Hammer about to fall for panic button noncompliance
Hammer about to fall for panic button noncompliance
11 MARCH 2020 9:31 AM

Here’s why hoteliers should be on board with implementation of electronic safety devices, whether they’re forced to be or not.

Panic buttons or electronic safety devices (ESDs) are rapidly becoming a necessity for hotels across the United States, not only from a sense of corporate responsibility for staff and guest safety, but also from escalating legislation in a growing number of states and municipalities. Other countries inevitably will soon follow suit and 2020 will undoubtedly prove to be a landmark year for the rollout of this technology in the global hotel industry.

There is the potential for significant long-term profits from this investment, but for now, let’s focus on only the next 12 months.

As it stands, there are ESD legislations in New York City, New Jersey, Miami, Illinois, Washington State, Las Vegas and several key Californian cities, altogether representing quite the influential group. The Five-Star Promise is pledging more to come onboard soon. What we haven’t seen so far is the active enforcement of those policies. However, 2020 is bracing to be the time when drastic fines are handed out en masse for noncompliance.

Potential losses
Most territories have structured penalties for non-compliance in tiers, beginning with a warning followed by incremental fines, then progressing sharply upwards to the possibility of an injunction. All told, these are nonnegligible sums, but in speaking with owners, some feel that simply paying the fines in perpetuity is the cheaper route, as compared to maintaining a new hardware system.

The problem with this mentality is that it doesn’t account for the peripheral damages, the most salient being the chance that a recalcitrant hotel’s insurance premiums will go up or, worse, the risk of unwanted negative press. Just imagine the fallout for a property that refuses to implement a panic-button solution though the municipality mandates it, and then a housekeeper is assaulted and the media catches wind of the story. While ESDs certainly take some budgetary carving and hard work to set up, the prospect of such a brand reputation nightmare should alone because to do something.

Being proactive
Those who look purely at the financial performance of a hotel might want to evaluate ESDs in terms of fines, insurance costs and reputation effects on average daily rate or occupancy. However, there is another strong emotional benefit that hotels are already experiencing. Wearables that are purpose-built for security empower your team members because they now feel safe enough to comfortably interact with all guests.

Not only are these devices a good morale boost, because they act as a physical embodiment that the corporate team cares for the safety of all employees; they also work to improve guest service. A room attendant who knows the hotel can dispatch security personnel at a moment’s notice will be far less inclined to shy away as guests walk by in the corridors, and they will be more forthcoming to engage with them and oblige any on-the-spot requests. In this sense, regardless of any law you need to comply with, ESDs should be on your docket for implementation.

Developing your safety culture
To build upon this thought, connecting the dots between panic-button deployment and heightened service delivery presents a lucrative opportunity for trailblazing hotels, in that making safety part of the organizational DNA will help to create a marketable point of differentiation for the brand. In this “safety culture,” it’s important to not just act defensively, but also encourage your entire organization to continuously think of new ways to protect your guests and your staff.

As an extension of corporate social responsibility, properties that put a strong emphasis on safety will ultimately attract better job applicants and be able to grow profits due to the value inscribed by all the additional features implemented as part of this greater vision. Panic buttons are a great first step in this long-term plan because they improve worker well-being. Almost as importantly, any guest who sees an ESD on an employee will feel a subtle sense of reassurance in knowing that the entire staff can instantly respond to a potentially hazardous situation.

With alternative accommodations changing how consumers approach hospitality, traditional hotels will need to play to their strengths to justify their nightly rates to future guests. Some home-sharing listings now give the option for daily cleaning services–a core and irreplaceable operation for any hotel–but onsite security, ESDs and immediate response protocols backed by solid technology systems will be far more difficult for these new competitors to replicate.

This is why I’m a proponent of the panic button trend. It’s not just about employee safety but turning safety into a core driver of financial success.

One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “The Llama is Inn” (2017) and “The Hotel Mogel” (2018). You can reach Larry at larry@hotelmogel.com to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.

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