Ancillary Services Can Bring New Profits, and New Risks

By John Welty Practice Leader, SUITELIFE, Venture Insurance Programs | September 10, 2017

Hotels provide a variety and growing number of ancillary services from child care to swim lessons to spa treatments. With so many different services being offered in one hotel, it can become increasingly difficult for hotel owners and operators to make sure they have the right protections in place in case anything goes wrong. Unfortunately, when a hotel is providing day care services, youth related events or intimate spa services, among other things, risks abound. In this article, we talk about the insurance coverages hotel owners and operators should consider when they add additional service offerings to their suite of hotel guest services.

Waivers of liability are an important critical risk management technique in protecting the hotel resort. Many believe that liability waivers are the first step in protecting the policyholder, the hotel. Properly written and structured liability waiver documents become the initial basis of defense in litigation. Enforceable liability waivers are the necessary first step to protect a hotel’s fitness center, spa, golf course, pool, etc. and other activities.

There are many web-based liability waiver templates and free recommendations that are helpful, but keep in mind the weight having the right protection carries. At minimum, a hotel should have its liability waivers reviewed by counsel. Each state, even jurisdictions within a state, have different laws, rules and guidelines that need to be considered. A one-size-fits-all waiver does not exist, regardless of what the internet might claim.

In a nutshell, waivers are documents that transfer risk back to the signee, the guest. Managing contractual risk is challenging at best, increasingly more difficult in the hotel industry. Plaintiff attorneys continue to chip away at the protections waivers seek to provide to hotel owners.

So, are waivers worth the cost of development and enforcement? Yes. In fact, a liability waiver carries much more value than the cost to develop it. The money saved by a hotel for even one claim now or in the future can be significant. A well written waiver may be the single best tool a hotel’s fitness facility, spa, pool, etc. has to manage risk. Remember that the waiver is meant to release the hotel from liability for injury resulting from ordinary negligence. A general or all-encompassing liability waiver that covers ‘all activities’ is not advisable.

Even the best structured and worded liability waiver cannot protect a hotel from gross negligence, reckless conduct or intentional acts. Gross negligence is defined by www.law.com as “carelessness which is in reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, and is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s right to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence, but it is shy of intentionally evil.”

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Hotel Spa: Oasis Unplugged

The driving force in current hotel spa trends is the effort to manage unprecedented levels of stress experienced by their clients. Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by demanding careers and technology overload, people are craving places where they can go to momentarily escape the rigors of their daily lives. As a result, spas are positioning themselves as oases of unplugged human connection, where mindfulness and contemplation activities are becoming increasingly important. One leading hotel spa offers their clients the option to experience their treatments in total silence - no music, no talking, and no advice from the therapist - just pure unadulterated silence. Another leading hotel spa is working with a reputable medical clinic to develop a “digital detox” initiative, in which clients will be encouraged to unplug from their devices and engage in mindfulness activities to alleviate the stresses of excessive technology use. Similarly, other spas are counseling clients to resist allowing technology to monopolize their lives, and to engage in meditation and gratitude exercises in its place. The goal is to provide clients with a warm, inviting and tranquil sanctuary from the outside world, in addition to also providing genuine solutions for better sleep, proper nutrition, stress management and natural self-care. To accomplish this, some spas are incorporating a variety of new approaches - cryotherapy, Himalayan salt therapy and ayurveda treatments are becoming increasingly popular. Other spas are growing their own herbs and performing their treatments in lush outdoor gardens. Some spa therapists are being trained to assess a client's individual movement patterns to determine the most beneficial treatment specifically for them. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will report on these trends and developments and examine how some hotel spas are integrating them into their operations.