The hotel lost and found has finally gone as electronic as the room key., a website making its official debut today, automates the lost-and-found process for participating hotels. Although hotels have entered the digital age in countless ways, they still typically have employees manually log items left behind by guests, then wait for the guests to contact them.

The website works like this: A hotel employee types in a description of the lost item with useful information such as where it was located. A guest who has lost something can log onto the site and enter a description. If there is a match, they are contacted. The guest can either pick up the item or pay a fee to have it shipped. Chargerback automatically generates a prepaid shipping label that hotel staff can use on boxes.

“We’ve really streamlined the process a lot,” says Ranson Webster, chief executive officer of Chargerback.

So far, more than 30 U.S. properties are using Chargerback, including Las Vegas-based Treasure Island, New York-New York and The Riviera. The hotels pay nothing. Guests incur a fee, which is embedded in the shipping price. Guests will spend an average of $10 to $12.50 to have an item shipped, Webster says.

Webster says there’s a huge need for such a service, and he hopes to expand it to airlines, rental car agencies and other industries. In a survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted for Chargerback by Wakefield Research, 30% had lost an item worth $150 or more outside their home in the past 12 months. On average, business and leisure travelers had lost 10 items. And almost half — 43% — didn’t try to retrieve it because of the hassle.

“We’re not talking about small numbers here,” Webster says. “Hotels are really interested in getting an item back to the rightful owner. That’s part of building brand loyalty.”

Jean-Pierre Patay, hotel director of the 1,710-room Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno, has been using Chargerback for almost two years in beta form. He says at any given time, there were hundreds of lost items stored in multiple rooms, “where we could find a little space here and a little space there.”

The most popular items were stuffed animals, blankets, jewelry, electronics and dentures. Hotel employees kept a catalog of the items, but when guests called to retrieve items, there was no easy way to locate them. Guests would often have to make multiple calls, he says.

“It was frustrating both for our employees and the guest. It was very time-consuming,” he says.

So, many items were never reunited with their owners. The hotel would keep them for up to a year. Those that still had some value were sold, with the proceeds going to a “hope fund” for employees in financial need.

With Chargerback, Patay says, more lost items are ending up back with their owners, and there is now just one lost-and-found room.

Other hotel managers say they try as hard as they can to reunite items with their owners. But they also have to tread carefully.

“There have been too many cases in the past where a hotel reaches out to a guest and leaves a message about a lost item with a spouse or colleague and it turns out the guest was not where they said they would be,” says Matthew Nuss, executive vice president of the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas and Houston, which is not using Chargerback. “So, it’s really important that hotels value their guest’s privacy in concert with their lost item.”

More and more travelers are engaging with hotels electronically to find their items, says Hyatt spokeswoman Erika Lavyne.

At the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, a guest recently used Twitter to notify the hotel that she had lost her wedding ring while staying there. She tweeted the dates she stayed and her room number. The Lost and Found manager searched for it and found it.

Another guest sent the hotel a message on Facebook that she had lost her iPhone charger. The charger was found and mailed to the guest.

Mark Cooper, a computer security engineer from Tigard, Ore., who travels frequently, says his wife left expensive shoes behind at a seven-star hotel in Dubai. They were never found. A few months later, she left sandals at a much less expensive hotel in Reno. The hotel, the Ascuaga Nugget, shipped them to her for free.

“It does make a huge difference in our minds when a hotel values not only the guest in the room paying a rate,” he says, “but appreciates them enough to reunite them with their property.”

Source: USA Today