Guest Privacy - It's Your Business

Traditional Obligation of Hotels to Provide a Secure Environment

By Robert E. Braun Partner, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, LLP | December 23, 2018

On a basic level, the hospitality business is simple – as is often said, it amounts to putting heads in beds. But finding the heads to put in the beds is a complex process and requires hotel companies to find out a great deal of information about their guests. Gathering and processing that information provides not only opportunities, but creates obligations, one of the most basic of which is ensuring the security of guests' personal information.

That obligation has become increasingly complex due both to the vulnerability of hotel companies to breach, and the enactment of laws and regulations, worldwide, that impose additional burdens on hotels – the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, California's Consumer Privacy Act, as well as industry developments have further heightened the concerns with guest privacy and security

This focus must be seen in the context of two key issues: first, that hotels collect large amounts of data from their guests, both directly and through third parties; and second, that the hospitality industry has a checkered track record in protecting personal information. Both these demand that the hospitality industry take a renewed focus on data security

Data Collection

Hotels and hotel companies collect tremendous amounts of information, directly and through others, including vendors, credit card companies, websites, use of wifi and other systems. The fact that hotels are increasing reliant on technology – and responsive to guest demands for increased connectivity – increases both the amount of information and the risk involved in collecting and processing information.

The increasing incorporation of technology into hotel operations can lead to more breaches. Hotels are seemingly in a race to become more innovative – consider the trend to allow guests to bypass the need to go to the front desk by using their mobile devices to select a room, check-in, receive texts when their room is ready, and even unlock the door to their room. Guests are encouraged to use mobile devices to customize their stay by requesting items, ordering room service, planning activities, or purchasing upgrades. Not only does this trend increase the likelihood of a breach by adding new access points to the system; these programs collect even more data, making a hotel breach more valuable.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.