By Hannah Frances, August 2018
As a hotel reviewer and consultant, I have come to notice the absence of menstrual products in hotel bathrooms. Regardless of star rating or price point, hotels rarely provide tampons and pads as part of their bathroom amenities, despite being an essential bathroom product. Sewing kits, shoe horns, trouser presses and cotton buds are among the products that are more frequently provided – all significantly less relevant for female travellers.
It would be great to see more hotelslooking after the basic needs of its female guests by making these products available. I know everyone has their preferences in terms of absorbency, and some prefer re-useable products, but it’s a ‘just in case’ measure that I know most women would appreciate if they were caught out with an early period.
An ongoing campaign is fighting against the governmental classification of tampons and pads as luxury items (and therefore subject to tax), while councils in Scotland have promised to provide free menstrual products in municipal buildings and schools. Barnsley Football Club recently introduced these products to stadium bathrooms for female fans. If a football club can do it, why can’t a luxury hotel?
In order to better answer this question, I put together a short survey to collate the experiences and opinions of female travellers. One person that completed the survey wrote: “Tampons and sanitary products are a necessity, NOT a luxury, just like toilet roll and other essential products.”
It’s clear that hotels – luxury hotels in particular – are lagging far behind the needs of their guests in this regard. Of the people that completed the questionnaire, 92% have never stayed in a hotel that provide these products in the bathroom. 96% said they would like to see them provided (across three multiple choice options).
One interviewee commented: “I think it's embarrassing for a lot of women to have to call housekeeping to ask for tampons. Having sanitary products in the bathroom would make a huge difference – especially in hotels in certain countries (I once had an excruciating call in India) or where the housekeeping staff are male.”
Many hotels provide a selection of sanitary products, condoms and other personal items behind the reception desk for guests who have forgotten their own. But if I came on early in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t feel comfortable to call down to reception and ask for a tampon. I’m more likely to venture out of the hotel to find a shop, but if I were staying in a rural location I’d be totally stuck.
As a society, we are conditioned to feel ashamed of our periods, and there isn’t enough discussion or provision to help normalise them. Hotels can play their part by providing a basic selection as part of standard bathroom amenities.
“I have never thought about this issue before” wrote one of the survey’s respondents, “but now it’s been brought to my attention it makes perfect sense. It should be seen as something which makes your stay more comfortable (by far), in as much as they supply you with coffee and tea etc. Coming on when you’re in a foreign place or late at night when shops are closed shouldn’t be a problem we have to go out of our way to solve. I understand that many women have their own preferred products but I think this survey will show that, when in a tight spot, we’d all use what’s available and appreciate it massively.”
“Having tampons/pads available is just as much a ‘just in case’ thing as the thread and needle kit often provided in upmarket hotels. Guests are probably unlikely to need them, but if they need them they really need them!” said another.
Luxury hotels work hard to second guess their guests’ needs, yet this fairly basic requirement is rarely considered. A quick search through TripAdvisor proves that when these products are provided, guests are inclined comment upon them. In a crowded market, these thoughtful touches can be the difference between a guest booking and looking elsewhere.
“I think that it would reflect on the attitude of the hotel extremely positively,” says one respondent, “It is possibly the main toiletry that, when forgotten, can be most devastating. I can wait 30 minutes to buy toothpaste, but cannot last 30 minutes without sanitary products. Also, it would help promote the normalisation of sanitary products to the wider public, which is imperative for a healthy and fair society.”
While the feedback was overwhelmingly in favour of menstrual products being provided in hotel bathrooms, the environmental impact and waste created by the packaging of pads and tampons was a point of concern for several commenters, with one pointing out: “Tampons and sanitary pads are extremely wasteful in terms of packaging which can’t be recycled and then the product is put in land waste once it’s used so encouraging excessive use because they are free isn’t ideal”.
The marketplace is dominated by disposable products, yet there is a growing awareness of the bleach and toxins used in products supplied by market leaders and the impact of the single use plastic packaging, creating a demand for biodegradable, organic and reusable alternatives.
“Sanitary products are as essential as loo roll, but biodegradable products with minimum packaging would be best. I always wonder where all those mini shampoo bottles end up – are they recycled or reused? I think more eco friendly options should be considered.”
I am now campaigning to make a range of eco-friendly tampons and pads a standard part of bathroom amenities in hotels across the UK, and I’ll publish a list of participating hotels below.
Hoteliers, please get in touch to join the campaign: firstname.lastname@example.org