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Five Minutes with Kurt Knipper

September 19, 2019

Even in the constant ebb and flow of the busy Miami Beach hotel lobby in the city’s vibrant North of Fifth neighborhood, Kurt Knipper stands out. He’s tall, with a ready smile, and he listens intently, speaking carefully and with a clear-eyed understanding of a subject he’s clearly passionate about. During our conversation, I’m reminded of the Richard Powers quote about how the best arguments in the world not being able to change a person’s mind – the only thing that can being a good story. This is because, in common with most good salespeople, TraknProtect’s Vice President of Sales is a talented storyteller and on the evening we met he clearly had a lot on his mind. Miami Beach is in the throes of safety button legislation, a sweeping edict affecting staff safety at the city’s hotels, but one that’s leaving the community with some understandable questions. Perhaps few people can help untangle the reasons behind the legislation and it’s pressing implications better than Knipper, and on the eve of the city’s compliance deadline we caught up with him to find out more. Below are edited excerpts of the conversation.

TnP: What’s the principal concern you see for the Miami Beach hotel community, and how do the lessons learned here apply to the legislation being instigated in other cities and states ?

KK: Well, I think Miami Beach is where the best good intentions of safety button legislation meet the very real day to day concerns of our hotel partners here. Even with legislation now passing, there’s not a lot of framework or understanding around it. We especially value the partnership we enjoy with The Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, and they have really been front and center in supporting the ordinance while reflecting the best interests of their membership. Key to their response has been the championing for more time for the hoteliers prepare, and perhaps more fully understand, what is being required of them.

TnP: Is the deadline itself significant?

KK: Yes, very, because it is the law and that in communities like Miami Beach, as with many others around the country, there is now a requirement to have a safety button solution in place. Not complying with these codes can result in an unacceptable exposure to potential liability issues and litigation. And there are other really significant consequences for violators; damage to the hotel reputation and brand, and, not least of all, a resulting culture where the hotel’s staff can feel undervalued and disillusioned. This is an industry where recruiting and training the kind of employees that can uphold the values and expectation of management and guests can get expensive.

TnP: Why do you think there has been some uncertainty by hotels in adopting a safety button policy? Is cost a concern?

KK: Sure, of course there’s a cost involved, but we’re now seeing many hotel managers educating themselves to include these expenditures into their budgeting. Solutions like ours aren’t cost prohibitive, plus the fact that it’s so easily installed there’s no inconvenience to guests with rooms being out of service. No, I think the bigger concern is confusion over what the hotels need to do to be in compliance with the various ordinances. Many of the clients I’ve spoken to are even unsure about what constitutes a safety device – a whistle for example, isn’t compliant with the language in the law.

TnP: Are you seeing any leadership from an industry point of view that might be helping hotels better understand these issues around employee safety?

KK: I think that’s the major opportunity in initiatives such as the Five Star Promise that the major brands and the AHLA have created. They’ve made the decision that, reputationally, they want to embrace employee safety as part of their culture and they really want to be owners of a higher safety standard. Following their lead, we’re seeing hotels all over the country adopting safety and welfare measures regardless of laws because it just makes good business sense.

TnP: Are you finding any commonality, or any specific property types or locations that might make them more vulnerable to employee harassment or assault?

KK: The unfortunate thing is that these incidents can happen anywhere. You can’t say ‘Oh well that just happens in resort properties, or urban hotels,’ when we’ve seen instances of it occurring literally anywhere. One of the advantages that TraknProtect is able to offer is that our solution can be easily implemented in select service, or full-service hotels, boutique or luxury properties, so we’re really able to address pain points at every category. We also work with third-party partners who can easily integrate our solution to any hotel requirement or infrastructure. But to go back to Miami for a moment, I will say is that Miami is a hub of all things cultural and is unfortunately one of those cities particularly susceptible to human trafficking. We’re finding that the utility of a safety button isn’t in just keeping personnel safe, it also serves to provide another valuable warning opportunity for any threat to the hotel’s security. Hotel employees; housekeeping, bell staff, room service, they’re some of the most conscientious and caring people and they have unique insights into all kinds of suspicious behavior such as human trafficking, smoke detection – active shooter alerts, there’s a whole range of security and safety issues where a button can be used as an alert. The most common use we’ve found is to summon help for slip and falls or injuries, either to staff or because of the health emergencies of guests.

TnP: You mean ‘if you see something say something?’

KK: Yes, or more accurately, if you see something press your safety button.

TnP: Do you think an employee safety program has a benefit for a hotel’s guests too?

KP: Well let me ask you a question: Would you prefer to stay at a hotel that had a safety button program place, or one that didn’t? Housekeepers have really been the touchstone for this movement, but the hotels we work with totally get it; it’s creating and building on an improved safety culture for everyone, for hospitality as a whole. There’s a whole new generation of hotel guests who are making some very socially aware decisions on where to stay, and what hotel they’ll book.

TnP: In any conversation about hotel safety it seems difficult to separate the idea of safety buttons from an understanding of what kind of technology platform they use.

KP: We work hard at helping customers with those kinds of problems – and yes, I think we have an advantage in that TraknProtect is so easy to install and maintain we can help overcome some the anxiety around that. I’ll also tell you that I was at a client hotel recently; the whole client team was there, technical staff and management, along with the local union representative to test their platform for the first time, so there was some anxiety around that. When they saw it working, and with it the understanding that they’d made a positive step towards a safer environment for their hotel and their team members, there were smiles, high-fives and back slapping all around. That’s not a story about technology, that’s a very human response, and that’s really why we’re here doing what we do. It’s just a very human story.