As people decide to stay home — out of choice or necessity — during this coronavirus outbreak, many businesses are struggling to navigate turbulent waters. Many shops and businesses are either pausing activity or limiting services. Essential businesses are staying open, but some are slowing operations. Marriott is one such example — and, unfortunately for the company’s reputation, it has not been going well.
If they can, hotels are staying open for business. States like Pennsylvania consider hotels “essential.” But the global slow-down of travel for business and leisure is hurting the hospitality industry's bottom line. Some hotels are closing temporarily due to lack of demand.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) estimates that 4 million jobs have already been eliminated, and hotels that are remaining open are below 20 percent occupancy.
Speaking at a recent meeting between hotel CEOs and the United States president and vice president about an industry bailout, Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO said:
“The impact to our industry is already more severe than anything we’ve seen before, including September 11th and the great recession of 2008 combined. The White House and Congress can take urgent action to protect countless jobs, provide relief to our dedicated and hardworking employees, and ensure that our small business operators and franchise owners — who represent more than half of hotels in the country — can keep their doors open.”
A $1 trillion stimulus package is likely to be on its way to American businesses and individuals, but employees are still on shaky ground.
Companies like the Pebblebrook Hotel Trust have laid off thousands of workers, but Marriott International has decided to take a different route with furloughs. Of its 174,000 workers around the world, the company plans to furlough tens of thousands, according to news reports.
While furloughs can enable an employee to jump back into his or her job when it becomes available again, one furloughed employee discovered a key downside. Without being laid off, workers are often not able to collect unemployment benefits, even though, with zero hours of work, the paychecks on which they depend have disappeared.
Marriott claims that furloughed employees will continue to receive healthcare benefits during their time off, but the specifics are not so supportive.
Employees are receiving letters saying that their healthcare benefit deductions will be taken from their reduced paychecks. And if the deductions exceed their paychecks, Marriott will bill them the difference — a public relations black eye for the company as its CEO, Arne Sorenson, made almost $13 million in total compensation in 2018, according to one source.
While an employee has a right to seek alternative employment when he or she is furloughed, finding work in this rapidly deteriorating economic climate is a disastrous prospect.
Meanwhile, a Marriott spokesperson told CNN: “We are working quickly to mitigate the impact to our business while also focusing on assisting our associates, our guests and our owners. While the ultimate impact is difficult to predict at this time given the fluidity of the situation, we remain confident in our long-term prospects."
On March 13, Sorenson sent an email newsletter telling customers the company is continuing to be guided by its core value to “take care of our guests and associates.” The message noted that customers should feel confident when booking and that cancellation policies were becoming more flexible.
Even so, many guests have taken to Twitter to share their not-so-accommodating experiences with Marriott customer service. One individual was quick to share his story of how he was refused a refund for his booking deposit even though he had been exposed to the virus.
The company’s actions at the moment are far from aligning with Marriott’s stated standards and principles. With a total of nearly 1.4 million rooms, Marriott is the world’s largest hotel company. The actions it takes matter and have the potential to lead the industry.
But the company isn’t doing that.
In this time when the masses are feeling uncertain about their health and finances, employers should strive to be that valuable support system. And if they decide not to be, that can add unnecessary doubt, and even fear, to an already precarious situation.
It’s difficult to hide company actions from the public in this digital age. A search on Twitter for #Marriott reveals plenty. What’s better for humanity and business is to be transparent and do the right thing from the start.
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