ATLANTA GA JULY 31 2011 To keep robes and towels from checking out, a small but growing number of hotels are starting to use new radio frequency chips to keep track of their inventory.
RFID technology stands for Radio Frequency IDentification and requires an installed chip that can be read by an electronic reader. It has been used by various industries for several years to organize product storage and tally shipments.
With cotton prices rising and fewer employees in housekeeping, hotels are using the tech to monitor the whereabouts of bathrobes, bed sheets, duvet covers, bathmats, pool towels, and banquet linens.
About 5% to 20% of linens at hotels typically go missing, estimates William Serbin of Linen Tracking Technology. The company, which sells trackable linens, has teamed with Fluensee, an inventory tracking technology firm, to market RFID tags to hotels. A towel with a chip is about a dollar more than other towels, he says.
Bendable and washable, the tags can be read by sensors up to six feet away. When towels are removed from a closet, for example, a reader station can register how many, so that the closet can be re-stocked.
Some tags are sewn into the fabric. Others are in a rubber case.
Theft by guests is a factor but not the primary concern, says Jeff Welles of InvoTech, a firm that sells linen chips to hotels.
Like a sock that gets lost in the dryer, linens often go missing when they’re shipped to outside laundries. And, Welles says, they’re difficult and time-consuming to keep track of. Hotels can also use the system to ensure their laundry bill is correct.
“When you’re sending them in and out, everything gets mixed up,” he says. “There’s no way for hotels to know what they sent to launder. It’s a tremendous problem.”
The tracking system also enables an accurate count of towels and linens stored in the closet on each floor, triggering more efficient room service, says Tim Harvie, CEO of Fluensee. He says his chips are used by more than two dozen hotel customers.
While tracking linens is appealing, says Scott Mitchell, director of room product development for Marriott International, the tagging is too expensive for now to be widely embraced by the industry. “It’ll have to come down in price,” he says.