Addressing Hotel Guest Discrimination Claims

By John Welty Practice Leader, SUITELIFE, Venture Insurance Programs | April 02, 2017

Discrimination has been a hot topic in the news lately. The "Hate Has No Home Here" campaign, women's marches, LGBTQ issues and Black Lives Matter protests are just a few examples of how Americans have been turning up the heat on what some view as existing but emerging threats to their race, gender, age, religion, or lifestyle.

On the corporate side, the discrimination issue has left virtually no industry untouched. In this article, we will examine the impact of the topic of discrimination as it continues to gain steam in the hospitality industry, in particular. We will also discuss examples, insurance coverages available as well as risk management tips.

With so many homeowners providing room rentals across the globe, it is not hard to imagine the variety of issues that can arise daily. A recent article in the New York Times, stated that Airbnb, the well-known home-sharing and short-term rental website, had seen numerous claims of discrimination by those renting out their homes – discrimination claims involving age, race, gender, and more. A Harvard University study found that the accusations stemmed from reports that those with "African-American sounding names" had a more difficult time securing rentals on the site.

Whether it may relate to gender identity, race, or even physical attributes, hairstyle, tattoos or political affiliation – it's fair to say the repercussions related to accusations of discrimination are more prevalent today. Discrimination may be an age-old global problem, but people are fighting it more vocally now than ever before thanks to social progress and technology. Consider the power of the civil rights marches in the 1960s and multiply that by technical advancements that help people share information, and the result is a quickly growing movement with much less time and expense than in years past.

Discrimination: The Facts

Gender identity alone encompasses self-image, appearance, behavior or expression, which is far different from what has traditionally been recognized more simply as one's legal sex documented on his or her birth certificate. When one considers this along with discrimination claims related to race, religion, age, and gender, there is no doubt discrimination is taking on a broader prevalence almost on a daily basis.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. 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.