AH&LA, hotel CEOs pledge to improve worker safety

Housekeepers at Marriott International equipped with employee safety devices. Photo credit: Marriott International

The American Hotel & Lodging Association is partnering with major hotel brands to execute on the “5-Star Promise,” a pledge to provide greater safety and accountability to hotel employees across the U.S. using employee safety devices, enhanced training programs and expanded resources.

The CEOs of Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, IHG, Marriott International and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts joined AH&LA president and CEO Katherine Lugar and chairman of the board Mark Carrier, president of B.F. Saul Company Hospitality Group, in making the announcement in Washington, D.C. According to Lugar, the 5-Star Promise was developed to combat sexual harassment and assault of hotel workers across the U.S., issues she said transcend competition and demand cooperation.

“This is an important commitment that is being made for workers whose job requires them to go room to room,” Lugar said.

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True to its name, the 5-Star Promise consists of five pillars the industry can use to protect workers:

  1. People culture: The AH&LA will continue to provide training materials to the hotel industry on safety and security, as well as expert guidance through partnerships with law firm Buckley Sandler and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
  2. Policy reform: Ensuring mandatory anti-sexual harassment policies are in place with every hotel partner, and in multiple languages.
  3. Training and education: Continued training for employees on how to identify and report sexual harassment going forward.
  4. Saftey devices: Providing employee safety devices at U.S. hotels to ensure hotel workers feel safe on the job.
  5. Ongoing partnerships: The AH&LA also is partnering with organizations such as the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking and Polaris for training and advisory purposes.

“I am a father of six daughters, so initiative is important and meaningful for me on a personal level,” Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, said during the event. “We are and always will be in the business of people serving people. Our team members are the heart and soul of our business, and it’s important that we stand here today promoting a culture of people.”

Calling for Help

One of the primary ways hotels plan on protecting workers is through the employee safety devices. These devices include personal panic buttons that, when triggered, will notify the property of an incident and will prompt a response from operators. Each of the five CEOs attending the announcement revealed these devices will be installed at all of their U.S. hotels by 2020.

Many hotels already have begun to install such devices. Mark Hoplamazian, Hyatt's CEO, said his organization has installed ESDs at 120 of its owned hotels over the past year, and it now is expanding the rollout to franchised hotels. Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott, similarly said that his company will make these devices a brand standard in its franchised hotels, along with new policies relating to the 5-Star Promise.

“These devices are simple to use. At the press of a button, someone will come,” Sorenson said. “With these devices, we can protect employees in a way that gives us more confidence.”

In estimating the cost of the rollout, Lugar said it is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Sorenson said the installation will be part of the operating cost of a hotel, and while their implementation is a priority, it will likely take some time to complete the rollout based on the size of a hotel and how much these devices will affect its operation. After all, if a hotel is too small to have a security department, calls for help will have to be received elsewhere, such as the front desk. Nassetta agreed.

“What works in a 100-room Hampton in a small town won’t work in a 3,000-room Hilton tower,” Nassetta said. “We need the right solution tailor-made for the right hotels. We want to know everyone in the building can respond.”

While much of the discussion centered on the devices employees can use to protect themselves, Elie Maalouf, CEO, Americas at IHG, said it was important not to forget the new training and policies that will be utilized by hoteliers in order to make the initiative a success.

“The policies, the training, the commitment, the education, that’s what creates a culture of safety and security,” Maalouf said. “The device comes into play when there is a problem. The primary objective we have is to avoid having a problem. When you look a the situations that are pervasive, it’s because there wasn’t a culture of security, of safety, of respect. There wasn’t the training, the policies and the education. The other four elements of the 5-Star Plan… are the ones that will prevent us from having to respond to the devices.”

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