How often do people die in hotels?
December 4, 2010 4:42 PM   Subscribe

How often do people die in hotels?

I was just watching the Fawlty Towers episode in which the guest dies in his sleep and they try to sneak him out without the other guests noticing. It got me wondering, how often does this happen? For the purposes of clarity, I don't mean deaths in fires or earthquakes and suchlike. I mean how often do people just check in and die?
posted by Jakey to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Of just natural causes, or of murders as well? I think if murders are included the number would be much higher.
posted by kpht at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2010

I mean, it happens, but not that often. Most people who are liable to shuffle off this mortal coil in the next twelve hours tend not to check into hotels all that often. We're talking sudden, unexpected heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm. There are enough hotels in the world that it's pretty damned likely that someone dies in a hotel every day of the year, but any given hotel isn't likely to see one even annually.

But parmanparman is right: there aren't going to be any statistics about this. I doubt it's even something hotels keep track of.
posted by valkyryn at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2010

Are you counting people who live in hotels permanently?
posted by orthogonality at 5:11 PM on December 4, 2010

Rough numbers from some desultory Googling:

- About 2.5 million hotel rooms occupied on any given night in the USA
- About 850 sudden heart attacks every day in the USA
- USA population: approximately 300 million

So, from sudden heart attack alone, I'd expect at least 2 in-hotel deaths per day in the USA (2.5m hotel stayers / 300m population * 850 daily heart attacks * 8 hours a day in the room / 24 hours).
posted by Dimpy at 5:18 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would think it's due to the circumstances surrounding the reason for being in a hotel room.

i.e. stress from travel or the reason for the travel; enthusiastic hotel room sex; accidental overdose related to the circumstances again (mixing anxiety pills with booze), and/or the drug-using lifestyle of someone who inherently almost lives in hotels such as celebrities; too much salty and/or greasy travel fast-food; over-exertion from hauling around luggage; travelling companion 'snapping'; just happening to be in a hotel room and suffering a sudden bodily failure for a pre-existing condition or not; somewhere to intentionally commit suicide that's neutral versus home/work; mob/gang meeting gone awry; something like choking with nobody else in the room to help; suffering a brain hemorrhage at the sight of the room decor; etc.

So, I'd say the odds are fairly good.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:28 PM on December 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

What about the people that are (maybe) traveling and come down with the flu/GI virus and are trying to "wait it out" while on vacation, think international travelers. This number could be more substantial than one would initially think...
posted by 6:1 at 5:31 PM on December 4, 2010

Behind a paywall: "Our objective is to study the link between hotel registration and suicide. Clark County, which contains Las Vegas, drew our interest because of its extremely large number of hotel rooms. Case files of suicide from the Clark County Coroner were reviewed for years 2003–2005. The suicide rate of local residents registering in local hotels was 271/100,000. This is greater than the suicide rate in the general population of Clark County, 16.6/100,000, P < 0.0001, Poisson distribution. Hotel guests from outside Clark County had a reduced rate of suicide, 4.6/100,000, P < 0.0001. Residents of Clark County registering in local hotels have an increased suicide risk that is statistically significant. Possible explanations for the results are provided. "
posted by ocherdraco at 5:33 PM on December 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

In a related issue, I read somewhere that generally speaking, most cruise lines expect to lose one passenger on any given week long cruise. The demographic of cruise guests, coupled with rich food, alcohol, and a higher than normal activity level apparently leads to some pretty predictable heart attacks. I would imagine certain classes of hotels might have similar issues.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:15 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dimpy, you're making the (possibly significant) assumption that heart attacks and hotel stays are independent.
posted by valrus at 7:20 PM on December 4, 2010

I was going to mention suicide too but damn that is a lot of people checking into Vegas hotels to kill themselves. If those statistics exist for other places it might be a good place to look.
posted by fshgrl at 8:06 PM on December 4, 2010

The death rate in the US is in the ballpark of 800 deaths per year per 100,000 of population.

If you had a large hotel with an average of 1,000 people staying every night, and those people had the same demographic profile as the population overall, you'd expect to see 8 deaths a year.

But the profile of the people who stay in hotels won't be the same as for the whole population. More than half of all deaths happen in people over 70 for example, and even those things that lead to relatively sudden death (stroke, heart failure etc) seems to have something like a ten times higher frequency in the over-65s than the under-65s.

So my back of the envelope guesstimate is that the very large hotel with a 1,000 people staying on an average night would expect to see maybe one death a year.

For a small Fawlty Towers style hotel that might only have 20 people staying at a time, that translates to one death every 50 years, so it would be pretty unexpected and shocking to anyone that worked there.
posted by philipy at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was going to mention suicide too but damn that is a lot of people checking into Vegas hotels to kill themselves.

More likely it's people who lost too much money, and kill themselves afterwards.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:59 PM on December 4, 2010

What about the people that are (maybe) traveling and come down with the flu/GI virus and are trying to "wait it out" while on vacation, think international travelers.

This probably doesn't really happen very often. Mainly because the vast majority of GI distress (AKA Travelers' Diarrhea) cases in international travelers are, in fact, wait-outable. And even the more severe cases - for instance Delhi Belly that is actually dysentery (even typhoid or cholera!) - won't kill you immediately. Someone in the hotel would notice that the guy staying alone in 305 has it coming out of both ends and is running an eleventy million degree fever long before you would actually die.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 PM on December 4, 2010

More likely it's people who lost too much money, and kill themselves afterwards.

I'd question this -- I grew up in Vegas and go back frequently, and to the people who live there it's just another city. Most Clark County residents (i.e. Vegas locals) are pretty used to the casinos, and aren't going to be losing "too much money" all at once the way people from out of town might, yet the out-of-towners had a lower-than-normal suicide rate. I suspect most people had ordinary, non-casino-related reasons for killing themselves.

But hey, whatta deal on the room!
posted by vorfeed at 10:39 PM on December 4, 2010

Yeah, vorfeed is right--I just skimmed the article (it's not very long). It seems that the large number of hotel rooms in Clark County offers local people intending to commit suicide* a neutral place to do it. Whether this holds for areas that aren't so well-supplied with hotel space, they don't venture to stay; but they do suggest that for residents of Clark County, at least, registering to stay in a local hotel "could be a sign of serious and detailed planning in those subjects with suicidal intent".

*"Factors promoting suicide in the general population of Nevada are population growth and demographic change, high percentage of population without health insurance, low per capita federal mental health aid, extremely low number of psychiatrists per capita and the high rate of gun ownership."
posted by lapsangsouchong at 11:20 PM on December 4, 2010

I have read that people who are suicidal will sometimes check into hotels to do it. I think the reasoning may be that they don't want their families to be the ones to find them/have to clean up the mess, or if they have no family, they want to be assured someone does find them before, well, you know.
posted by katyggls at 12:38 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just have one small bit of anecdata: I worked in hotels for 13 years and to my knowledge, nobody died in those hotels when I worked there. On any shift. There was one heart attack, but he survived.
posted by faceonmars at 12:53 AM on December 5, 2010

Do guests who drown in hotel pools count? I feel like I hear about that happening fairly often, but I haven't been able to find useful statistics.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:31 AM on December 5, 2010

This is just my personal experience. I worked at a hotel and one day a sex worker got into an argument with a customer. She proceeded to shoot him in the room.

I also know someone who's family member committed suicide in a hotel.
posted by handbanana at 10:45 AM on December 5, 2010

Whether this holds for areas that aren't so well-supplied with hotel space, they don't venture to stay; but they do suggest that for residents of Clark County, at least, registering to stay in a local hotel "could be a sign of serious and detailed planning in those subjects with suicidal intent".

I kinda agree with this, but it's worth noting that it's not unusual to stay at the resorts as a local, especially in the summer -- it's too damn hot, the hotels have pools, and nobody wants to come to Vegas in July/August (see: too damn hot), so the rooms are cheap. Sometimes you can get awesome comps, too, if you're willing to get a suite. It makes for a great staycation, and you don't have to cook or clean.
posted by vorfeed at 12:16 PM on December 5, 2010

Totally anecdotal, but I knew a couple of security guards at a higher-end hotel in the CBD of a smaller Australian city (Brisbane) - they said they dealt with a suicide per week on average, and that their colleagues in similar hotels reported similar rates. It made sense, people not wanting to be found by their families or having to make them clean up, etc.
posted by goo at 1:41 PM on December 5, 2010

I worked in a hotel/casino for about a year. We had 600 rooms and average stay was probably one night. This was not an area that was economically depressed. We lost at least one person a month.

The worst was probably the guy who shot himself in the bathtub on Valentine's Day. The second worst was the guy who deliberately took a header off the 16th floor balcony and landed in the pool (he died from the impact, physics in real life being nothing like physics in movies). There were plenty of heart attacks, overdoses, etc.

We had a regular plan for how to deal with guest deaths (just as we had a regular plan for room flooding, which also happened on a significant scale on a regular basis). It involved sealing the room for the cops, making sure it didn't end up back in the rack, taking out the affected furniture (when you die on the couch it...needs to be cleaned afterward), cleaning the carpet and painting as needed, doing a super-duper housekeeping job, and making sure the cops have released the room, then placing it back on the rack without EVER telling the next guest what happened.

Sometimes, it involves giving comps such as free buffet, whatever (casino, remember?) to the people in the room next door who might have been inconvenienced. There's no real attempt to 'hide' the body (in my experience) but there's an attempt made to be discreet. I sure never saw the bodies being taken out the front.

I have, unfortunately, only a little information to back me up (this interesting article* has a representative pull-quote: “Alas, suicide is, for the innkeeper, a gruesome occupational hazard.”). This article** claims that "Las Vegas casino security officers have restored the heartbeats of about 1,800 gamblers and employees in the past nine years [up to 2006]." It further claims that, "Casinos also are likelier venues for cardiac arrest, because of the size and age of the crowds that jam into them. Nearly 75% of visitors to Las Vegas in 2004 were over age 40. Some further elevate their risk by indulging in spates of heavy smoking and drinking while giving short-shrift to sleep. The "Vegas Syndrome," it's called."

So, you'd have to weight casino hotels (where I worked, so maybe that's why my response is so different from everyone else's) versus regular hotels.

There's also a ton of information in trade journals about 'reasonable care' in regard to pools, fitness centers, and other dangerous facilities (and fire---oh there is a TON of info on how to prevent hotel fires). Plus recently a lot of info about terrorism (after Amman, Taba, Mumbai and Jakarta, it's been on their minds). In other words, there's a lot of interesting questions that arise in regards to hotels and deaths. If you're in the UK, look at the trade pub called "Caterer and Hotelkeeper," which has UK-specific information on that sort of thing.

*Morris, Karen. 2010. "Are you legally responsible for suicides at your hotel?." Hotel & Motel Management 225, no. 5: 8.
**Helliker, K. (2006, January 28). "Beating the Odds." Wall Street Journal - Eastern Edition, pp. A1-A10
posted by librarylis at 8:28 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks, everyone, for the interesting information.
posted by Jakey at 3:48 AM on December 7, 2010

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