Ancillary Services Can Bring New Profits, and New Risks

By John Welty Practice Leader, SUITELIFE, Venture Insurance Programs | September 10, 2017

Hotels provide a variety and growing number of ancillary services from child care to swim lessons to spa treatments. With so many different services being offered in one hotel, it can become increasingly difficult for hotel owners and operators to make sure they have the right protections in place in case anything goes wrong. Unfortunately, when a hotel is providing day care services, youth related events or intimate spa services, among other things, risks abound. In this article, we talk about the insurance coverages hotel owners and operators should consider when they add additional service offerings to their suite of hotel guest services.

Waivers of liability are an important critical risk management technique in protecting the hotel resort. Many believe that liability waivers are the first step in protecting the policyholder, the hotel. Properly written and structured liability waiver documents become the initial basis of defense in litigation. Enforceable liability waivers are the necessary first step to protect a hotel’s fitness center, spa, golf course, pool, etc. and other activities.

There are many web-based liability waiver templates and free recommendations that are helpful, but keep in mind the weight having the right protection carries. At minimum, a hotel should have its liability waivers reviewed by counsel. Each state, even jurisdictions within a state, have different laws, rules and guidelines that need to be considered. A one-size-fits-all waiver does not exist, regardless of what the internet might claim.

In a nutshell, waivers are documents that transfer risk back to the signee, the guest. Managing contractual risk is challenging at best, increasingly more difficult in the hotel industry. Plaintiff attorneys continue to chip away at the protections waivers seek to provide to hotel owners.

So, are waivers worth the cost of development and enforcement? Yes. In fact, a liability waiver carries much more value than the cost to develop it. The money saved by a hotel for even one claim now or in the future can be significant. A well written waiver may be the single best tool a hotel’s fitness facility, spa, pool, etc. has to manage risk. Remember that the waiver is meant to release the hotel from liability for injury resulting from ordinary negligence. A general or all-encompassing liability waiver that covers ‘all activities’ is not advisable.

Even the best structured and worded liability waiver cannot protect a hotel from gross negligence, reckless conduct or intentional acts. Gross negligence is defined by as “carelessness which is in reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, and is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s right to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence, but it is shy of intentionally evil.”

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Coming up in April 2018...

Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.