Brands, AHLA partner on employee safety initiative
Brands, AHLA partner on employee safety initiative
07 SEPTEMBER 2018 8:47 AM

The heads of major international hotel brand companies and the American Hotel & Lodging Association shared details about a new employee safety initiative for the hotel industry.

WASHINGTON—The executives of several major international hotel brands and the American Hotel & Lodging Association announced a new “Five-Star Promise” initiative aimed at employee and guest safety through enhanced sexual harassment training and employee safety devices. The brand companies intend to make these changes become brand standards over the next few years.

Speaking during a press conference at the National Press Club, AHLA President and CEO Katherine Lugar said the hotel industry is centered on people taking care of people, and this initiative builds on that legacy. The Five-Star Promise will take a wide range of tools, technologies and resources to prevent sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and the effort will include people culture, mandatory anti-sexual harassment policies, training and education, employee safety devices and expert guidance from vital partnerships.

“The companies here, along with many others, are committing to provide an additional layer of security to U.S. hotel employees by deploying safety devices,” she said. “This can be an important line in additional protection, particularly for those whose job requires them to go room to room.”

The announcement dates back to 2017 when industry leaders created a taskforce to develop industry initiatives to make a difference in a timely manner, said Mark Carrier, chairman of the AHLA board and president of F.F. Saul Co. Hospitality Group. The industry held a summit in Washington, D.C., two months ago to talk about enhancing employee and guest safety.

Hilton President and CEO Chris Nassetta; Hyatt Hotels Corporation President and CEO Mark Hoplamazian; InterContinental Hotels Group CEO of the Americas Elie Maalouf; Marriott International President and CEO Arne Sorenson; and Wyndham Hotels Group President and CEO Geoff Ballotti each spoke about the different aspects of the Five-Star Promise.

In addition to the companies represented at the news conference, AHLA indicated several other companies signed on to the program, including AccorHotels, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, G6 Hospitality, Loews Hotels & Co., Outrigger Hotels & Resorts and RLH Corporation.

In a statement, Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the Asian Americans Hotel Owners Association, praised the Five-Star Promise.

“AAHOA and its members look forward to working with the brands to foster greater cooperation and innovation when it comes to how employee safety devices (ESDs) are deployed at franchised properties,” he said. “ESDs can be a vital tool to prevent potentially dangerous situations. With the nation’s hotel industry already taking the lead in promoting guest and employee safety when it comes to issues such as preventing human trafficking, the principles outlined in the Five-Star Promise will build on those efforts as our industry continues to create a safe and secure work environment for employees.”

Safety devices
The hotel industry now has the ability to put a device in each associate’s hands that will allow them, no matter where they are in a hotel, to call for help, Sorenson said. While it sounds like a simple idea, he said the industry had to overcome the challenge of immediately pinpointing the exact location and room on property. He noted that can be a challenge at larger properties and ones with many floors.

“You have to make sure the device brings someone to the right room, otherwise it’s simply ineffective,” he said.

Marriott is comfortable enough with the technology to begin requiring at them at managed hotels, he said, but it will become a brand standard for franchised hotels by 2020.

While she did not have an exact figure at the time, Lugar estimated the total cost for all the devices industry-wide would be hundreds of millions of dollars for tens of thousands of employees.

When Marriott begins to roll out the devices, they will be part of hotels’ operating cost, Sorenson said.

“It can be hopefully not terribly expensive,” he said.

The full cost will depend on the size of a property, he said, as the cost for a 100-room hotel with a few people working a night shift who would need the devices and signal the front desk staff would be different from the cost of a 2,000-room hotel in New York City with a security office and constant monitoring.

The devices need to be simple, they have to work and they have to be something the associates want to adopt, Sorenson said, because they won’t want something that is heavy to carry and gets in the way of their work.

While the announcement focused on American hotels, Hoplamazian said the issues addressed by the program are not unique to the U.S. Hyatt has deployed safety devices to all of its managed hotels across the globe spanning 12 countries. He said expanding these safety efforts around the globe will require adhering to local regulatory partners, rules, practices and the physical environment of each hotel.

Improving policies and procedures
Nassetta said the Five-Star Promise is vital because team members are the heart and soul of the hotel industry, and the industry needs to ensure they feel safe, secure and cared for when they come to work each day.

Hilton has implemented anti-sexual harassment and anti-trafficking polices in place around the world, he added. The company has also deployed safety devices in hotels in New York, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Chicago, and that will expand to all of its U.S. hotels by 2020.

“In the years to come, we have to continue as an industry and company to stay intensely focused on supporting, investing in and caring for those that are making all this wonderful hospitality possible,” he said. “That’s all of our team.”

While many companies have mandatory anti-sexual harassment policies in place, the initiative includes a commitment to extend those to be translated into different languages to provide comprehensive coverage across hotels, Hoplamazian said.

He also noted that the initiative will have to evolve over time to stay effective, responding to things like changing technology or other practical concerns. Hoplmazian said Hyatt will assess, evolve and iterate procedures and hotel operations, even for something as rudimentary as how housekeeping carts are positioned in relation to a guestroom door while a housekeeper cleans the room.

The rollout of the program won’t be uniform across the industry, Nassetta noted, saying each company will have to adapt to their varied brands, property types and customer bases. What works in a 100-room Hampton Inn by Hilton in a small town is different from what works at a 3,000-room Hilton, he said.

“We don’t want the illusion of safety—we want real safety,” he said. “That means we’ll have to have the right tailored-fit solution for the device in the right hotels. We have to do the right education and training.”

As a franchisee and operator of several brands, Carrier said his company will look to the brand families for guidance for the different types of hotels it has. This won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, he said.

There has been a lot of interest in the safety devices, Maalouf said, but they shouldn’t overshadow the rest of the Five-Star Promise. The safety devices come into play when there is a problem, but he believes the primary objective is to avoid having a problem, which starts with creating a culture of safety and security.

“Yes, we want to talk about the devices, but the other four elements of the Five-Star plan are important,” he said. “They’re the ones that will prevent having to respond to the devices.”

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