Panic buttons or electronic safety devices (ESDs) are rapidly becoming a necessity for hotels across the United States, not only from a sense of corporate responsibility for staff and guest safety, but also from escalating legislation in a rapidly growing number of states and municipalities. It is inevitable that other countries will soon follow suit and 2020 will undoubtedly prove to be a landmark year for the rollout of this technology in the global hotel industry.
I've discussed this topic at length in the past few quarters in terms of what support infrastructure you will need, whether to go for a loud or silent device and why the cheapest models are highly unlikely to be the best. Near to the end of this article, I go further into why I'm so gung-ho for this particular subject matter. Namely, there is the potential for significant long-term profits from this investment, but for now let's focus on only the next 12 months.
As it stands right now, there are ESD legislations in New York City, New Jersey, Miami, Illinois, Washington State, Las Vegas and several key Californian cities, altogether representing quite the influential group within the country. The renowned Five Star Promise (https://www.ahla.com/5star) is pledging more still to come onboard soon. What we haven't seen thus far is the active enforcement of those policies. However, this year is bracing to be the time when drastic fines are handed out en masse for noncompliance.
Most territories have their fines structured in a tier-like manner, beginning with a warning followed by incremental penalties starting in the low five digits, then progressing sharply upwards with the possibility of an injunction. All told, these are nonnegligible sums, but in speaking with owners, some feel that simply paying the fines in perpetuity is the cheaper route, as compared to maintaining a new hardware system.
The problem with this mentality is that it doesn't account for the peripheral damages, the most salient being both the chance that a recalcitrant hotel's insurance premiums will go up or, worse, the risk of unwanted negative press. Just imagine the fallout for a property that refuses to implement a panic button solution even though the municipality mandates it, and then a housekeeper is assaulted and the media catches wind of the story. While ESDs certainly take some budgetary carving and hard work to set up, the prospect of such a brand reputation nightmare should be cause alone to do something.
"The time is now for the hospitality industry as a whole to embrace a holistic safety culture, not just because it is being increasingly enforced by legislation, but because we have an inherent responsibility to employees and guests to provide a safe and secure environment," said Parminder Batra, founder and CEO of TraknProtect, a leading provider of safety button solutions for the hotel industry. "Our company was founded on that principal and we are strong advocates of panic button implementation in every property, even if it is not our solution that is ultimately chosen. It's about much more than profit. It's our mission to help hoteliers protect their most precious assets: human lives."
While those who look purely at the financial performance of a hotel will want to evaluate ESDs in terms of fines, insurance costs and reputation effects on ADR or occupancy, there is another strong emotional benefit that hotels are already experiencing. Wearables that are purpose-built for security empower your team because they now feel safe enough to comfortably interact with all guests.
That said, not only are these devices a good morale boost because they act as a physical embodiment that the corporate team cares for the safety of all employees, but they also work to improve guest service. A room attendant who knows the hotel can dispatch security personnel at a moment's notice will be far less inclined to shy away as guests walk by in the corridors, and they will be more forthcoming to engage with them and oblige any on-the-spot requests made while they are on the floor. In this sense, regardless of any law you need to comply with, ESDs should be on your docket for implementation.
To further explain some of these benefits, Yasmine Mustafa, the CEO and Co-Founder of ROAR for Good, another major ESD provider for hospitality, added, "Implementing ESDs is a great recruiting tool and shows prospect employees you care about their wellbeing. While we're still conducting studies, we believe it'll lower staff turnover, increase employee satisfaction and productivity, enhance the culture of the workplace, and that's just the beginning. We're seeing the 'curb cut' effect occur where ESDs are benefiting guests in distress by getting them help immediately. There's also an untapped opportunity in promoting the existence of ESDs to convert guests, not to mention how they will be able to reduce liability insurance for hotel owners down the line."
To build upon this thought, connecting the dots between panic button deployment and heightened service delivery presents a lucrative opportunity for trailblazing hotels, in that making safety part of the organizational DNA will help to create a marketable point of differentiation for the brand. In this 'safety culture', it's not just about acting defensively, but encouraging your entire organization to continuously think of new ways to protect your guests and your staff, as well as the entire community.
As an extension of corporate social responsibility, properties that put a strong emphasis on safety will ultimately attract better job applicants and be able to grow RevPAR due to the value inscribed by all the additional features implemented as part of this greater vision. Panic buttons are a great first step in this long-term plan because they improve worker wellbeing. Almost as importantly, any guest who sees an ESD on an employee will feel a subtle sense of reassurance in knowing that the entire staff can instantly respond to a potentially hazardous situation.
If you look at how alternate accommodations are changing how consumers approach hospitality, traditional hotels will need to play to their strengths in order to justify their nightly rates to future guests. While some home sharing listings nowadays give the option for daily cleaning services - a core and irreplaceable operation for any hotel - having onsite security, ESDs and immediate response protocols backed by solid technology systems will be far more difficult for these new competitors to replicate. This is why I'm a proponent of the panic button trend; it's not just about employee safety but turning safety into a core driver of financial success.
With all these reasons to get onboard, it is worth ending by listing off several key vendors in this space so you have some juice to start your own inquiry as to what's best for your property. Here are four and feel free to reach out to me directly to discuss your particular situation in more depth.
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The world’s most published writer in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the managing director of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry also sits on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. He is a much sought after public speaker. His published work includes five books: “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015) and “The Llama is Inn” (2017)..and “The Hotel Mogel” (2019).