USA TODAY Beyond Gideon: Hotels offer expanded list of religious reading
By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
(ReligionNewsService) -- At one hotel in Nashville, when you feel like a bit of religious reading before bedtime, you'll have more than a Gideon Bible to choose from.
The Hotel Preston recently started offering a "spiritual menu" to its guests, including the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita and additional versions of the Bible.
"Guests are telling us on a regular basis that they're looking for personalization," said Howard Jacobs, chief operating officer of Portland, Ore.-based Provenance Hotels. "There's just a growing interest in travelers wanting to have a customized experience."
The five boutique hotels in the Provenance chain have introduced the new offerings in the last few months, with the Nashville property starting them in March.
It already has offered other amenities, such as a "pillow menu" that included soft, medium, firm and hypoallergenic options. At the Preston, guests can also have a pet betta fish or a lava lamp in their room during their stay.
But hotel guests specifically mentioned their interest in a variety of spiritual volumes, said Jacobs, whose other hotels are in Oregon and Washington state.
"We also heard many travelers say, 'Look, I know that a Gideon Bible is available, for example, at the Preston in the room, but have you considered including a book of Scientology or have you considered including the Book of Mormon?'"
Researchers for the American Hotel & Lodging Association have found an increasing percentage of hotels providing religious materials in their rooms. In 1998, 79% of hotels surveyed said they carried such materials; that figured jumped to 95% in 2006.
But the wide variety of sacred texts is a new development, said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the association and a 47-year industry veteran.
"First time I've ever heard of it," he said. "I think it's a great idea. I think it provides a variety of religious readings for all different religions."
Jacobs said the new offerings meet the needs of those who hadn't packed their favorite religious tome.
"There's many travelers that are committed to a specific faith but they've forgotten their book that they normally have at their bedside at home," he said.
So, what's the most popular item on the spiritual menu?
"It's really been across the board, but I'll say one that's a heavy favorite is the Four Noble Truths," Jacobs said of the key Buddhist teachings.
Feedback has been mostly positive, he said, but there was a initial misunderstanding that the Gideon Bibles were going to be removed from the rooms of the hotel in Nashville, which is also the international headquarters of the Gideons.
"In fact, it has always been an offering and we expanded upon that offering," he said.
The Gideons whose Bibles are still available at all of the Provenance Hotels declined comment on the trend. Spokesman Steve Smith would only confirm they've been supplying the King James Version of the Bible to hotels for a century.
The Marriott hotel chain, founded by Mormons, has offered the Book of Mormon, in addition to Bibles provided by the Gideons, in its rooms for several decades.
But McInerney, from the hotel association, said the Gideons remain the go-to providers for most hotels.
"When somebody is going to build a hotel, one of the things on their list is 'Get the Gideon Bible,'" he said. "If you have an existing hotel and you run out of Bibles people take them, believe it or not then you get a hold of the Gideon society and they send you more Bibles. ... It's a staple of the hotel industry."