ESPN sportscaster (and third place winner of Dancing with the Stars) Erin Andrews has filed a civil lawsuit for $1.2 million against seven hotels (including both Marriott and Radisson) for negligence, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress as they enabled an ambitious peeping tom to film her naked.
Illinois insurance salesman (creepy!) Michael David Barrett stalked Ms. Andrews as she traveled the country, learning which hotels the reporter was staying in–as well as her room number–from hotel staff. Barrett would then check into the adjacent hotel room and alter Andrews’ peephole in order to film her naked and distribute the clips on the internet. He has since been charged, found guilty of interstate stalking, and sentenced to more than two years in jail.
Typically, hotels brandish non-disclosure agreements and front desk employees will refuse to give out names or room numbers of guests. Andrews says she is suing the hotels “for making my most personal moments public.” The hotels named in the suit include the florid Marriott Nashville at Vanderbilt University, the Radisson hotel in Milwaukee, and an another unnamed hotel in Columbus, Ohio. Regardless of the success of the case, the hubbub is likely to increase enforcement of privacy policies at such middle-rate hotels.
Until that day, here’s a small travel tip for hotel guests: if you don’t want people peeking into your room, cover the peephole with a piece of tape,
a wad of used chewing gum, a clump or wet tissue, a post-it note covering the peephole, or whatever. It’s that simple.
For further reading, check Robert K. Cole’s excellent analysis of this situation.
(Photo: Flickr/Steve Garfield)
The travel industry suffered its own setbacks over the past few years, but thankfully, it’s rebounding and more U.S. travelers are finally packing their bags and heading out of town for a much-needed vacation. They’ve saved their money, planned carefully and are ready for a few days of rest and relaxation in their destination of choice. They’ve chosen your hotel as a place to call home for the duration of their vacation – don’t you want to make a good impression?
Over the past six months I’ve reviewed dozens of hotels and witnessed endless customer service strategies – both bad and good. Recently, however, I’ve witnessed some strange behavior from hotel employees that have lead me to question the employee competency of some otherwise wonderful hotels. Sure, I understand there is a learning curve, but at the end of the day it’s essential that hotel employees are educated to answer even the most common questions. So, I think it’s time for a quick review (from one hotel aficionado to another).
I’ve worked for years in and out of hotels on reviews and inspections, and with every hotel I’ve walked into one thing remains constant: first impressions are key to a successful stay. The following five points are common sense, but they can make the difference between a happy guest and a loss in revenue.
- Security is sacred: We’re taught at an early age to protect our investments. In the hotel industry, your guests are your investments and it’s your responsibility to protect them. During a recent hotel stay in Santa Monica, a friend came to visit me at the hotel where I was staying for one night. She went the front desk and asked the associate to ring my room. Instead, the front desk associate gave her my room number and sent her up the elevator – no call, no questions. Security fail! After the incidents surrounding the Erin Andrews stalking case, hotels should be even more protective of their guests and employees. Unfortunately, this hotel didn’t see the problem (even after I pointed it out) but the problem is now the hotel’s: they just lost two very valuable would-be clients.
- Obey the rules: Just as hotel guests are expected to obey rules, hotels are expected to enforce the rules. Guests pay for more than a place to sleep – they pay for comfort, amenities and ambiance. So, when a hotel allows the rules to be broken, everyone loses. Case in point: At a recent hotel in the Bahamas the hotel posted various signs telling guests it’s required to cover up when entering the lobby from the pool/beach area, and children under the age of 16 are not allowed in the spa area. Unfortunately, guests have a habit of making themselves at home when they check into hotels, but it’s the hotel’s responsibility to enforce the house rules. This means telling guests who are standing in their thong bikinis in the lobby to cover up, and reminding guests who make spa appointments that children are not allowed. While I can appreciate a buff man in a swimsuit, I also appreciate the atmosphere of a beautiful hotel lobby, and I certainly don’t want a teenager texting on her cell phone (complete with built-in camera) in the spa dressing room.
- Keep it clean: There’s nothing worse than finding a used bar of soap in the shower or a half-eaten tray of food in the room when your guest first arrives. Hotels: do your part to ensure the rooms are clean before giving out a key. While a guest might be annoyed that their room isn’t ready upon arrival, they’ll be more annoyed that their room isn’t clean when they walk in. The same theory holds true for hotel restaurants and bar areas. I recently stayed at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, which means all meals were part of the price. The breakfasts and lunches were buffet style, which would have been fine if the restaurant staff had kept an eye on the food and try tables. Unfortunately, cheese was congealing in front of me and empty trays of grease were left to harden on the buffet. Food should be presentable and appealing – this isn’t camp, this is a vacation, and your guests deserve more than leftovers and scraps at the table.
- A little help goes a long way. It’s unrealistic to assume one person at the hotel can solve all problems, but a simple acknowledgment of the problem and a call to the right person will keep your customers at peace until the issue is being resolved. I was sadly without hot water during a recent hotel stay. I called down to the front desk to ask for someone to look into the problem, and was told I had to call another extension. I called that other extension and no one answered. When I called the front desk back, I was told to call back later because maybe ‘he’s out running errands.’ A simple “We’ll put a call into maintenance for you” would have sufficed. Remind your employees of the typical customer service responses which, while standard and won’t produce an immediate fix, will at least provide your guest with some assurance that the problem will be taken care of in an appropriate amount of time.
- Honesty really is the best policy. Things can go wrong. It happens. No one is perfect, not even a 5-star resort, but when things do go wrong there’s only one way to immediately remedy the problem: honesty. From something as simple as a room not being ready on time to solving problems on a larger scale, when employees lie in an effort to appease a guest, it simply makes matters worse. Give guests the benefit of the doubt — when you’re honest with them, it’s likely they’ll be more accepting of the change, however big or small.
Let’s state the obvious: some people will never be satisfied, and it’s likely you’ve had a few of those people waltz through your hotel over time. I’m sure your employees did everything they could do to please those demanding guests, and on behalf of the less-demanding crowd, we thank you (and we know it’s not easy). Just remember: while mistakes will happen, there are ways to fix the problem without losing a loyal customer.
After ESPN reporter Erin Andrews hears her stalker Michael David Barrett plead guilty in federal court for stalking her in hotels, she plans to plead to hotels to implement stronger safety laws.
The Andrews case made headlines earlier this year when it was reported that she was stalked and filmed nude in the hotels she stayed in for her job. Now, Andrews plans to take her fight one step further and advocate for safer security measures in all hotels that would protect the traveling public. According to an interview with Andrews’ lawyer Marshall Grossman of Bingham, McCutchen and USA Today’s Barbara De Lollis, Andrews plans to petition hotels for safety improvements including:
- Hallway cameras on every floor
- Improved employee training. According to previous reports, Barrett was able to access Andrews in hotels because reservations agents would reveal her room number and assign Barrett the room next door.
- Understanding ‘red flags’ when it comes to potential stalking situations or safety violations.
- Seek guest consent before assigning adjacent rooms.
- Improved peepholes; peepholes that are likely more expensive, but cover the hole inside the guestroom.
[via USA Today]