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Michele Sponagle

Senior editor

Smitten by hotels ever since she was a kid, hoarding toiletries started early and picked up steam as Michele Sponagle began a career as a freelance journalist. Her globetrotting has taken her to properties in more than 50 countries, from rustic B&Bs to sprawling resorts.

I have a large tub of toiletries with hundreds of products I’ve gathered from hotel stays around the world. Although I have enough, I still can’t get enough of them. One of my favorite things to do when I first enter a hotel room is to head to the bathroom to see what brand of toiletries are being offered. Right off the bat, it slants my view of a hotel for better or worse.

Though I am a prolific toiletry collector, I am much more discerning about what I take home these days. There was a time when any old bar of soap would be good enough to be thrown into my cosmetic bag. Not so much anymore. I’ve become a toiletry snob.

I have a handful of brands that are my holy grails. I swoon over Britain’s Jo Malone (offered at the Flagler Club in Palm Beach, Fla.), and Penhaligon products, Asprey London’s Purple Line of citrusy goops and lotions (available through Ritz-Carlton properties), Molton Brown, Aesop (from Australia and stocked by Gramercy Park Hotel, New York), Bulgari (hard to find, but try the Cipriano Hotel in Venice and The Hazelton in Toronto) and Hermès (even harder to find, but they can be found at the Burj al Arab, Dubai and at the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost).  I also like anything unique from a local manufacturer, like Seaflora’s seaweed-infused products made on Vancouver Island.

I’m weary of Aveda and Crabtree & Evelyn. They make good quality products but so many hotels now offer them that they’ve lost their specialness. I’m moderately offended by Gilchrist & Soames. They are like the McDonald’s of hotel toiletries. I see them in hotels that are trying to be fancy when they really are not. The company is headquartered in Plainfield, Indiana so don’t try to fool me with your British sounding name. Sorry, every soap, shampoo and moisturizer will be left behind.

When you’re passionate about toiletries, there’s one thing that really burns my bacon. I despise those full-sized bottles that are affixed to the wall next to the shower. It feels like rejection to be offered those and know that I won’t be able to take them with me. I get that’s it’s more eco-friendly, blah, blah, blah, BUT the toiletries that make it into the tub at home all have memories associated with them. To deny me that is just so hurtful. I don’t ask for much. I just want toiletries I can love.

Just to be clear, I’m not some eco hater. I do take home partly used bottles of shampoos, conditioners and such—even the wet, just used soap gets wrapped up in a shower cap for the trip back. I don’t like the thought they get tossed by housekeeping most of the time. I’ve heard that some hotels will refill them and donate them to homeless shelters, which is admirable. But I don’t think that is the norm.

Do toiletries really matter? Yes, they do—not just to me, but to other hotel guests as well. Prior to the ban on the amount of liquids you can take with you onboard a plane, just 35% of those who checked into a hotel used the toiletries provided. You used to be able to bring your favorites, so why use whatever mystery brand was waiting for you in your room?  An estimated 75% of us will smear and pour whatever is stocked by hotels.

That raises the stakes on the toiletry front. Properties need to up their game and offer guests something that is memorable and unique. I’d hate to be the person whose job it is to pick which brand to carry in their bathrooms. As we know, the one size fits all approach is a lie—even for ponchos and umbrellas. Everyone has his or her preferences.

Scent likes and dislikes are divisive. I like the scent of freshly cut grass and the weird plastic, new Barbie odor of Revlon lipsticks. You might like the aroma of scrambled eggs (can’t stand it personally), lavender or musk. That’s okay. No wars were ever started over personal bias around smells. But my heart breaks for the hotel employee that has to make that call. Guys don’t want to smell like peonies kissed by the morning dew or lilacs that make them think of their grandma’s house. And gals don’t want to smell too woodsy or spicy, like they spent the night with a lumberjack and ate too much chicken curry. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in between that pleases mostly everyone.

When Marriott International went on a quest to find the right toiletries for its worldwide properties, Forbes reported that more than 52 brands of shampoo, conditioner, body gel, lotion and soap were sniffed and slathered. It turned out they became nose blind after a while and couldn’t just pick one winner. They went with a Thai product line for hotels in North and South America, while the European and African markets received toiletries from a Italian company.

You may be wondering by now whether hotels really care or want you to take the toiletries from your bathroom. The answer is a simple “yes.” The decision to do that or not do that is like a vote. If the hotel has done the job and chosen well, they’ll be very pleased to see that you enjoyed the brand they selected. If they’ve failed, those products will remain in bathrooms—a big thumbs down. As frequent hotel guests, HotelAddicts are happy to express our opinions and vote yea or nay every time we check into our rooms.

(Featured photo credit: Michele Sponagle)

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