New Regulations on Service Animals in the Hotel Industry

By Kathleen Pohlid Founder & Managing Member, Pohlid, PLLC | May 08, 2011

Co-authored by Soy Williams, President, Soy Williams Consulting

A guest with a dog under leash asks hotel reception for a room. Since the guest does not appear to be disabled and the dog has no service animal marking, reception advises, "pets are not allowed." When the guest informs the dog is a disability service animal, reception politely inquires as to the guest's disability and the animal's certification. Is this a problem? Yes, it is. This scenario illustrates the importance of developing policies and staff training on the recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act to promote compliance under the ADA and foster exceptional guest relations.

A well-trained hotel staff can make the critical difference between fostering or chilling guest relations, as well as, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance or liability. This principle is especially true with respect to the issue of accommodation of the use of service animals by persons with disabilities. Hotel establishments should ensure they develop policies and train their staff on accommodation of service animals.

The ADA, enacted in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and their companions and applies to facilities of public accommodation including hotels. On July 23, 2010, new amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act were issued which include provisions relating to accommodation of service animals. Those provisions, published in the Federal Register on September 15, 2010, went into effect on March 15, 2011.

One area of potential ADA liability arises when employees, who are trained not to permit pets in an establishment, are not adequately trained on the ADA requirements for accommodation of service animals. Hotel staff should know the distinction: service animals are not pets.

A settlement between the U.S. Attorney's office and a Sacramento hotel last year shows the importance of hotel staff understanding this distinction. Despite being informed at check-in that a hotel guest was traveling with a service animal, the hotel allegedly treated the animal as a pet. The complaint alleged the hotel failed to modify its policies to allow service animals without requiring individuals with disabilities to pay the pet deposit, to assign them to a pet floor, and to subject them to the hotel's pet policy. Hotel staff must ensure that service animals are excluded from their pet policy.

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Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.