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    What's the "Risk" of Empowerment?

    Definition of empowerment:

    The granting of the authority or power to perform various acts or duties.


    A key theme of my lodging industry training and conference presentations is that we are in the human travel experience business, not the room or unit rental business. Guests are paying us for the intangibles of space and time — that is to say, use of the space within our rentals for a period of time.

    What’s unique about the vacation rental niche of lodging is that guests are emotionally invested in their experiences. Not only are they spending their own money, but they have much higher expectations and desires for their experiences to be memorable, fun and exciting. Therefore, we had better be especially good at making sure the time they spend in our space goes well.

    As someone who trains all segments of lodging, I find the vacation rental industry to be the most challenging of all for some obvious reasons. First, the accommodations we rent out are much larger and more complex than a traditional hotel or resort room. Second, we have more guests per accommodation. Finally,

    guests tend to stay much longer than a traditional hotel stay, so there is more time for more things that could potentially break down.

    Therefore, providing responsive service is extremely important for a vacation rental company to generate positive guest experiences that result in repeat guests who turn into social media promoters. And, if we don’t have responsive service, vacation guests have more free time than business travelers while in-house to log into social media and post a rant.

    It is absolutely essential for vacation rental companies to empower their frontline staffs to resolve guest complaints by providing personalized solutions that meet their individual needs.

    Empowering your staff means pushing the power to make decisions down the organizational chart to those who are literally closest to the guests — those who are out in the field and the first responders of this industry. Typically, this means the maintenance technicians, housekeeping inspectors or guest services agents located in an on-site office away from the main rental company headquarters. These individuals often respond after-hours and on weekends when it is not possible to reach out to a manager or leader to make an executive decision. 

    Empowering those first responders to make quick decisions helps minimize the negative impacts of gaps in service. Plus, an empowered frontline employee who responds promptly and reacts with creative solutions can generate goodwill out of what might otherwise result in a stinging review. Similarly, empowered colleagues who proactively offer personalized above and beyond services to guests’ special needs can turn indifferent guests into raving fans and social media promoters.

    However, empowering frontline staff and encouraging proactive, responsive solutions does carry some degree of risk that their actions might create some unexpected liabilities. Although the likelihood is small, the potential damage of a staff member opening the door to uncovered liabilities could conceivably be catastrophic. Therefore,

    while vacation rental leaders should embrace empowerment, they should also set boundaries on what is and is not possible to do for a guest.

    Since liability laws are vague and liability insurance coverage varies greatly, the first step is to hold a leadership meeting where you list of all of the actions that staff has taken or could have potentially taken to resolve guest complaints and meet special needs. Then set a call with your company attorney or a trusted insurance advisor to discuss if such actions might create unreasonable liability.

    Finally, hold a training session with the entire team of leaders and frontline staff to encourage empowerment while also clarifying boundaries. Train them to do as much as they reasonably can to the extent possible, while not crossing the line to creating unnecessary risk.

    Here are some examples of gray areas that would be wonderful to be able to do for a guest, but which it would be prudent to first discuss with legal advisors.


    Potential Empowered Solution

    Potential Liability: Would This Be Covered?

    Guest’s vehicle has a dead battery or flat tire.

    Maintenance tech provides a jump-start or changes tire.

    Car’s electrical system is damaged or the car falls off the jack, damaging frame.

    Guest requests help with a babysitter.

    Staff member offers to babysit or to have a family member babysit.

    Issues with child. (Health issues, injury or claim of misconduct.)

    Guest requests a local tour or excursion.

    Staff member offers services on their day off, such as a ride on their boat or to lead them on a mountain hike.

    Guest injury.

    A member of the party is left in the vacation rental home while others are out and urgently needs a ride (to a pharmacy or store about to close). There is no Uber or taxi service.



    Staff member offers a ride in a company or personal vehicle.

    Guest injury.

    Guest requests someone to cook and no catering company is available.

    Staff member offers catering services on their off day.

    Food poisoning or allergy issue.


    Smart vacation rental leaders should seek to create a company culture where every staff member feels empowered to make good decisions and look for opportunities to exceed guest expectations when guests are facing a problem or quandary, without crossing into risky areas.

     From VRMA Arrival, Issue 3, 2019


    Doug KennedUntitled design (37).pngy, KTN President, has been the lodging industry’s leading expert in hospitality sales and guest services training for over two decades. Over the years, he has conducted corporate-sponsored training for most of the major hotel brands. His monthly sales training articles inspire readers worldwide. Email Doug Kennedy at doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com.

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