It will not be a stretch to say that a vast number of New Year’s resolutions involved something to do with travel. The desire to travel to experience new flavors of life has grown manifolds in the recent years as visual evidences of the beauty and mystique of far flung places bombard us far more than ever before, thanks to social media, and permeation of media in our lives in general. Thus, as per a recent Deloitte report, accounting for all direct and indirect influences, travel and tourism contributes a whopping 10.2% to the global GDP.

With travel comes hospitality, because what is a journey that does not lead to a good night’s rest? According to the same report, the hotel industry has seen an approximately 6% growth in 2018. In the face of this spurt in room occupancy, one might want to re-examine how a typical hotel guest’s carbon footprint evolves. In that context, it is worth looking at how we consume towels in a typical hotel stay, because regardless of the number of stars in front of the hotel name, the number of towels in any hotel room per day, is typically far more than an average household employs at home on a daily basis.  

There may be two to four full body towels, and an accompanying assortment of mid-sized hand towels and smaller wash cloths. Enter a family of two adults and two kids, and with every bathroom usage a towel is used and flung on the floor. Of course, a fresh towel is not just promised the next day, but is often just a phone call away. And thus, the average traveler, seeking an affordable change from the same-ness of home, might be tempted to use way more towels daily than he or she would at home. Little wonder then that the housekeeping plus laundry are one of the largest ticket items for the hotel industry. On an average a hotel uses twenty-five gallons of water per room per day for laundry purposes.  

However, the concern is not just the water bill, but also the actual resource use. Laundry involves water and chemicals. Hence reduction in towel usage might be one of the biggest contributions of an environment-friendly global citizen. Hotels have engaged researchers to find what is the best way to inspire guests to reuse their towels. A study found that generic messages that talked about preservation had little impact, while a message citing specific percentage of towel re-users in the specific hotel, or even more targeted in the specific room, had far greater response rate. It is explained that we are more likely to emulate a person with whom we feel some level of connection. Thus knowing that previous guests in the same room had a certain behavior is likely to make the behavior more tangible and amenable for us.

However, on a recent trip, even with the best of my intentions, my family of four must have used about a dozen towels in two days stay. I was appalled and yet found myself unable to manage the towels. That is when I realized why. The towels were all white in color! With limited space in the suite, there was no way that we could find enough different places to hang our respective towels. Thus, in the single bathroom, white towels kept getting hung next to one another, and every time the user would not know which towel belonged to whom. As a result, fresh towels kept getting used, and soiled towels used only once, got thrown on the floor.

In the house, even in shared bathrooms, how do we avoid this problem? We use different color towels! There lies the solution for the hotels too. Hotels can use shades of different colors to be more aesthetically appealing, or maybe even embroider the towels with different motifs. The idea is to enable the guests to differentiate between towels. This is almost like creating an identity for each towel. This way the users will connect with the towel instead of simply tossing it on the floor to use up another identical one. I know this works in our house, where towels are laundered once in five days, and can likely work in hotels too. Now that would be an awesome new year resolution to tack onto our travel resolutions-Reuse hotel towels!


  • Dr. Nidhi Thakur

    Chronicler by instinct, and an Economist by profession.

    Raised in India, I came to the States for graduate studies. Trained as a health economist, with a Post-doc from Univ of Chicago. Taught in various colleges including Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, and Barnard College, in NYC, and teaching now in Kean University, NJ. I live in an Igloo with two goblins and one guinea-pig for all improvised recipes!