Lost and found: The case for text communication

Commonly lost items at hotels include shirts, phone chargers, bags, books and more. (Losing an item can ruin a trip, regardless of the item's worth. Hotels today have new technology that allow them to get ahead of the problem, all with guest participation.)

Losing an item is a common yet unfortunate aspect of travel that will never go away. A guest’s realization that he or she left something of sentimental or monetary value behind at their hotel, possibly to be lost forever, often colors their entire stay and in many cases it becomes the most memorable event of their travel experience.

How hotels respond in the event of a lost item can salvage—or scuttle—their opinion of your property. Chad Hinver, brand training champion at Hersha Hospitality, said the company’s operators are aware of the power lost items have over travelers and encourage proactive decision making to track lost items to specific guests before they have time to call.

“For guests that do call us, we log everything and respond to every request within 24 hours,” Hinver said.

According to Hinver, guests should be able to reach out to the hotel on their own terms, using whichever form of communication they are most comfortable with. In many cases, this now means text messaging.

“We’re seeing brand apps, such as the ones put out by Hilton and Marriott, becoming more popular for frequent travelers to use for lost-and-found types of requests,” he said.

The initial search period is the most crucial in terms of finding lost items, Hinver said. In some cases, guests will report an item lost only to find it in their car or at a friend’s house, but rarely do they inform the hotel that the item has been found.

Applications such as Alice allow guests to share images of lost items with operators, assisting in the retrieval process.

Alex Shashou, co-founder and president of hotel operations platform Alice, said many lost-and-found operations are complicated by antiquated procedures such as handwritten books with years of logs and varying degrees of handwriting legibility. However, modern applications such as Alice’s (and indeed some of the loyalty-facing apps put out by hospitality’s biggest brands) allow for direct text interaction between guests and operators, and Alice allows travelers to log their own lost and found requests right on property.

“Now anyone on a phone can look up the request and immediately take down details to return an item,” Shashou said.

Alice's lost-and-found product logged approximately 1.38 lost items per guestroom per month, with some of the most commonly lost items including chargers, books, shirts, bags, glasses and shoes.

How important are effective lost-and-found operations to guests, anyway? Brian Colodny, president and CEO of automated lost-and-found software developer Chargerback, said he founded his company after misplacing a phone charger while traveling for business. After an unhelpful interaction with a hotel while trying to recover the item, he knew something more could be done.

"Phone chargers only represent about 7 percent of what is left at hotels. Tablets, cell phones and clothing are the bulk of what guests lose, followed by an odd assortment of items," Colodny said. "Entities that don't use our service only have about a 15-[percent to] 20-percent return rate, but with us it shoots up to about 60 percent."

Chargerback allows travelers to report lost items and gives business the ability to record misplaced items, matching them for returns. When a match is found, customers are charged a nominal fee for shipping, a shipping label is printed and a confirmation is sent to customers along with a tracking number.

"What will guests remember if they don't get best-in-clase treatment when requesting lost items after a trip has ended? All they know is that somebody at the property didn't find their item or didn't give them the time of day, and that will stick with the guest," Colodny said.

Christopher Hovanessian, co-founder of SMS and mobile messaging communications app Whistle, said that text messaging allows guests to share photos of lost items with hotel operators in real time to assist with the search and follow up directly once the item has been returned. Since it’s an open line of communication, successfully returned items can also prompt operators to request reviews without feeling out of place, and allows guests to respond on their own time.

“Lost and found is heavily benefitted by native messaging apps,” Hovanessian said. “The earlier an item is reported lost, the more likely it is to be found. With the ability to share photos of lost items and follow up with a hotel early enough, sometimes even on the way to the airport to come home, guests can become a part of the search and give themselves a little control over the process.”