Fact Check

Hiding in a Hotel as 'Unlisted'

An internet rumor suggested that registering as "unlisted" in a hotel made guests "untouchable," but we couldn't find evidence of any such universal policy.

Published Sep 9, 2016

 (Frans de Wilde/Flickr)
Image Via Frans de Wilde/Flickr
Individuals fleeing danger can request to be "unlisted" in a hotel so no one can find them.
What's True

Some hotels have procedures in place allowing guests to register under the radar and avoid being found.

What's False

"Unlisted" is not a code word used in hotels to render guests "untouchable"; there is no indication any such privacy policies are universal.

In October 2015, a post began circulating on Tumblr holding that individuals running or hiding from an abuser could further protect themselves by asking hotel desk staff to register them as "unlisted," a codeword rendering them "untouchable" and impossible to find:

I have someone staying in my hotel tonight that made me think that this would be worth sharing here.

If you are running away/trying to hide from someone that is frightening, abusing, harassing you, and you find yourself staying in a hotel to avoid being found, there’s an extra precaution you can take.

When you check in, ask the front desk clerk to put you as “Unlisted”. They’ll know what you’re talking about. What this means is that as far as anyone other than you and the front desk clerks are concerned, you’re not there. If someone tries to call for you and your room, “I’m sorry. I don’t have anyone registered under that name.” Same thing goes for it someone shows up at the desk. “Unlisted” means you’re untouchable.

Please, please, if you find yourself in trouble and seeking refuge in a hotel, do this. It’s really quick, easy, and painless for the front desk clerk to do, and they are not going to judge you for it.

The advice spread like wildfire on the microblogging site. If the directives in the post were accurate, people fleeing dangerous situations could invoke a simple code word to ensure any hotel or motel would serve as something of a safehouse. 

A second version of the post circulated with much of the initial content crossed out. The individual reblogging the post stated that it was possible to register privately at a hotel but that "unlisted" was not a codeword for being in hiding. The second iteration included comments from two self-identified hotel employees. The first advised taking stronger steps in the scenario described in the rumor, adding that reiteration might be necessary after shifts change:

Please use actual words, not just code words. I work in a hotel and have NEVER heard of “Unlisted”. If someone were to come up to me and say that I would just look at you, confused, and ask for clarification.

Just flat out tell the front desk that you’re avoiding an abuser, if you say that you’re just avoiding something or someone, we may hesitate to comply, because you may be hiding from the police or law-enforcement. Please tell the front desk what you actually want us to do. Most places sign privacy/non-disclosure type agreements and if you say: “Hey, I’m hiding from a very bad situation and there might be some abusive people following me. Can you please either put me under a different name or make sure that no one contacts me?” we’ll do it and wont speak another word. Most places would even help you look up resources and try to get you transportation.

You can make it so most phones will be no contact, put up the do-not-disturb sign, and when shift change happens, if you’re still awake, tell the next person, because sometimes shift change is chaotic and important stuff can fall through the cracks. If you’re staying for multiple days, ask to speak with the general manager about your situation and they’ll make sure everything is enforced.

The first commenter raised issues of which those fleeing abuse ought to be mindful — hotel staff are often on the lookout for individuals illegitimately hiding in their properties. Even if a guest took pains to convey their status to the front desk, the clerk would have no way of discerning whether such a request was legitimate  (and little recourse if a pursuing abuser was aided by law enforcement in their search). The second commenter noted that ambiguity made it more likely hotel staff would be suspicious of the guest, and not others attempting to contact them:

I worked at a hotel for almost 3 years, and I can confirm with the second post. You can additionally tell us at the front desk that no one is allowed to phone you, but you can phone out of your room.

Please do not be vague about it, we’ll likely think you’re up to something illegal. Just be upfront about it. No one’s allowed to see the guest list (or your name on the computer) besides the people working behind the counter, it’s a part of the confidentiality agreement.

We contacted two major hotels, both of which said some provisions exist to protect the privacy of guests upon request, but neither recognized the "unlisted" codeword. Neither suggested their procedure or policy was as simple as stating you wished to register as "unlisted," however, making it likely that people in hiding would have to explain why to hotel staff.

Moreover, making such a request didn't appear to constitute any guarantee a guest would be "untouchable" for the duration of their stay, nor was any universal procedure in place to ensure such directives would be adhered to without falter. 

We also contacted travel expert and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, who told us he was unfamiliar with the rumor and had never heard of "unlisted" status as a hotel guest. Elliott noted celebrities had a tendency to use aliases and cash payment to avoid paparazzi, but he hadn't encountered the "unlisted" rumor anywhere, despite possessing in-depth knowledge of the travel and hospitality industries.

We were ultimately unable to confirm the "unlisted" claim with any hotel or travel expert. It appears that many hotel chains are willing and able to grant guests various levels of privacy if requested, but need explanations, not code words.

Like the QuikTrip Safe Place rumor, this piece of internet lore appeared to originate with a desire to provide useful information to individuals in immediate danger. However, the rumors were also similar in that they vastly overstated the sheltering abilities of hotels or convenience stores in instances where a person is at direct risk of being attacked. It is not a bad idea to inform front desk staff if you have reason to believe you are in danger or wish to be unreachable for the duration of your stay, but we found no guarantee that hotels universally maintain such a policy or that it could be relied on as a safety plan for people fleeing or avoiding a dangerous situation.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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