There are a number of transformative technologies that have been rolled out within the hospitality sector in recent years. Whether it’s mobile check-in, flat-screen televisions or the latest and greatest wifi solutions, these enhancements have greatly impacted the overall experience. But it’s a technology that guests don’t necessarily see that is currently front-of-mind for the industry and that is employee safety devices or ESDs.
This technology has been in the offing for a while, but it just received a major shot in the arm with last week’s announcement of the 5-Star Promise put forth by the AHLA and industry leaders. Employee safety devices are a major emphasis of the program, which is designed to enhance employee and guest safety and prevent sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. These ESDs—which enable associates to call for help regardless of where they are in the hotel—come with a range of options, including loud noise emitting features or emergency GPS tracking with the push of a button.
As you might expect, led by Hilton and Marriott, just about all of the major brands are behind this initiative. Both mega-brand companies are reportedly in the process of establishing ESDs as a brand standard throughout their systems by 2020 and they have already been deployed by Hilton in several major markets, such as New York, Washington, Chicago and Seattle.
The 5-Star Promise encompasses industry-wide training and materials on safety and security matters from the AHLA; ensuring mandatory anti-sexual harassment policies are in place in multiple languages; providing ongoing training and education for employees on identifying and reporting sexual harassment; as well as and broadening vital partnerships with wide ranging national organizations that target sexual violence and assault and trafficking and promote workplace safety, including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA) and Polaris.
The aforementioned steps are certainly critical elements in this campaign but arming hotel employees with the ability to communicate at a moment’s notice can be a game changer for the industry and its employees. So much of the onus now shifts to manufacturers of these devices.
Arne Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott International, emphasized that the devices need to be simple and they need to be compact enough that associates want to carry them and remain unencumbered during their work. In addition, they need to be reliable work regardless of the size and scope of the property.
While some of the aforementioned companies may make ESDs brand standards, there are plenty of smaller companies and hotels out there that are going to take a wait-and-see approach. And one of the key considerations for these smaller chains is undoubtedly going to be cost. AHLA President and CEO Katherine Lugar estimated the total cost for all the devices industry-wide would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for tens of thousands of employees. And it’s certainly no secret one of the big issues for properties, particularly as demand and RevPAR growth continues to flatten out, relates to costs as margins are being squeezed more than ever.
The reality is return on investment when it comes to technology is never easy to prove. However, in this case I think the return has to be measured very differently. You can’t put a price on creating a safer environment for not only your employees, but for guests as well. The early adopters on this will see the benefits, such as an enhanced ability to attract talent to work at their properties and improved employee morale. But just as importantly, it’s the right thing to do and that should be reason enough.