Sexual Harassment and the Hospitality Industry: A Triple Threat

By Dana Kravetz Firm Managing Partner, Michelman & Robinson, LLP | March 18, 2018

The drumbeat of the #MeToo movement continues to shine a critically bright light on sexual misconduct and its shocking prevalence in the workplace. Without question, no industry is immune from incidents of sexual assault, and that includes the hospitality space. Indeed, given the unique nature of their operations, hoteliers must address the specter of sexual misconduct on their premises on multiple fronts. Call it a triple threat: sexual assaults of staff by guests; sexual harassment of hotel and resort employees by coworkers and supervisors; and sexual violence in guest rooms involving customers and third parties.

Housekeeping and the Threat of Sexual Assault

There may be no category of hospitality employees more vulnerable to the threat of sexual assault than housekeepers, whose job it is to enter guest rooms, most often alone. A relatively recent study of harassment in the workplace by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals why.

Housekeepers At Risk

The EEOC identified specific factors that put a workplace more at risk for harassment, and many of them are particularly relevant to the housekeeping experience. For instance, workers who do not speak English and may not know their rights may be more frequently subject to exploitation. Likewise, "low-status workers" are especially susceptible to harassment, as are those whose success relies upon customer satisfaction. There is more. According to the EEOC, sexual misconduct is more likely to occur in isolated workspaces. When a worker – like a housekeeper – is physically isolated (say, in the privacy of a guest room), with no witnesses in sight, they become easy targets for harassers. And finally, sexual assaults may be more commonplace in workplaces, such as a hotels and resorts, where the consumption of alcohol is tolerated.

The pervasiveness of these risk factors, in combination, creates a "perfect storm" for the sexual harassment of hotel staff, which explains why groping and even more extreme predatory behaviors are reported all too often – by housekeepers, among others. Some numbers in support of this claim: up to 58% of hotel and resort workers assert that they have been sexually harassed by a guest, and in excess of 49% have had guests open doors naked, this according to a 2016 survey on sexual harassment in the hospitality industry conducted by Unite Here Local 1, which represents 15,000 hospitality workers in Chicago.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.