The Hotel Room Bible on the Outs

In the rooms of Manhattan's trendy Soho Grand Hotel guests can enjoy an eclectic selection of underground music, iPod docking stations, flat-screen TVs and even the living company of a complimentary goldfish. But, alas, the word of God is nowhere to be found. Unlike traditional hotels, the 10-year-old boutique has never put Bibles in its guest rooms, because "society evolves," says hotel spokeswoman Lori DeBlois. Providing Bibles would mean the hotel "would have to take care of every guest's belief."

What might be surprising to many Americans is that the Bible-free room isn't a development just in hip New York City hotels. Across the country upscale accommodations are doing away with the Bible as a standard room amenity. And in its stead have arrived a slew of "lifestyle" products that cater to a younger, hipper (and presumably less religious) clientele. Since 2001 the number of luxury hotels with religious materials in the rooms has dropped by 18 percent, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. The Nashville-based Gideons International, which has distributed copies of the Christian scripture to hotels since 1908, declined to comment on this trend.

Edgier chains like the W provide "intimacy kits" with condoms in the minibar, while New York's Mercer Hotel supplies a free condom in each bathroom. Neither has Bibles. Since its recent renovation, the Sofitel L.A. offers a tantalizing lovers' dice game: roll one die for the action to be performed (for example, "kiss," "lick") and the other for the associated body part. The hotel's "mile high" kit, sold in the revamped gift shop, includes a condom, a mini vibrator, a feather tickler and lubricant. The new Indigo hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., a "branded boutique" launched by InterContinental, also has no Bibles, but it does offer a "One Night Stand" package for guests seeking VIP treatment at local nightclubs and late checkout for the hazy morning after.

The reason for hotels' shift in focus? Leisure travel is up, business travel is down, and younger generations are entering the hotel market. Leisure now leads business by more than 10 percent in U.S. hotel stays, according to travel research firm D. K. Shifflet & Associates. With the lead in technology, design and nightlife, the boutique market is where Generations X, Y and young baby boomers want to be, says CEO Doug Shifflet. And with the boutique sector booming (boutique hotel rooms have grown by 23 percent since 2001, compared to only 7 percent for standard rooms), more traditional chains, which once catered to business clientele, are now desperate to emulate.

Sofitel's brand, for example, is taking "a new direction," says Daniel Entenberg, the "romance concierge" at the chain's flagship Los Angeles location. He was brought in two years ago in an effort to reposition the entire company's image. The chain once had Bibles in all guest rooms, but the corporate office in Dallas recently removed them due to guest inquiries about why other religious texts weren't available.

Even the staid Marriott chain, founded by a Mormon, is debating whether or not to include Bibles in its yet to be named boutique chain, which is set to launch in partnership with hipster hotelier Ian Schrager, who created the '70s disco Studio 54 and later New York City's Morgans, Royalton and Paramount hotels—which are largely credited with kicking off the boutique hotel craze. Schrager says he hasn't yet discussed the Bible amenity with Marriott, though he adds that his properties have never had in-room Bibles.

Marriott spokesman John Wolf says the Bible question is premature for the new venture, which he describes as "cutting-edge," "more urban" and "less values-oriented." Now, there's a marketing slogan no one's tried yet: "Sleep with us. Leave the values at home."

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