Hospitality Posts (140)
July 3, 2013
Patent trolling, a fairly new method of coercing money from large companies, has put several U.S. transit agencies in an uncomfortable spot. So-called patent trolls, otherwise known as patent assertion agencies, are companies that don’t actually produce anything for income; instead, they purchase patents and then demand licensing fees from other companies through legal coercion.
Two overseas patent trolls have recently advanced into the United States and targeted at least twenty public transit agencies, including train behemoth Metra Rail. Eager to avoid a lawsuit, Metra settled with these companies in mediation and ended up paying $50,000 to have the case dismissed. According to a Metra spokesperson, this settlement was much less than the cost of pursuing the case in court; public agencies often find themselves at a natural disadvantage in these situations.
In February, a patent assertion agency called Innovatio won part of a federal case in northern Illinois, in which the firm challenged the right of hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, and other small businesses to make wireless internet “available to their customers or us[e] it to manage internal processes.” The judge ruled that Innovatio’s suit was “protected petition activity under the First Amendment.” Innovatio then notified many of these companies that it plans to petition for a five thousand dollar judgment against each of them.
Congressmen, industry groups, and even the White House have begun a determined effort to curtail patent trolls. In the meantime, the legal and travel communities must stay vigilant and understand that patent trolling still presents a very real problem.
As more reports of bed bug incidents surface, travel managers may want to ask the following questions of a destination:
1. Has the hotel identified bed bugs on the premises in the last twenty-four months?
2. If so, what steps did the hotel take to eliminate the infestation?
3. What types of preventative training occur at the hotel?
4. How frequently does the training occur?
5. How often are the rooms and common areas inspected for bed bugs?
6. How frequently is the property proactively treated for bed bugs?
7. Who is the bed bug treatment provider?
The business of housing travelers carries with it the inevitable risk of acquiring a bed bug infestation. Realize that even the most luxurious hotels can’t reliably guarantee that you won’t encounter bed bugs during your stay. However, the hotel must still provide reasonable care to its customers; asking these questions will help you ascertain the level of care being provided and how diligently the hotel maintains it.
I’ve been noticing some trends in the feedback I hear from both food and beverage operators and the customers they serve. The operators know what works, and the customers know what they like. If you’re involved in the food and beverage business, I encourage you to review and consider the following best practices:
1. In addition to your traditional serving sizes, offer and price individual two- or three-ounce servings of beer, wine, and liquor (local and state laws permitting). Customers enjoy sampling different brands while also consuming alcohol responsibly.
2. Serve and price sampler-size desserts. Again, customers want variety, but also need to feel as though they are making a semi-healthy choice.
3. Write down your daily/weekly specials in a location visible from the table (or leave a printed version at the table), and don’t forget to include the prices. A server’s description of specials can be helpful if executed correctly, but that doesn’t happen as often as you would think. Customers have trouble remembering the descriptions—including the prices—which often discourages them from selecting a special. Bottom line: If you want a special to sell, write it down and price it.
4. Make it a policy that customers must guarantee reservations with a credit card. When people with reservations neither cancel nor show up, this causes a severe disruption in the reservation process and significant inconvenience for other customers. Create a clear cancellation policy and establish a fair price if a reservation is not cancelled in accordance with the policy; variables to consider when choosing an amount might include contribution margin, size of the reservation party, etc. In the spirit of aboveboard business practices, only charge if you cannot fill the reservation after making a sincere attempt to replace the cancellation. If operators adopt this approach, reservation processes will become much more efficient and wait lists will become more useful and popular.
August 6, 2013
By Dr. John Hogan, CHA CHMS CHE CHO
The two questions posed in this article were prompted by last week's news in the American media. They both deal with purchases that were substantially lower than the sale of the same assets over the last decade. I'm referring to the $70 million sale of the Boston Globe to John Henry, the somewhat laid-back owner of the Boston Red Sox, and the $250 million sale of the Washington Post to the founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos.
While nothing in his background suggests what kind of newspaper owner he will be, Henry has earned a reputation as a pioneering investor and businessman who has followed his own instincts in running an array of successful enterprises. After deciding to close his shrinking commodities company in 2012, Henry focused his attention on a number of other endeavors: the sports group that owns the Red Sox, a majority stake in the popular regional sports channel New England Sports Network, a successful NASCAR racing team, and a sports-marketing arm. In 2010, Henry made another big leap when his Fenway Sports Group paid $477 million for one of the most well-known brands in soccer: England’s Liverpool FC.
"The Boston Globe's award-winning journalism as well as its rich history and tradition of excellence have established it as one of the most well-respected media companies in the country," Henry said in a public statement. He also noted the "essential role that [the Globe's] journalists and employees play in Boston, throughout New England, and beyond."
Bezos, a much more visible public figure, shared similar intentions in an August 4 letter to the staff of the Washington Post: “[T]he values of the Post do not need changing….The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not the private interests of the owners.”
These questions came to mind because I have begun to wonder who is taking a serious look at hotels and hospitality these days. While there seems to be a continuing announcements of new brands, the lasting power of many of them remains a hopeful desire in the imagination of the founders. I am not being negative, yet one wonders what real changes are being developed that will lead to hotel companies offering more than an another additional commodity.
Elsworth Statler, Ralph Hitz, Conrad Hilton, Howard Johnson, Kemmons Wilson, Robert Wooley, and Henry Silverman each created organizations that were remarkably different than the competition over a century that spanned from 1898 to 1998. They were pacemakers who were not afraid of being labeled “contrarians." While each had challenges and problems, they overcame them with tenacity and conviction.
Our group at HospitalityEducators.com has the distinction of working with a number of hotel owners and senior managers in a variety of programs, and it is exciting to see their enthusiasm as they search for their dreams. Henry and Bezos are both high-tech successes embracing a medium from the past that favors a high touch. I, for one, wish them both well, and I also hope there are some innovators in our industry that are open to creative bursts of energy that can enliven our offerings. Success seems to be connected with action.
"Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don't quit." Conrad Hilton
As a threat assessment and management consultant, I often face the challenge of convincing employers to heed potential workforce “time bombs”, including those they can’t hear ticking just yet. Sometimes new clients seek me out because a “personnel land mine” just exploded inside their organization, seemingly without warning. The danger I’m referring to comes from domestic violence, and unfortunately many businesses don’t realize they have a problem until an assault occurs on premises, as it will for one in four large companies. Current estimates indicate that nearly two thirds of all women have been physically, sexually, or severely emotionally abused by an intimate partner. Men can also be abused, but statistics show that the majority of victims are female. One study in particular tells us that 74% of abused women are employed, and for many, the maltreatment received at home continues at work (1). For example, abusers frequently call victims on the job to check up on, harass, or threaten them. They may show up in person to do the same, bothering or intimidating customers and other workers as well. In fact, current or former husbands and boyfriends commit over 14,000 violent incidents in the workplace each year (2). For the hospitality industry, the risks may be particularly elevated. Why? First, hotel lobbies and restaurants are generally open to public access, making it easier for an abuser to reach his target. Second, the hospitality field is often a place where younger, more transient workers find employment. Many are in lower paid, entry level positions and more than half are female, all factors that correlate with victimization. Third, in the hospitality industry, domestic violence can occur on a number of fronts, involving line workers, executives, customers, or overnight guests. Employers must take action on multiple levels to prevent violence in their workplace.
Although workplace attacks are never completely avoidable, there are concrete steps companies can take to protect employees and customers, while simultaneously reducing health care costs, absenteeism, and legal risks. Organizing and implementing a corporate domestic violence response program is easier and more cost effective than you might think. Here are three compelling arguments for the investment, beginning with the most urgent:
Of all the things that could possibly cause a female worker’s death on the job, from falls to electrocution, in most years the leader of the pack is homicide. In roughly 20% of these murders, the alleged killer was the victim’s current or former intimate partner (3). Such was the case in Orlando, FL on September 27, 2012. That was the day Michelet Polynice brought a handgun to the Quality Suites Inn where his ex-girlfriend Carlene Pierre was working at the front desk. Two weeks before, Polynice had been served with a restraining order for hitting Carlene with his car in the hotel’s parking lot. Carlene and her co-worker Vanessa Gonzalez-Orellanes were shot and killed instantly. Polynice then drove to the Westgate Lakes Resort parking lot where he shot and wounded Carlene’s best friend Jean Guerline before killing himself. This tragedy is, of course, a worst case scenario, but its occurrence proves that such an attack (or even a larger one) could be looming just around the corner.
Research has shown that most corporate security directors are already aware of the threat domestic violence in the workplace poses. In fact, in a recent survey, 94% of them ranked domestic violence as a high security problem at their company (4). Yet oddly, another study found that although a significant majority of corporate executives recognized the devastating impact of domestic violence in the workplace, only 13% thought their company should address the problem. (5) If the safety of their employees and the general public is not enough to sway the C class, perhaps this next point will get their attention:
Being abused at home (and possibly at work) can result in a number of problems for employees, and thus multiple costly issues for their employer. For example, a victim of domestic violence may sustain injuries, causing them embarrassment and pain which then produces absenteeism and health care costs for their company. When they do return to work, they may arrive late or leave early, because their abuser has kept them up all night or sabotaged their childcare and transportation plans. While on the job, victims can suffer from anxiety, humiliation, and an inability to concentrate, due to threatening phone calls or visits from their abuser. The victim’s co-workers experience difficulty when these things happen as well, because they may be worried for her safety, frightened for their own, or resentful that they have to take up her extra work. Over time, these concerns can produce low morale and a high turnover rate. When translated to dollars, the cost of abuse becomes colossal: U.S. employers collectively pay out more than $5.8 billion each year in lost productivity, absenteeism, and health care costs related to domestic violence(6).
Employee victimization isn’t the only part of the equation that affects your bottom line. Although you may not know who they are, statistics say there are probably batterers working for your company right now. And according to one study, their abusive habits often crossover into the workplace. In addition to displaying bullying tendencies and aggressive behavior on the job, 78% of them admitted to using company resources and equipment to harass, threaten, or check up on their victim. (7) Furthermore, 42 percent admitted being late to work, and 48 percent had difficulty concentrating on the job as a result of their abusive behaviors. (8)
Curious about how much domestic violence may be costing your company? Check out the Texas Health Resources Domestic Violence Cost Calculator at https://www2.texashealth.org/dv/. Your accountants may be in for an expensive surprise.
If you’re starting to see the benefits of addressing domestic violence, but still aren’t sure you could get company wide buy-in, consider bringing on the only team members who might seal the deal: the corporate lawyers. Attorneys have a keen understanding of liability issues, and therefore can help to drive home the following point: neglecting to take action against domestic violence could leave your company open to massive legal and financial risk. To begin with, there is the General Duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which says employers must take steps to protect their workers from acts of violence. If the employer fails to do so, the result may be a substantial OSHA fine, or worse. Jury awards for inadequate security suits average $1.2 million nationwide and settlements average $600,000. (9) Considering that domestic violence makes up a quarter of all workplace violence, it’s an area well worth an employer’s focus. For example, when Francesia La Rose’s employer State Mutual Life Assurance Co. failed to take adequate action to protect her against a specific threat, they paid in both blood and money. Francesia was murdered by her former boyfriend at her work site, causing not only heartbreak for her family and trauma to her co-workers, but an $850,000 settlement by the company as well (10).
Other legal considerations include the possibility of a discrimination claim, an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint, or a wrongful termination lawsuit from a victim who has been fired, not hired, or passed over for a promotion due to the fact that he or she is a victim of domestic violence. A company can also be sued if it is determined that they violated a victim’s privacy, ignored harassment from other employees toward the victim, imposed substandard or punitive job changes, or failed to allow a legitimate absence under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Don’t forget about those batterer employees either. Successful lawsuits in many states have proven that companies can be held liable for the dangerous acts of employees if they don’t use reasonable care in hiring, training, supervising, or retaining them when harm was in any way foreseeable.
A final but significant point for the hospitality industry to consider is that they are responsible not only for their employee’s safety but also that of customers, guests, and others invited onto their premises. For instance, if a hotel desk clerk issues a copy of a woman’s room key (without permission) to her estranged husband, who then enters the room and harms her, the hotel can held accountable. And no one wants to imagine the cost in lives and lawsuits that could accompany a domestic violence related mass shooting in the workplace.
As leaders of our country’s workforce, directly or indirectly employing 1 out of every 17 Americans, the hospitality industry is in prime position to effect change and take a stand against domestic violence. Not only might lives be saved, but individual companies could profit through both hard and soft benefits. If you are considering addressing domestic abuse within your workplace but don’t know how to begin, please read part two of this article in the next issue when I explain the steps required to create an effective, in-house domestic violence program.
1) Report on Costs of Domestic Violence, Victim Services of New York, 1987
2) Workplace Crime 1992-1996, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 1998.
3) Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) 2003 and U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Facts on Working Women, No. 96-3, October 1996
4) Domestic violence can become public matter in the workplace.Amy Pavuk and Arelis R. Hernández. Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, FL. September 28, 2012
5) Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, September 2007
6) The Cost of Violence in the United States. 2007. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA
7) Employers Against Domestic Violence. http://employersagainstdomesticviolence.org/effects-on-workplace/workplace-dv-stats/
8) Maine Department of Labor. 2004. Impact of Domestic Offenders on Occupational Safety & Health: A Pilot Study.
9) Perry, P. 1994. Assault in the workplace. Law, May 1, 41.
10) Burke, D.F. January, 2000. When employees are vulnerable, employers are too. The National Law Journal.