Andrews plans to seek civil remedies against hotels and related parties involved, push for stronger laws against what her stalker did, and advocate for changes in all hotels that would protect the traveling public.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on 22 December 2009. The article was chosen as part of Hotel News Now’s look back at 10 years of the hotel industry.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The case of the privacy violation of Erin Andrews has been making headlines since this summer when word got out of the peeping Tom who managed to get confidential information about the ESPN reporter from various hotels and then record videos through her guestroom peephole.
But it wasn’t until the eve of her accused stalker’s guilty plea to a deal last week that Andrews’ intentions to improve hotel security came out in a USAToday blog. Her attorney, Marshall B. Grossman, of Los Angeles-based Bingham, McCutchen, said in the Hotel Check-In blog that Andrews plans to seek civil remedies against hotels and the related parties involved, push for stronger laws against what her stalker did, and advocate for changes in all hotels that would protect the traveling public.
“Any legislation attempting to address this issue would have to be pretty comprehensive,” said Stephen Barth, president and founder of HospitalityLawyer.com. “This issue has a number of variables … and I am not sure the public really knows what went on yet and how he executed the videos.”
Attempting to prevent this specific offense from happening again, it seems, is still a gray area. While front-desk confidentiality certainly will be addressed by hotels, the peephole tampering and filming is not fully understood by the hotel industry, according to Joe McInerney, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
“Our security committee has talked about it,” he said. “They have been debating how the footage could be obtained, with the way peephole was done, how that switch could have been done.”
But it’s not a time to overreact to the publicity of the case or Andrews’ suggested security improvements, McInerney said.
“We need to find out what [Andrews and her attorney] are looking for,” he said. “Many hotel companies have already instituted stronger employee training. There has been a tremendous amount of discussion.”
Industry response underway
Of three hotels allegedly involved in this case, two have been named: the Marriott Nashville (Tennessee) at Vanderbilt University and the Radisson Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A third hotel in Columbus, Ohio, has not been identified. Seven of the videos published on the Internet allegedly were filmed at the Marriott Nashville, according to media reports.
Jeff Flaherty, director of public relations at Marriott International, confirmed that the Nashville property was involved and was a franchised location, but declined to share ownership details.
He said the company responded to the situation and reviewed guest check-in policies, which have been modified so a request to be in a guestroom adjacent to another guest must be approved by the guest before it would be honored. Flaherty also said Marriott is working with housekeeping staff to try to better equip them with the ability to report anything out of the ordinary.
As for specific plans for her safety crusade, Andrews is focused on the criminal proceedings for now, Grossman told HotelNewsNow.com. “The plans are in the formative stage. The focus to date has been to resolve the criminal proceedings. They should be resolved with the sentencing in late February.”
Yet, it can hardly be assumed that every hotel would have made the same mistakes that led to these privacy violations.
“Erin may have found herself at properties that individually were not that sterling,” said Cathy Enz, the Lewis G. Schaeneman Jr. Professor of Innovation and Dynamic Management and a full professor in strategy at Cornell University.
“This isn't really a brand standard safety defect,” she said. “It’s much more intuitive; it’s the human element. That's the other problem—you have to sense what might be the problem, you have to be able to read people at the front desk. It could be someone creepy, but also they could be tired and disheveled.
Enz recently conducted a security study on the U.S. hotel industry. Read “US hotels vary in physical measures of safety.”
Deterring future stalkers
Among Andrews’ security improvement suggestions: cameras in every hallway; better employee training; guest consent before assigning adjacent rooms; and improved hotel peepholes.
Replacing every hotel peephole might not be economically feasible, but safety and security are always a priority, McInerney said.
However, improvement of security and safety in hotels will never be a bad thing, Enz said.
“In this situation, the hotel made several series of errors, and what she's asking for in terms of cameras in hallways—I wouldn't mind a little bit more security in the interior of hotels.”
It’s also important that women shouldn't become so comfortable they wouldn't be on guard, no matter what kind of hotel, Enz said.
“I still pay an awful lot of attention if other guests behave in a strange way,” Enz said. “The bottom line is that probably hotels need to step up their training and build some responsible protocols—revisit how they think about women travelers. I don’t believe [hotels] ever seriously understood that issue.”
No one had prepared for this kind of crime, Barth said.
“Most innkeepers were not inspecting their [peepholes] prior to this situation, but many are today. This issue may very well have existed previously but the word did not get out as much so the innkeeper was not aware of the risk. They are now.”
That publicity alone might be enough to deter potential stalkers from this kind of behavior and prompt hotel guests to be more aware of their surroundings.
“No amount of security is going to prevent a terrorist from getting in and doing what they need to do, same with a sexual predator,” Enz said. “What we hope happens—just like the shoe bomber, it irritates me every time I have to take off my shoes at the airport. But you know it won't be done this way with the next predator.”
Barth offered similar sentiments.
“Most industry safety and security practices tend to evolve over time and often, sadly, it is driven by an unfortunate incident rather than proactive anticipation,” Barth said. “This case follows that pattern.”