The ADA and Your Responsibility as an Owner or Operator

By William A. Brewer III Managing Partner, Bickel & Brewer | January 08, 2012

Co-authored by Aravella Simotas, Associate, Bickel & Brewer

In 2010, the DOJ announced that it had entered into a precedent-setting agreement with Hilton Worldwide, Inc. calling for state-of-the-art accessibility changes to approximately 900 hotels within the Hilton network. The deal, struck after a system-wide investigation of Hiltonís operations, is significant because it is the first time that the DOJ required a hotel chain to provide current data about accessible guest rooms through its telephonic and on-line reservations system.

It is also the first time a hotel franchisor was compelled to ensure that all its franchised and managed hotels certify ADA compliance. These requirements highlight that the DOJ is expanding the scope of its application of the law. Therefore, owners and managers should be aware of their responsibilities under the ADA.

The DOJís Findings Ė Going Beyond the Concrete to the Virtual

The Hilton agreement was reached after a 90-day investigation of 13 properties under the Hilton brand, including economy, mid-market and upscale hotels. In addition to identifying typical architectural and communications barriers at the properties surveyed, the DOJ found that Hilton failed to provide the mandatory number of accessible sleeping quarters and allocate the proper number of accessible rooms among available classes of accommodations. More importantly, the DOJ concluded that individuals with disabilities are unable to review the hotel chainís inventory of accessible rooms or make a reservation for such accommodations using Hiltonís web-based and telephonic central reservations system.

As is common throughout the industry, Hilton accepts online and telephone reservations for the properties it owns or franchises. Hilton owns and operates its web-based and telephonic central reservations system, Hilton Reservations & Customer Care (HRCC) through a wholly-owned subsidiary, and requires all franchisees to accept reservations and prioritize reservations made through the system. Hilton launched HRCC over a decade ago, and operates nine contact centers worldwide that provide voice and Internet reservations and customer service to more than 100,000 customers per day.

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Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.