Major hotel chains are introducing so-called “panic buttons” to help ensure the safety of their workers.

And while the term “panic button” may indeed evoke a highly descriptive tone, Marriott International at least would like everyone to refer to them by the less alarming moniker Associate Alert Devices. The technology is also referred to as Employee Safety Devices (ESD).

“We like the idea of alerting way more than we like the idea of panicking,” said Erika Alexander, chief lodging services officer for the Americas for Marriott International.

“This is an interesting journey we’re all on here," she added. "Safety and security has always been a big priority for Marriott, so this topic is not new to us, but these associate alert devices are just one area that has clearly evolved recently.”

Marriott rolled out the devices in several test markets over the past year and is primed for a chain-wide rollout through 2020 in the U.S. and Canada as soon as the hotel giant settles on a technology provider that can deliver devices on a large enough scale to satisfy the chain’s diverse property portfolio.

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Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Wyndham are also among the major hotel chains offering the devices for their staffs, as is Caesars Entertainment, Red Roof Inn, Best Western and AccorHotels.

“Over the course of the past year as the technology has evolved not only have we been testing and co-creating with our housekeepers, we’re in the middle of submitting RFPs to different vendors with different devices with different levels of technology,” Alexander said.

“We’ve got 50-story hotels that are concrete from top to bottom, we’ve got sprawling acreage in our beautiful resorts and we have small roadside inns, so we have a vigorous process underway to serve the diversity of our portfolio," she added. "We’ve got 6,700 hotels globally and more than 5,000 in Canada and the U.S.”

Marriott said it hopes to offer the devices globally in the near future.

“As we get this RFP completed, one of things we’re excited about is we’ll have a brand standard for both Marriott-managed and franchised hotels,” Alexander said.

‘Panic Button’ Device Functionality May Vary Across Properties

Personal security devices being rolled out at major hotels range from Wi-Fi-enabled fobs that alert security personnel to the staff member’s location to simpler units that broadcast a loud shrieking sound in locations that may not have the technology required for a reliable Wi-Fi solution.

The idea of alert devices for hotel staff is not new, as New York City has required them since 2012 in the wake of scandal after a housekeeping worker accused French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room. Charges in that case were later dropped.

Hotel workers in Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are also provided with the devices.

The hotel industry trade group the American Hospitality and Lodging Association (AHLA) is also behind the effort, announcing a 5-Star Promise pledge in conjunction with the major brands that seeks to provide all hotel employees in the U.S. with ESDs along with enhanced policies, trainings and resources that aim to increase hotel safety, including preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault.

Fighting Sexual Assault a Top Priority for Labor Unions and Hotels

Combatting sexual harassment and assault has been a key labor issue in ongoing contract negotiations with labor unions, and in particular with Marriott International and the various UNITE HERE! union groups, which settled contracts with nine downtown Chicago hotels as of Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

According to Alexander, the importance of providing a safe environment for its employees goes beyond labor negotiations and straight to the core principals of Marriott, however.

"The Marriott core guiding principle is if you take care of associates then they’ll take care of guests,” she said. “Housekeepers and banquet servers and groundskeepers—hourly associates are the heart and soul of the business and keeping them safe is truly what’s been there since the genesis of the company.”

And besides offering safety to staff members, equipping staff members with Associate Alert Devices will also augment the security of guests, according to Alexander.

“Not only does [the deployment of devices to hotel associates] make them feel not alone, it allows them … to provide an added layer of safety and security for the guest as well,” she added.

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