Sheraton, Westin and other Starwood hotels are finding their religion.
Marriott International, which bought Starwood two years ago, has begun putting copies of the Bible and the Book of Mormon in the recently-acquired hotels. By year's end, it expects to place the books in 300,000 rooms.
Marriott, whose namesake founding family is active in the Mormon church, has been putting both the Bible and the Book of Mormon in its rooms since opening its first hotel in the late 1950s. Like most major chains, Marriott doesn't own the majority of its hotels. However, it stands out from the other companies by requiring — in franchise or licensing agreements — its 6,500 properties to have the books in each room.
It's not a policy Marriott relishes discussing. The company declined to make an executive available to comment, but issued a statement to The Associated Press: "There are many guests who are not digitally connected who appreciate having one or both of these books available. It's a tradition appreciated by many, objected to by few."
Judging from lively internet discussions, however, travelers are divided on the issue. Some say they're not bothered by seeing a Bible or a Book of Mormon in the room, and note that they're usually tucked away in a drawer. But others say they have complained to managers and asked for the books to be removed.
John Ollila, a frequent Starwood and Marriott traveler and the founder of the travel blog LoyaltyLobby, said he thinks publicly traded companies should remain secular.
"Why wouldn't they want to target the widest possible market?" he said.
Marriott gets the Bibles for free from Gideons International, a group that donates Bibles to prisons, hospitals, hotels and other public places. The costs for the Books of Mormon are shared by the Marriott Foundation and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Marriott is alone among big hotel chains in requiring religious materials in its rooms. Hilton and IHG, which owns Holiday Inn and other brands, say they let local hotel managers decide whether to offer Bibles. Hyatt has no official policy, but says it will obtain religious texts if guests ask for them.
According to STR, a hotel data firm, the number of U.S. hotels that offer religious materials in their rooms has dropped over the last decade, to 79 percent in 2016 from 95 percent in 2006. Luxury hotels were the least likely to offer them, with just 51 percent saying they did. And urban and resort hotels were less likely to offer them than hotels in suburbs or along interstates.
The change at some of the 1,300 former Starwood hotels could come as a surprise to some guests; Marriott says those rooms haven't had religious materials in them until now. Starwood — which was founded by Jewish businessman Barry Sternlicht in 1991 — also includes nearly a dozen brands such as the St. Regis, Le Meridien, Aloft and Four Points.
Some brands, however, are holier than others. Starwood's 50 W hotels — one of the first chains to sell "intimacy kits" that include condoms — won't get the books. Neither will the 140 independently owned Design Hotels, most of which are in Europe. Marriott's youth-focused Moxy brand and its luxury Edition brand also don't have the books in their rooms.
Marriott says there's no single reason why religious materials are excluded from some properties.
"With any of our brands, there are hundreds of decisions made about the look and feel of the brand, how a room will be outfitted, what amenities it will have," the company said in its emailed statement.
Hotels in certain locations — such as Vietnam and Indonesia — also don't have a Bible or a Book of Mormon because it might be considered inappropriate, Marriott said. In those places, hotels have the option to provide a card in the room that tells guests to call the front desk if they would like religious materials.
Jennifer Moody, a management consultant and co-author of the travel blog "From Home and Back," says she has no issue with any religious books in her hotel rooms. Moody, a Methodist from Fort Worth, Texas, said she thumbed through the Bible in her hotel room on Sept. 11, 2001, and she once took home a Book of Mormon because she was curious to read it.
"Finding something familiar and reassuring to turn to can provide comfort," Moody said. "If the presence of those books can be a comfort to others, then their placement is well-served."