Hotel Confidential

Article excerpt

Byline: Jacob Bernstein and Jesse Ellison; With Mike Giglio and Allison Samuels

It's the dirty secret about business travel. Many married men expect sex along with their room service, according to a NEWSWEEK poll. But will the Strauss-Kahn scandal change the rules of the game?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Won't go down in history as the next president of France, but he may well be remembered as the man who made the "hospitality industry" a lot less hospitable.

More than a few business travelers think of sex as a hotel amenity, like free shampoo or chocolates on the pillow, and before Strauss-Kahn's perp walk on charges that he sexually assaulted a cleaning woman, most hotels looked the other way. Not anymore. After an Egyptian businessman was carted out of New York's swanky Pierre hotel by the NYPD late last month for allegedly sexually assaulting a maid, the hotel said it will arm all its room attendants with panic buttons. The Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South is considering doing the same; already, general manager Scott Geraghty reports that at daily meetings management is "providing specific safety guidelines to all our housekeeping staff and reiterating the importance of remaining vigilant and reporting anything that may raise suspicions while on the job." Meanwhile, the biggest union in the hospitality industry, UNITE, is calling for hotels to provide sexual-harassment training to all employees.

All of which has left business travelers a bit skittish as they try to figure out what constitutes acceptable behavior. Is it OK to let a room-service attendant set your breakfast table while the door is shut? Does booking an in-room massage raise suspicions from the concierge that you might be looking for something more? Is it even OK to chat up the attendant in the elevator? Maybe not, to hear a Regency Hotel employee in New York, who says male guests sometimes mistake her friendliness and smiles--which are job requirements--as flirtation.

If the questions are knotty, it's because men have a tendency to be naughty when they travel. A new NEWSWEEK/Daily Beast Poll of 400 married men found that 21 percent admit to wanting to cheat on their spouse while traveling on business--and 8 percent have actually done so (the majority of them repeatedly). Six percent of the respondents admitted to having paid for sex while traveling on business. Still others acknowledged that they've hit on the help: 3 percent of the men in NEWSWEEK's poll said they'd made a pass at a hotel worker (more than half were rebuffed), and 2 percent had sex with them. Even if they're not having sex, many businessmen let it all hang out when they travel--to judge from the 12 percent of married men who indicated they're not always fully dressed when they let staffers into their rooms. And about that massage? Eleven percent of the married men who've had one say that sexual contact was involved--though not a single respondent would cop to having initiated it.

Andria Babbington, who worked for 17 years as a hotel housekeeper and is now a union representative in Toronto, says she still remembers the first time it happened to her. At 18 years old and just 95 pounds, she was sent to a room to deliver a blanket, and arrived to find the guest completely naked, lying on top of the bed. "He asked me to touch his genital area, offered me money for it. I said, 'No, my job doesn't go that far.' He spent a couple minutes trying to get me to come closer and tuck him in?.?.?.?Eventually I just dropped the blanket on the edge of the bed and ran out." Yet when Babbington informed her supervisors, she found little support. "They laughed," she recalls. "Everyone thought it was funny, and the reason they thought it was funny was because this wasn't the first time they'd heard it. It was a 'welcome to the club'-type thing."

Certainly, powerful men behaving badly at hotels is hardly a novelty. NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colo. …