By Bob Smietana
Check into a hotel room this holiday season and you’ll likely get a Wi-Fi password along with your room key. You’ll also probably find a copy of Gideon’s Bible.
More than three quarters of hotels (79 percent) say their rooms feature religious material, according to a new survey from research firm STR, which focuses on the hospitality industry.
That’s up slightly from 2015, when 77 percent of hotels had religious material.
Hotel Bibles made headlines this week, after Marriott decided to drop Bibles from the amenities offered at several new high-end hotel brands.
“It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,” a Marriott spokeswoman told the LA Times.
That story was based in part on an earlier version of STR’s survey, which contained an error. That earlier version showed less than half of hotels had religious materials. The firm issued a correction this week.
Bibles have been a staple at hotels for more than a century, with many placed by the Gideons International, a Nashville-based Christian nonprofit, since 1908.
Founded by traveling businessmen, the Gideons placed their first Bible at the Superior Hotel in Montana in 1908. Today, they place Bibles at hotels, hospitals, schools, jails, medical offices, and other sites around the world.
Hotel Bibles make up only 2 percent of the Bibles the Gideons distribute, according to the group’s annual report. More than a billion Bibles have been distributed worldwide since 1908—and almost 100 million were handed out in 2015.
“History gives testimony when God’s people are pushed into the margins by society — the gospel flourishes,” says the group’s annual report. “As Christians surrounded by lost souls, we must strive to share Christ’s life-changing story with all.”
In the U.S., hotel Bibles used to be more prevalent than Wi-Fi: in 2006, 95 percent of hotels had religious material, while 82 percent had Wi-Fi. Today, those figures are switched. Almost all hotels (98 percent) have Wi-Fi. Slightly fewer have holy books.
The more expensive a hotel, the less likely they are to stock Bibles in their rooms. According to STR’s research, 57 percent of luxury hotel rooms have religious material.
By contrast, 89 percent of economy hotel rooms have religious material. Small hotels (69 percent) and big hotels (70 percent) are less likely to have religious material than mid-sized hotels (86 percent).
Hotels in small towns (83 percent), off the Interstate (89 percent), or in the suburbs (83 percent) are more likely to have religious material than those at resorts (61 percent), in urban areas (67 percent), or by the airport (74 percent).
For some hotel guests, having Wi-Fi might actually help them read the Bible. According to the American Bible Society (ABS), half of Bible readers have read Scripture on the Internet. Forty percent have used a cell phone. About a third (32 percent) have used an audio Bible.
Still, print Bibles remain popular. Almost all Bible readers (93 percent) have used a print Bible, according to the ABS. And 76 percent prefer a print Bible. Eleven percent prefer an app, 6 percent prefer audio, and 6 percent prefer reading online.
Darilyn Anderson, a longtime flight attendant, says she reads the Bible on her app while traveling. She’ll also bring a Bible along if she’s in the middle of a particular study. But while traveling for work, she rarely looks for a hotel Bible.
“I am a bit embarrassed that I don’t really think of Bible study on my layovers,” she says.
Still, while on a recent trip to Germany, Anderson searched and found a Bible in her hotel room.
“I was looking around the room and I found a New Testament in the drawer, and it was in German, French, and English,” she says. “How nice.”
Craig Warner, executive director of The Gideons International, says a Bible offers comfort for travelers who may be far from home.
“Travel can be stressful. And life can be stressful when travelling,” says Warner. “It’s in their hour of need that people find a Bible in a hotel room. They may not be a person of faith but they still recognize other people find hope and purpose in God’s Word. For hoteliers, Bibles remain a service for their customers.”
BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@LifeWay.com) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.