Sticky-fingered hotel guests beware: a smart fabric tag can catch you stealing

Smart technology can outfox hotel guests wanting to leave with 'souvenirs'.
Smart technology can outfox hotel guests wanting to leave with 'souvenirs'.
Image: 123RF/Brian Jackson

Gowns, towels, shampoo, television remotes, bed linen and even curtains — it's all fair game for light-fingered guests with a penchant for checking out of hotels with extra “luggage”. 

But thanks to new, locally available intelligent technology, guests hoping to leave with a “souvenir” are likely to be stopped in their tracks.

“Hotels commonly lose hundreds of assets, ranging from gowns and towels to television remotes and even bed linen and curtains. Any item that is not physically bolted or tied down seems to be fair game,” said Dave Joyce, MD of Nimble Technologies.

“The challenge has always been how to track and recover these items intelligently, in a way that does not infringe on law-abiding guests but discreetly draws attention to those who have hotel items in their possession.”

He said that until now, solutions had only been available from international vendors.

But the tide is turning with the introduction of “small fabric tags” incorporating radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking chips.

“RFID chips are now available as small fabric tags that can be sewn into anything from gowns and sheets to towels, curtains and face cloths,” said Joyce in a statement.

“These discreet tags can also be placed inside other commonly stolen items, such as remote controls, and even lamps and pillows. Each tag has a unique identifier that can be incorporated into a stock database.

“RFID scanners at all exits of the property will sound an alarm if a guest attempts to remove a tagged item from the premises. Security guards equipped with a mobile device connected to the hotel wi-fi are also able to identify exactly what item they need to look for.”

The technology uses software that can be customised for hotels, lodges or guest houses.

Joyce said reducing theft was crucial in saving hundreds of thousands of rands in losses.

The issue became a trending topic of conversation in July when video footage of a family caught stealing items from a hotel in Bali went viral. Police were summoned after towels, toiletries and accessories were discovered in their luggage as they departed the luxury villa.