Hotels & Tattoos: Policies Are Shifting for Staffers and Guests

Dec 9, 2016

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Considering three in 10 Americans now sport tattoos, according to a recent Harris Poll, you’d think hotels might relax their current workplace policies around body art. But most major hospitality brands still prohibit visible tattoos on front-line staff — though they may not own up to it publicly.

“There’s still a stigma, and people still make assumptions,” says Trip Alba, marketing director of San Diego-based Tat2x, which produces tattoo “cover-up sleeves.” Its biggest customer for bulk orders: hotels, cruise companies and airlines — all “customer-facing business with brand images they want to maintain,” he said.

Alba, whose company sells “tens of thousands” of the moisture-wicking, skin-toned sleeves every year, says he’s not surprised the industry’s being so tight-lipped. “Companies can’t discriminate based on age or sex, but they can based on appearance,” he said. And while workplace tattoo taboos don’t apply to guests, some travelers still experience an unintended consequence: a less-than-welcoming environment for the visibly inked.

“I get it all the time, and I’m the marketing director for a multimillion-dollar company,” says Jason Mangold, director of marketing for Hart and Huntington, the body-art empire chronicled in A&E’s 2006 series “Inked.” Hart, aka Pink’s husband, is a co-founder. “You get pigeonholed as someone who doesn’t have money, or as a gangster.”

Mangold, whose professional purview includes four tattoo shops, a clothing line and a sponsored motorcycle racing team, says the cold shoulder from hotel staff isn’t subtle, either. “It means not having the door opened by staff when they’ve opened it for other people, or not getting a response as quickly as a guest who’s not heavily tattooed.” On his frequent business trips, Mangold says he favors indie properties like The Standard over chain hotels.

Cultural taboos in certain countries require some hotels to prohibit visible tattoos even for guests, never mind the staff. An August 2015 TripAdvisor review of the Grand Hyatt Seoul claimed there was “discrimination toward tattoos” when hotel staff allegedly told a guest her tattoos “were considered offensive and threatening. I can’t believe an international paying guest can be denied access to services due to discrimination of something so minuscule,” she wrote. Hyatt didn’t return our request for a comment.

In Japan, where tattoos once meant connections to the Yakuza, or organized crime, 56% of hotels prohibit visible tattoos in bathing facilities, according to a survey by the Japan Tourism Agency.

Sensing an opportunity stateside, some independent properties are inking up in-house. The Redbury, which markets itself as boho-chic, will feature an onsite tattoo artist at its new Manhattan property opening in early 2017. The beachfront Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach, CA, recently launched an “Ink & Stay” package that includes a $100 credit to a local tattoo parlor along with aftercare needs like Lubriderm, an ice pack and an anesthetizing bottle of tequila. Back east, the Asbury, a retro-cool new hotel in Asbury Park, NJ, is encouraging staff to fly their freak flag. “Everyone can express themselves as long as no tattoo is offensive,” a hotel spokesperson said.

Even buttoned-up Ritz-Carlton has relaxed its policy on visible tattoos as part of a “de-cookie-cuttering,” according to one report. While the brand didn’t return a request for comment, its VP for Global Brand Marketing, Lisa Holladay, told Forbes that younger consumers are turned off by customer service that seems scripted and inauthentic: “Ritz-Carlton has relaxed its employee dress code and grooming standards as well — even allowing visible tattoos in some cases.” It’ll be interesting to see if more chain hotels follow their lead.

Body piercings, you’re up next.

We’re curious: Have you ever been told you have to cover your tattoos to work somewhere? Share your stories, below.

Featured image courtesy of alvarez via Getty Images.

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