When you protect your guests, you’re really protecting yourself.
That’s the lesson hoteliers learned that hard way from the bombshell verdict reached yesterday in the Erin Andrews lawsuit that’s serving her up an incredible $55 million for the 2008 crime. When you don’t take the safety and security of your guests seriously, you’re opening yourself up to a legal issue that can bring your company to its knees.
Though the defendants in the case -- Michael David Barrett and West End Hotel Partners -- have not yet said they will appeal, I cannot imagine with a company-crushing verdict such as this, they will not.
The jury in this case declared Barrett 51 percent at fault, requiring him to pay more than $28 million. West End Hotel Partners, owners and operators of the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University, was found 49 percent at fault and told to pay out more than $26 million.
The most shocking element of this case is not the size of the verdict, it’s the complete lack of security present at the hotel when this egregious crime was committed. Somehow it was possible for Barrett to have the considerable time needed to hacksaw and manipulate the door’s peephole and place a camera into it. With not a single person noticing it.
How disconnected was this staff? So much so, the employees at the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University committed one of the worst oversights a hotel can possibly commit. And now its owners must pay; rightfully so. Even so, I feel compassion for West End Hotel Partners’ executives who are removed from the property level and are now subject to the stupidity of their front-line employees. It's paying the price for the property-level staff’s inability to perform a basic function of their job. (perhaps this is an argument to raise wages?)
There’s no way West End executives trained staff to provide a guest’s hotel room to another individual; that’s counter to policy across the industry. Now everyone is going to pay for one moron’s mistake. Well, not Barrett. I am sure he doesn’t have nearly $30 million lying around. Especially since he spent time in prison for this crime. And while we’re at it, I am sure West End Hotel Partners doesn’t have that kind of money, either.
Hopefully for Andrews, there is a deep-pocketed insurance company to pick up the tab.
The bigger problem is the major reputation ding Marriott International will take during the next couple of weeks. Certainly not permanent, but the company will be under scrutiny for a wee bit. Marriott’s crackerjack team of PR professionals and America’s pathetically short attention span will rectify this issue before long.
This week though, Marriott must get through to a dimwitted public that even though its company’s name is on the building, it really has nothing to do with the incident at all. As we all know, it does not own or operate that property, and were actually dismissed previously by a Tennessee judge from being a defendant in this case.
Marriott has tried to remain quiet on this issues, putting out a statement recently debunking the myths surrounding their role in this case. It read in part, “Marriott International is sympathetic to the ordeal that Erin Andrews went through because of Michael David Barrett’s criminal conduct. We continue to be sensitive to the serious nature of this matter and remain committed to the safety and comfort of our guests.”
That was a whole lot of PR crafted into two short sentences. But in this case, I agree with them.
Now is the time for owners and operators to vigorously retrain staff on safety and security issues. Many Americans love to commit fraud, stealing $60 billion a year from Medicare alone, for example.
Protect yourself! Meet with, and speak to, every single employee on safety and security issues. And do it repeatedly and doggedly. With a massive verdict such as this, certain folks will try to pull scams thinking they, too, cash in. Don’t let that happen to you.
Do you have the necessary training tools in place ensuring your guests don’t just feel safe, but actually are? Let me know at [email protected] or on Twitter @TravelingGlenn.