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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Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.