The Gideons Bible has been a standard feature of hotel rooms for over a century.
When checking into a hotel room, it’s the amenities that make the experience feel homey. Individual soaps and shampoos in the bathroom, drinks in the mini-fridge, and (always within arms reach of the bed) a Bible in the nightstand. While this setting may sound familiar to any traveler of the last century, it may soon be relegated to memories of “back in the day,” as hotels are beginning to phase out religious texts.
Get Religion explains how the traditional hotel Bible came about. The endeavor was started by three traveling businessmen who were delighted to discover they were all Christian. In 1908, the trio started a mission to support other Christian travelers by placing Bibles in every hotel room they could find. Taking up the name “The Gideons,” from the biblical hero noted for his obedience to God’s will, they produced the Gideons Bible and spent the next century distributing it all over the world at no charge.
According to The Gideons International website, over the course of the last century, they have distributed over two billion Bibles in 95 languages to over 200 countries. These days they can send the world’s hotels nearly one-and-a-half million Bibles per year, with roughly 40% of those going to the United States. The mission has been so successful that other religious denominations, like the LDS Church, have taken to supplying establishments with their texts.
The Los Angeles Times cites a survey from STR, a company that gathers marketing data for hotels, which found a significant decline in the number of hotels that provide Bibles in their rooms. In 2006, it was practically unheard of to stay in a room without a Bible, with 95% of hotels stocking drawers with Gideons Bibles. In 2016, however, this figure was practically halved to 48%.
Another more optimistic report from Quartz suggests that the figure has only fallen to 79%, but this is still a sharp decrease. This change from the previous decade raises the question of why hotels are phasing out the bible. The Los Angeles Times suggests that it’s a trend of the times we live in. These days, even hotels step lightly lest they offend their guests and pressure from organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
Factors at work
The FFRF is a group which contacts hotels to voice complaints that religious texts can offend those who are not religious. The group has been incredibly vocal in their work, contacting dozens of locations per year. They have also taken to placing stickers on any Bibles they do find, which warn potential readers that “Literal belief in this book may endanger your health and life.”
Another factor that points to the times we live in is the advancement and prevalence of technology. In 2021, there are few people without some means of internet access, be it a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. With free Wi-Fi, guests hardly need a physical copy of the Bible when dozens of free Bible apps are at their fingertips. Christian travelers also have new means of Bible study, with podcasts like Fr. Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year.”
Jeff Pack, Gideons International’s director of communications, suggested that these days people just aren’t as interested in reading the Bible. He told the LA Times:
“The decline of religious materials in hotels, as cited in the survey, is reflective of increasing secularism and independence in the world,” he said. “This has resulted in an erosion of spiritual awareness.”
It’s hard to say at this moment whether Gideons Bibles will remain a part of any hotel stay. Many in the hospitality industry, like most Marriotts, leave the decision up to the individual locations. Others keep copies of religious texts behind the counter to be handed out upon request. It seems likely that Bibles may still be seen in hotel rooms in decades to come, but it looks like the days where they were standard amenities may be gone for good.