American Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO Katherine Lugar said she believes union groups are using safety concerns to push for unrelated regulatory changes across the U.S.
LEESBURG, Virginia—Sexual harassment is a hot topic across the U.S. right now, and American Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO Katherine Lugar believes union organizers are seizing on that to push a largely unrelated agenda in various cities.
While speaking at the Spring 2018 meeting of the Hospitality Asset Managers Association, Lugar said a national push for safety notification devices for hotel employees—particularly housekeepers—is turning into a regulatory push in several large markets. But at the same time, union groups are using that to push for other issues that “look a lot like what you’d see in a collective bargaining agreement” like employee retention rules and health care improvements.
She said in some markets like Chicago, AHLA has been successful in “ripping out the extraneous stuff” and specifically focusing on mandates for the “notification devices” and things like sexual harassment training. She said that city’s regulations are a win for the lobbying group.
The Chicago regulations “allow for flexibility to manage costs and do the right thing,” Lugar said.
She said not every market has been as favorable, though. She noted Seattle in particular has been challenging and described that city as a “canary in a coal mine” when it comes to potential union issues.
“Seattle of course is a lovely city, but it’s sort of the people’s republic of,” she said. “It’s a very difficult political environment to stop something like that. And so, while we did put up a fight, there was no way to block it in that community.”
Other markets that are battlegrounds over similar regulations include Long Beach, California, New York and Washington, D.C. Lugar said one of the most effective ways for hoteliers to avoid unwanted repercussions in the push for employee safety is to take charge themselves. She said no one is more concerned about employee safety than hoteliers and they “ought to be singing that from mountaintops.”
This will have the dual benefit of taking the wind out of the sails for union organizers along with avoiding the type of one-size-fits-all approaches that overlook the operational challenges at different types of hotels, she said.
“It’s about understanding what’s working and what’s not,” Lugar said. “There should be different formats and structures for hotels.”
Dealing with intermediaries
When discussing online travel agencies, Lugar said there is “no shortage of issues” as her organization works to support growth in direct bookings. She said AHLA has been most effective in discussing booking scams, which boils down to sites that offer hotel bookings without clearly noting they are a third party.
Lugar said the potential pitfalls of third parties should be made clear to consumers and that should be built around the message that “the safest thing to do is to book direct.”
“There are stacks of abuses that are very real,” she said.
She noted recent Federal Trade Commission rulings and pending legislation seem to be moving in the direction of requiring third-party booking sites to clearly identify to consumers they are not booking directly with a hotel, which she noted would drive “mistrust for third-party booking brands” and would lead more consumers to seek out direct channels.
A level playing field with alternative accommodations
Lugar said her organization is also working to make sure alternative-accommodation platforms like Airbnb are working on the same regulatory playing field as the hotel industry, especially since a significant portion of the company’s supply is not true home-sharing because large-scale commercial landlords operate properties as pseudo hotels.
She said the regulatory battle is currently happening at a city level, and AHLA is also focusing on “the integrity of neighborhoods” as a rallying call for local organizers to push back against the proliferation of Airbnb.
“You don’t want to have a party house next door,” Lugar said. “That concern is real.”
The AHLA is working some new communications strategies on that message in particular, she said, even working with “mommy bloggers.”
She said one of her company’s strategies in dealing with Airbnb going forward will be to focus on the safety and security of guest data, given that has become a hot-button topic of late.
Airbnb has “really weak policies in place,” Lugar said. “There is a lot of sharing of guest and host data without explicit permission.”