On a business trip a few months ago, I lost a little electronic device called a Fitbit that hooks onto a belt, measures physical activity and keeps daily records online.

It had cost around $100, and I realized with dismay that it was missing only after I got home. But I didn’t make any effort to ask my airline or hotel if they found it. Cynically, I figured, why bother?

Wrong. Actually, airlines all have links to lost-and-found services on their Web sites. I don’t know how well they perform. Do you? But hotels, it seems, have always made at least an effort to get lost items back to customers. The problem has been that the internal systems are usually haphazard.

“It’s always been a major chore to store them,” said Jean-Pierre Patay, the director of the Silver Legacy Resort Casino, a hotel with 1,710 rooms in Reno, Nev. A hotel employee has to put the items found on a list and store it somewhere. Sending something back to a guest can be logistically daunting.

“Lost and found is the hot potato that nobody at a hotel really wants to deal with,” said Mr. Patay, 47, who has been in the hotel business since he was a teenager. Somebody at a hotel has to handle the initial inquiry, retrieve and package the item, calculate the postage and ship it back to the guest. “Sometimes you’d just go down to the loading dock to find a box,” he said. “You might be returning anything from a lost hearing aid to a giant six-foot-tall stuffed animal.”

So it figures that somebody would come up with a way to better manage hotel lost-and-found procedures. A company called Chargerback has developed a Web-based system — now used by the Silver Legacy and 29 other hotels — that provides a standard method for hotels to manage found items, initiate or reply to e-mail inquiries, print out shipping labels and send items back to guests in an orderly manner.

“What we discovered looking at the lost-and-found process in hotels, most of them depend on a manual system,” said Ranson Webster, the chief executive of Chargerback.

The company was started in 2011 by Internet entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity in devising an easy-to-use Web-based system to replace the improvised procedures hotels often employ. At most hotels, lost and found is “very disjointed,” based on handwritten logs compiled daily in housekeeping or security offices, Mr. Webster said.

The company hopes to expand more widely in the domestic hotel industry and has plans to extend into systems for airlines and airports, car rental companies and other places where travelers forget things. Chargerback calculates that travelers leave behind about 46 million possessions each year in hotels alone.

The average value of a lost item (cellphones and other electronic things are among the top things forgotten) is $94, according to Wakefield Research. But nearly half of the respondents in a recent survey by Wakefield said they had not tried to retrieve lost items because they thought it would be futile or too much trouble, or because the lost-and-found process was unclear.

Travelers forget amazing things in hotels — beyond the obvious wealth of mobile devices and chargers, eyeglasses, books, clothing, jewelry and children’s toys. Someone forgot a wooden leg at one hotel, Mr. Webster said. A couple reported that they had left a boa constrictor in the bathtub when they checked out.

“I remember seeing that report, thinking this has got to be a mistake, it must be a plastic snake,” Mr. Webster recalled. “But it was an actual snake. The people who left it were very embarrassed.”

With just 30 hotels signed up, Chargerback has been shipping 600 to 1,000 items back to guests each month, Mr. Webster said. Hotels do not pay Chargerback. Customers pay shipping costs, which he said averaged $10 to $12 an item. Chargerback’s revenue comes from a percentage of the shipping fees, he said.

Chargerback provides a simple online system for hotels to keep inventory of found items. A hotel typically places a link on its lost-and-found Web page, where customers enter the Chargerback system to search for an item. If they find it, they can click on the tab to have it shipped back.

Incidentally, how much does it cost to ship a snake home? “Well, more than 10 bucks, certainly,” Mr. Webster said.

Having a Web-based, standardized system like Chargerback for managing the headaches of lost and found is invaluable, said Mr. Patay at the Silver Legacy. “You can’t imagine over the course of a year how much stuff can accumulate,” he said. “At many big properties, they have these little nooks and crannies where they just shove this stuff in, and it’s basically forgotten about till some guest calls and says something like, ‘Hey, I think I left my dentures there about three months ago, but I can’t remember the date. Can you find them for me?’ ”

Some studies indicate that 12,000 laptops are left behind at airports each week. The number of cellphones left in places like airplanes, rental cars, hotels and taxicabs runs into the hundreds of thousands.

We are forgetful people on the road, it seems — and that’s the basis of a business plan for Mr. Webster’s company as it expands. “We think the overall lost-and-found market is a half-billion items a year,” he said.

Source: The New York Times