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 Hilton's 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 DOJ's Findings – 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 chain's inventory of accessible rooms or make a reservation for such accommodations using Hilton's 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: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. 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.