By Doug Kennedy

With most hotels around the globe requiring guests to wear facemasks in all public areas these days, it has fallen upon the frontline hospitality staff to enforce this policy, which in many cases is also municipal ordinance or decree. Although most guests comply voluntarily, a small minority are voicing their displeasure but still complying. An even smaller, but very vocal minority of hotel guests are challenging our staff’s authority to require compliance in a way that is confrontational and often demeaning.

From what I am hearing, it’s the front desk staff who are most often the receptors of a verbal barrage, as they are most likely to first encounter unmasked guests as they enter the lobby. Yet of course it could be any staff member who passes through the public areas.

Therefore, it is important to provide them with training they need to de-escalate these encounters in the spirit of hospitality.  Here are some tips to share with your guest contact staff.

Express empathy and then apologize to defuse the encounter.  As with all KTN training on service recovery, the first recommendation we have is to deflect the guest’s anger with a sincere statement of empathy, personalized and contextualized to their situation. Here are some examples.

  • Empathize: “I can understand how you feel, and to be honest sir, I don’t like wearing a mask either, especially for a full shift here at the hotel…” or “Indeed, Ms. Smith, I know how you feel and I wish we didn’t have to wear one either while on duty, especially with it being so hot this time of year…”
  • Apologize: “…and I apologize for the inconvenience this pandemic situation has caused.” Or “…I apologize for this situation that is beyond my control here in town.”


Defer to a higher authority. Let the guest know that it is a higher authority who is mandating this requirement, such as a hotel brand and/or the local, state, or national decree.

  • “Here in Anytown, the (Mayor, Council, Judge…) has is requiring our business to comply and we must do so to avoid fines (or risk being closed down). Unfortunately, we are not able to welcome any guests who do not comply.” Or
  • “Because the safety of our guests and hotel staff is a top priority here at Hotel Brand X, our leaders are requiring all our guests to comply in order to protect those guests who are especially vulnerable to this pandemic.”


If they continue to object: First, just return to the first step and continue to express empathy and apologize. After you cycle through this a few times, most guests will relent and agree to comply.

If they still resist, speak more firmly such as:

  • “As it is sir, I am just not able to allow you to proceed inside, so may I kindly ask once again that you please put on this mask?”


If they still do not comply, it may be helpful to have a manager, or even a co-worker speak with them and take them through the same conversation.

The above steps will most likely resolve the issue, yet some guests will flat out refuse. As a manager, be sure to let your staff know where the line is drawn. Will they allow the guest to cancel their reservation without penalty? When should they call for security or law enforcement? Hopefully though, when frontline staff are trained on the previous de-escalation techniques encounters will not come to this point.

Finally, this is a great time to remind the frontline staff that bringing out the best in others, brings out the best in ourselves. Remind the staff that although there will always be a small percentage of the traveling public who present as difficult guests, the vast majority of those who complain are simply nice people who are going through a rough spot. When we maintain our composure, guests are more likely to comply, rather than when we let our emotions get the best of us.