bible
Typically, Gideons distribute the King James Version of the Bible, so it is not some special version or obscure translation of the Bible.
The only thing that is really different is that there are some special pages at the front of the Bible where you might be able to find specific Bible verses for your times of need and some short messages about salvation.
Bibles are sent all over
Gideons don’t just get Bibles out to hotels. They’ve been known to supply Bibles to the military, hospitals, prisons, and many other institutions.
A sizable budget
According to the LA Times, Gideon International spends approximately $100 million a year on distributing Bibles to all of the different locations (not just hotels). In case you were not clear, hotels do not pay for the Bibles. The Bibles are “provided through donations from church offerings and individuals.”
The Gideons are super efficient at distributing Bibles.
According to some reports, as of 2015 they had distributed over 2 billion Bibles and it is estimated that they distribute more than two copies of the Bible per second!
Some lucky travelers have reported finding cash inside of these Gideon Bibles.
One theory is that some believers have tried to “pay it forward” and reward other Christians for reading the Bible.
Others think some guests have used the Bibles to hide their cash and simply forgot about it.
Both explanations are probably valid but the next time you come across a Bible in your nightstand you might want to open it up just in case.
Who decides whether or not a Bible is in the hotel room?
The decision on whether or not to include a Bible in a hotel room is typically made by the owner of the hotel but that is not always the case.
If you were not aware, many hotel properties are not owned by the major hotel chains like Hyatt, Hilton and InterContinental Hotels Group.
Instead, there are franchise agreements and the owners of the hotels are responsible for managing the hotels and making operational decisions like if they should place a Bible in a nightstand.
But this is not always the case.
Marriott International requires almost all of its brands to place the Bible and Book of Mormon in its rooms but there are exceptions. For example, Marriott is not including Bibles in its Moxy and Edition hotels because the “books don’t fit the personality of the brands.”
How modern hotels are responding
According to the STR survey conducted every two years in coordination with the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the number of hotels providing Bibles has been on a downward trend.
Based on service in the last few years, the percentage of hotels that offer religious materials in rooms dropped from 95% of hotels in 2006 to 48% in 2016.
Some sources question these numbers based on incomplete reporting but it seems pretty clear that wherever the actual numbers stand, there has been a very steady downward trend in hotels that offer religious texts in rooms.
Are hotel room Bibles needed in today’s world?
There are quite a few reasons why one could strongly argue that Bibles are not needed in hotel rooms any longer.
Changing attitudes towards religion
The US population is shifting when it comes to religion.
In fact, a new Gallup poll, shows religious membership in the U.S. has fallen to just 47% among those surveyed.
This was the first time that less than half of the adult population showed a religious membership since this question was first asked 80 years ago.
Overall, the country is also becoming less religious so it would make sense for there to be fewer religious texts, icons, etc. found in places like hotels. It’s just a matter of culture shifting.
Believe it or not the furniture used by hotels is a large reason why you may see fewer Bibles.
A lot of modern hotels are moving to different styles of furniture that don’t include bulky nightstands with drawers.
This means that a hotel would be forced to place a Bible prominently on a piece of furniture which is more of a ringing endorsement of the Bible then having it tucked away in a drawer.
And with the trends mentioned above, that becomes more problematic for many non-religious guests.
The main reason why Bibles may not be needed is because so many hotels are equipped with Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi is now a necessity and most major chains offer free Wi-Fi to guests and allow guests to pay to upgrade to higher speed Wi-Fi.
It’s really easy to pull up scriptures and all sorts of different versions and translations of the Bible online.
This trend would be in line with the disappearance of the Yellow Pages which you rarely find in a hotel largely because of the convenience of things like Google.
Increased inclusiveness/political correctness
There is also this current wave of political correctness or inclusiveness depending on how you want to interpret things.
We’ve seen businesses shy away from even saying things like “Merry Christmas” because they feel like it is offensive or because it may alienate some customers.
So in going with that trend and considering how many international visitors hotels now see in the US, it would be expected that some hotels would feel that the presence of a Bible would be offensive or at least alienating to non-Christians.
Why Bibles would still be needed in hotel rooms
Those who support having Bibles in hotel rooms likely will make the following points.
It’s not easy to buck 100+ years of tradition. Bibles have virtually become synonymous with nightstand drawers in hotel rooms and a lot of people don’t want to see the tradition go. Even to those who never open up the Bible, it feels a bit “wholesome.”
Moreover, many Christians see the removal of Bibles in hotel rooms as yet another sign of the “moral decay” of the country, similar to the removal of prayer from school.
Christianity is prevalent
Although Christianity is quickly losing ground with the American public every year, the majority of Americans still identify as Christian. So from that perspective, it makes sense that our country — primarily made up of Christians — would cater to that religion.
Alternatives to the Bible in the hotel room
With shifting attitudes and demographics, some hotels are resorting to alternative ways of catering to those who would like a Bible during their hotel stay.
Some hotels choose to include a Bible at the receptionist desk, which is what Travelodge hotels in Britain did a few years ago.
Hotels like Provenance Hotels offer a “spiritual menu” where guests can call down to the front desk and request a religious text of their choosing.
So it’s not that all hotels are removing Bibles altogether; many are just changing the way they provide Bibles in an effort to turn off the least amount of customers.
The anti-Bible crowd
There is also a pretty adamant anti-Bible crowd who do not want to see Bibles in hotel rooms or in some cases in the hotels at all.
One of these notable organizations is The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes separation of church and state.
They write to hotel chains in an effort to persuade them to remove Bibles from hotel rooms. They’ve also encouraged guests to place stickers on Bibles that read: “Warning: Literal belief in this book may endanger your health and life.”
Overall, there is a long tradition of hotels including Bibles in hotel rooms. It appears that tradition is becoming less common as attitudes toward religious affiliations change over time and there becomes a growing focus on being inclusive (or politically correct).
Also, with additional advances in technology the need for a hard copy of the Bible in a hotel room is not quite as strong as it once was and so we will probably continue to see a reduction in hotels offering hardcopies of the Bible.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.