Monthly Archives: February 2010

Hospitality Industry Risk: Many Hotel Spa’s Are Underinsured With Spa Owners Liable For Injuries To Clients

(From a SmartMoney.com article)  With the growth of the spa industry, consistent standards have become an afterthought. Industry associations do exist, but membership is strictly voluntary. The biggest one, ISPA, represents about 3,200 spas worldwide, but its application process isn’t exactly grueling. Members must agree to abide by the association’s “standards and practices,” which include requirements such as clean treatment rooms and staffers trained in CPR.

They also have to adhere to a code of conduct, which is a list of spa-goers’ rights and responsibilities, says ISPA’s executive director, Lynne Walker McNees. But in the end, spa industry regulations vary from state to state, so there’s no uniform set of guidelines.

As a result, many spas carry inadequate insurance, says Mary Lynne Blaesser, a certified insurance counselor at the Marine Agency, which has provided coverage for about 15,000 spas. “In most states, the only insurance spas are required to carry by law is workers’ comp,” Blaesser says.Without professional or general liability in effect, an injured customer would have to seek recourse or reimbursement directly from the spa owner rather than an insurance company. However, most leases require that lessees carry general liability coverage for such things as trip and fall claims.

The combination of spotty insurance and almost nonexistent refund policies means one thing for dissatisfied customers: Good luck collecting if something goes wrong. And that applies even for the most egregious mishaps. Leandros Vrionedes, a personal-injury lawyer in New York City, had a client whose day-spa facial turned into a horror show. “The esthetician oversteamed the client and applied the wax immediately after,” Vrionedes says. “She wound up taking part of this person’s face off — several layers of skin were removed. The spa argued that it was the fault of the product and we didn’t have a case. We argued that it was the procedure.” After five years of legal wrangling, including trial to verdict and an appeal, the woman received an undisclosed settlement — which her lawyer describes as “not enough.”

Even when a spa does carry insurance, consumers may have a tough time obtaining compensation for injury.

“Some insurance companies will fight you tooth and nail,” Vrionedes says. Don’t assume, though, that you have no case just because of some lengthy waiver you signed when you arrived at the facility. According to Vrionedes, some of these documents will hold up in court, but others won’t — especially those that are all-encompassing. If the release “absolves the spa of absolutely everything in the world,” he says, courts will sometimes void the agreement.

http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/deals/10-things-your-spa-wont-tell-you-10378/?page=3

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Hospitality Industry Health Hazards: Hotels Must Maintain Health And Safety Plans To Protect Against Bed Bug Infestation, Mold, And Other Health Hazards

State inspectors have the authority to shut down an establishment that poses an "imminent health hazard" involving fire, flood, sewage backup, rodent infestation, bed bug infestation or "any other condition that could endanger the health and safety of guests, employees and the general public."

Becky Andrews checked into the Super 8 hotel in Bonner Springs last fall as she prepared to watch her son act in a play at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

For Andrews, a retired high school chemistry teacher from Colorado, the night turned into an ordeal.

“I had this sensation of things crawling on me, but I never saw anything,” she said. “It took a long time for me to realize what was going on.”

After several “itchy-twitchy” hours, she said, she captured a live bug in a plastic cup and took it to the front desk the next morning to complain.

She said that when the hotel didn’t appear to take her seriously, she filed a complaint with the state.

A Kansas Department of Agriculture inspector visited the hotel on Nov. 3 and confirmed that Room 406 was infested with bed bugs.

The hotel was ordered to fix the problem, and a follow-up inspection was scheduled for Dec. 3. But the follow-up never occurred.

The state announced that day it was suspending its lodging inspection program because of budget cuts.

Hotel law

In Kansas, hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts are governed by the Lodging Establishment Regulations, a 54-page document that regulates the water temperature in hot tubs, the liners used in ice buckets, and the markings that delineate the deep and shallow ends of hotel swimming pools, among other things.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture licenses more than 800 lodging facilities, and until last year each of those was required to submit to an annual inspection focusing on safety and sanitation issues.

Under the system, each violation was noted in an inspection report, and follow-up inspections were scheduled when problems couldn’t be corrected immediately. About 11 percent of last year’s inspections required follow-up visits.

In addition to the routine inspections, the Department of Agriculture last year investigated 132 lodging complaints, 35 of which involved bed bugs. Inspectors said 11 of the bed bug complaints — including the one submitted by Andrews — were valid.

State inspectors have the authority to shut down an establishment that poses an “imminent health hazard” involving fire, flood, sewage backup, rodent infestation, bed bug infestation or “any other condition that could endanger the health and safety of guests, employees and the general public.”

Last year, imminent health hazard violations were issued 24 times. Six of the violations involved bed bugs.

Constantine Cotsoradis, deputy agriculture secretary, said that discontinue-operations orders, particularly in bed bug cases, usually apply only to areas of a hotel affected by the problem.

“We want to protect the public but do as little economic harm as possible to the business,” he said.

State law gives regulators the authority to impose civil penalties on establishments that experience repeated violations. Last year such a penalty was imposed only once — a $1,350 penalty assessed to the Knights Inn and Suites in Leavenworth.

During its final 12 months of operation — December 2008 through November 2009 — the state’s lodging inspection program sent inspectors to nearly 800 businesses, and most inspections uncovered at least some violations.

The businesses collectively were cited for 3,251 violations including soiled linens, moldy showers, and unsafe levels of chlorine in swimming pools.

The most common violations — those dealing with smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers — accounted for nearly 20 percent of the total.

http://www.kansas.com/2010/02/21/1191720/no-state-money-for-hotel-inspections.html

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Hospitality Industry Privacy: Hotels Must Safeguard Guests’ Privacy And Provide Better Hotel Security As Erin Andrews Incident Demonstrated

On October 12, the television magazine Inside Edition aired a segment in which they visited several hotels to reserve a room next to an employee who was posing as a hotel guest. In each case, the hotel was unaware of the purported sting operation. In each case, without challenging the inquirer, the reservationist complied.

  As a result of the unauthorized video release on the Internet and the suspect’s demonstrated pattern of stalking Ms. Andrews, several news media organizations are calling or visiting hotels and asking for specific rooms, next to specific registered guests (typically undercover media producers posing as registered guests) to see what security measures are in place at the hotel. Commonly referred to as “tabloid journalism,” various media outlets have resorted to these stings to entrap hoteliers doing something wrong and to boost their viewership ratings.

  On October 12, the television magazine Inside Edition aired a segment in which they visited several hotels to reserve a room next to an employee who was posing as a hotel guest. In each case, the hotel was unaware of the purported sting operation. In each case, without challenging the inquirer, the reservationist complied.

So, what can and should hotels do to avoid falling prey to investigative reporters and more importantly ensure the safety and privacy of their guests? Here are eight steps to get started:

  1. ESPN's Erin Andrews

    Immediately start discussing this case with the hotel’s front desk and reservation staff. Make sure that everyone realizes the widespread magnitude and fallout of the privacy violation of Ms. Andrews. If you need more info, “Google” Erin Andrews, and you can get all the latest news from the Internet. In fact, just by searching the keywords “hotel” and “peeping tom” more than 213,000 hits will be revealed in Google, almost all referring to the Erin Andrews incident. And of course the name of the hotel where the incident occurred appears in nearly every hit.

  2. Revisit basic hotel security and privacy procedures, and do some staff training at your hotel. Now more than ever it is appropriate to ask more questions of guests, challenge suspicious people on your property, and evaluate your security cameras, security policies, locking entrance doors, elevator and stairwell access, etc. And expect the stings by investigative journalist to continue into the foreseeable future.
  3. Empower hotel employees to challenge requests for rooms next to other guests. Hotel staff members should ask the requestor why they would like a specific room, and what their relationship is with the person they are requesting to be housed adjacent to. Do not grant the special room request without contacting the other guest and securing their permission; ask them if they know the person who is requesting the special room. We all hate to say “NO” to anyone for anything, but times have changed, and a hotel must take a more proactive stance in guest safety and privacy.
  4. To the extent possible, do not block VIP guests or celebrities in rooms until the morning of arrival. Only advise non-management employees about the name and room number of the celebrity on a “need to know basis” and never in advance of arrival. This will help prevent the identity and location of the celebrity from becoming known outside the hotel and individuals seeking accommodations near the celebrity’s guestroom.
  5. Be more curious and suspicious, and allow staff members some leeway in also being more careful. Do not criticize or punish employees for being too safe. Remember, it is a different world out there from a few years ago. Safety and privacy must be the first priority of every hotel nowadays. Guests expect nothing less.
  6. If a guest complains, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU DID SOMETHING WRONG! I have to keep reminding my clients of this fact. Sometimes guests “think” they know a law, or industry standard, when in fact many do not know what they are talking about. Hotel employees have every right to ask more questions of a guest who is requesting a room next to someone else, to refuse to connect a caller to a room number where they do not know the registered guest’s name, or to ask questions of a guest loitering around the hotel.
  7. Change your mindset from an immediate “YES” to a more carefully thought out response to guest requests that places safety and privacy at the forefront. Start evaluating guest requests more carefully, and how they may apply to guest security issues. “YES” is always the appropriate response if the request does not compromise the safety and privacy of others or the hotel. If it does, then the correct response is a courteous “NO” with the offer of a suitable alternative (if possible).
  8. Remember, Management retains the right to ask any news media personnel off hotel premises. You do not “have” to answer questions, especially if the media “ambushes” you with cameras in your face. If you find someone walking around your property doing a secret undercover investigation, you can order them off your property immediately. Hotels are considered private property and Management retains complete control of who can and cannot be on your property, as long as such ejection does not violate regulations, statutes or ordinances designed to eliminate illegal discrimination in hotels. Train all employees to refer all media requests only to the hotel’s designated spokesperson and discipline or terminate employees who fail to comply with the workplace rule. Finally, call the police for assistance if media refuse to comply with requests to leave the hotel’s premises.  

(Todd Seiders, CLSD, is director of risk management for Petra Risk Solutions, which provides a full-range of risk management and insurance services for hospitality owners and operators. Their website is: www.petrarisksolutions.com. Todd can be reached at 800-466-8951 or via e-mail at: todds@petrarisksolutions.com.)

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Hospitality Industry Risk: Hotel Front Desk Clerks Must “Refuse Accomodations If They Have Just Cause”, Such As Suspecting Prostitution

“Every person who keeps any disorderly house, or any house for the purpose of assignation or prostitution, or any house of public resort, by which the peace, comfort, or decency of the immediate neighborhood is habitually disturbed, or who keeps any inn in a disorderly manner; and every person who lets any apartment or tenement, knowing that it is to be used for the purpose of assignation or prostitution, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

The one word everyone who works in hospitality hates to say to a guest is…”No”. We are all trained in fact to never say “no”, and to try and accommodate our guests every request or need. But, in the real world there are those rare occasions that one should say “no”, one must say “no”, and one must absolutely positively scream “no”, if the situation requires it.

Here is an actual case in point that hotel front desk personnel may likely experience:

A full service hotel in the greater Los Angeles area received a visit from the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Vice Division. A plainclothes male vice officer and an undercover female police officer came to the hotel to look for violations of California Law 316 PC:

Every person who keeps any disorderly house, or any house for the purpose of assignation or prostitution, or any house of public resort, by which the peace, comfort, or decency of the immediate neighborhood is habitually disturbed, or who keeps any inn in a disorderly manner; and every person who lets any apartment or tenement, knowing that it is to be used for the purpose of assignation or prostitution, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Every state in America has a similar law, which makes it a crime to knowingly allow prostitution inside your establishment.

The two officers approached the front desk and asked to rent a room. The front desk clerk asked for a credit card, but the vice officer said he only had cash to pay for the room. The vice officer went on to say, “I don’t want to use a credit card, because I’m here with a prostitute, and I don’t want my wife to find out.” This was the “bait” of the police “sting”, and now it was up to the front desk clerk to say “no”, and not allow prostitution inside the hotel.

The front desk clerk clearly heard what the vice officer said (that he was with a prostitute), and knew he wasn’t going to rent him a room. But, the desk clerk did not directly say “no”. Instead, the clerk tried to find a more “hospitable” way to refuse to rent the room. The front desk clerk knew the vice officer did not want to use a credit card for the room, so he thought he could use this fact to politely deny him a room.

The desk clerk told the vice officer that a credit card was required to rent the room, but that he could pay cash at the end of the stay, if he chose to. The desk clerk said if he did not have a credit card, then he could not rent him a room.

Here’s what the LAPD vice officer heard: “If you had a credit card, I would rent you a room.” Isn’t that what the front desk clerk said? Instead of saying, “No, I’m sorry, but we don’t allow prostitution in this hotel, please leave”, the vice officer heard, “If you had a credit card, you could rent a room.” The vice officer issued the front desk clerk a citation for “keeping a disorderly house”, and left. The desk clerk now has to appear in court to defend his actions.

The desk clerk said later he was confident that demanding a credit card for the room would have foiled this man’s attempt to use the hotel with a prostitute. The desk clerk said if the vice officer had produced a credit card to use, he would have still denied him a room, and would have summoned the General Manager to ask the man and prostitute to leave the hotel. The desk clerk knew NOT to rent the room to a prostitute.

As one can see from this incident, all of the legal proceedings, court appearances, and possible bad press from the sting, could have been avoided with one simple word…“No”.

Generally, Innkeeper Laws in all states allow hotels to refuse renting a room under these following conditions (amongst others):

  1. To preserve the innkeeper’s property from potential damage
  2. To prevent a violation of the law
  3. To maintain the premises so as to preserve the peace and tranquility of the other guests
  4. To protect the guests’ physical safety
  5. Because of the hotel’s previous bad history with the guest

 Yes, front desk attendants can say “no” to a guest seeking accommodations if the guest falls under any of the above situations. These situations are very broad, so you can get creative with their interpretation and use them to keep bad guests from renting a room. Just make sure that the belief for denying registration is well-founded and defensible and that potential guests are not being excluded based upon protected class status (e.g., race, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc.)

Front desk managers must train their staff to say “no” when it is appropriate to do so, and tell them you will support their decision to refuse accommodations if they have “just cause”. Discuss possible situations that may occur, and how to properly deny service or a room. Hotel managers may also want to contact their hotel brand’s corporate loss prevention or security departments for outside training and help. Similarly, the hotel’s insurance carrier or broker may also provide risk management staff that can help educate and train the front desk team on these matters.

Sometimes, you just HAVE to say “NO”.

(Todd Seiders, CLSD, is director of risk management for Petra Risk Solutions, which provides a full-range of risk management and insurance services for hospitality owners and operators. Their website is: www.petrarisksolutions.com. Todd can be reached at 800-466-8951 or via e-mail at: todds@petrarisksolutions.com.)

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Hospitality Industry Liability: Hotels Can Be Held Liable For Failing “To Protect Children From Adult Movies”

In October 2007, a Norwalk, California Superior Court Jury found the Value Lodge Hotel, liable for involuntarily subjecting an 8 and 9 year old sisters to hard core pornographic movies. (McCombs vs Value Lodge Enterprises Case VC 047178)

 The guests, a woman from Tennessee and her 8 and 9 year old daughters, checked into the Value Lodge Hotel. After check in, the woman took a shower and told her daughters to watch television.

 The daughters turned on the TV and came across a pornographic television channel, which was unprotected and could be accessed just like any other regular television channel or program. The Mother sued the Hotel for $640,000.

 The Jury awarded the Mother $85,000 in damages. The Judge did not allow punitive damages in this case.

 During the trial, the Mother’s Attorneys presented testimony from a Hotel Expert, who commented that in his thirty years experience, he has never seen a family hotel where some affirmative action was not necessary in order to access adult movies.

 The Hotel argued that there was a sign on the television advising guests to notify the front desk if they did not want the adult movies, but the hotel could not produce a sign as evidence.

 After the trial, the Jury said they did not believe the Hotel in fact had a sign or any other notification in the rooms about the adult movies.

 How does this case affect Hotels with adult movies?

 The facts of this case are very specific. The Hotel’s adult movies were not protected in the usual hotel “movie system”, which requires the guest to push numerous remote buttons, and pass through numerous movie / ordering screens. The adult movies at this Hotel were just one of the regular channels, the same as all of the rest of the television channels.

 The Jury felt the Hotel had a “duty” to protect children from this type of unprotected and simple access to an adult movie. Remember that all lawsuits start with the neglect or failure of a “duty” that is required from one party to another. I think we all would agree that in this specific case, the Hotel did have a “duty” to prevent children from viewing adult movies.

 What is your “duty” if you don’t have immediate access to adult movies, but a Hotel movie system (like LodgeNet or On Command) that requires you to select movies and go through numerous screens and buttons to order a movie?

 The Norwalk Superior Court verdict tells us that Hotels do have a duty to protect children from adult movies. But the Court does not offer any guidance for other adult movie systems that are currently being used in a majority of Hotels.

 I could argue that a “LodgeNet or On-Command” in room Hotel movie system is adequately protected, as the movie system requires numerous selection screens, remote button pushing and ordering screens before a movie can be ordered. There is an automatic defense in common law known as “improper parental supervision”, that can be used if a child’s parent is present, and the child gets injured or otherwise harmed. The defense to the child’s harm can be that the child “was not properly supervised” by the parent who was present. Of course the exact facts of each case would dictate what the “duty” of the Hotel was, and what the “duty” of the parents was, in those very specific circumstances.

 I could also argue that if the Hotel were held liable for what a child sees on a Hotel television, then it would create a “slippery slope” for other television situations. For instance, the Animal Planet channel shows african lions attack and kill a defenseless animal during a nature program. Children could be harmed by seeing an animal they loved being mauled and eaten by another animal, so is the Hotel responsible for that situation? Or, how about a Health Channel showing a real medical operation on a person that shows blood and human body organs? This could also upset a child. As you can see, there is no simple answer to this question.

 And, what about our favorite free movie channels that most Hotels carry like HBO or Showtime? HBO and Showtime are in the TV line up as regular television channels and often carry very provocative and sexual oriented programming, but these channels are not protected or blocked in any way.

 So, What Should You Do?

 Train your staff to ask guests at check in if they would like any of “the movies” turned off in the room. Especially if you see the guest is with children at check in, or the guest is asking for a crib etc. This includes HBO etc.

  1. Post a sign or small placard on the television advising the guest that the hotel has adult programming, and to call the front desk if they would like those channels blocked. Include this advisement in your guestroom directory along with all of the other Hotel, menu and attraction information.
  2. Turn off all adult movies to all Hotel rooms. This would require the guest to specifically call the front desk and request the movies to be turned on, which now protects you from accusations of negligence. This step will increase your front desk work load, as they will have to respond to dozens of calls every night asking for movies. This might also upset the Guest, as it becomes inconvenient to have to call for movies, so you should consider all of the consequences to having the movies turned off all of the time.
  3. If a Guest calls and informs you they are receiving “free movies” which they didn’t ask for or pay for, then make sure your staff reacts quickly to turn off the movies. Don’t take a guest complaint of getting “free movies” lightly. Have maintenance respond to the guest room to ensure the problem is solved.
  4. Regularly check your movie system to ensure it is working properly. Recently I was staying in a large hotel that was under renovation, and I was receiving all movies, including adult movies free, as I channel surfed. It was obvious that the movie system had been compromised as part of the renovation, so all of the pay movies were being broadcast to rooms without restrictions.

 Todd Seiders CLSD, is Director of Risk Management, Petra Risk Solutions, Hospitality Insurance and Risk Management experts, you can contact Todd at: todds@petrarisksolutions.com, or (800) 466-8951.

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Workers’ Compensation In California: Next California Governor Will Face Challenges To States Workers’ Compensation Reform

(From a Sacramenton Bee article) When Arnold Schwarzenegger deigns to catalog his accomplishments, reforming the state’s system of compensating workers for job-related injuries and illnesses ranks high on his list.

One of Schwarzenegger’s first acts six years ago was bulldozing the Legislature into a sweeping overhaul of workers’ compensation, reducing both eligibility for direct payments to disabled workers and medical care costs.

The system is so large that the legislation and the administration’s subsequent implementation rules cut employers’ costs by about $15 billion a year, or approaching $100 billion so far.

Workers’ comp politics being what they are, however, the changes generated fierce opposition from those on the other end of the pipeline, namely unions, disability attorneys and medical care providers.

http://www.sacbee.com/2010/02/22/2554129/dan-walters-workers-comp-battle.html

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Hospitality Industry Conferences: 2010 American Hotel & Lodging Association “Legislative Action Summit” To Be Held March 15-16 In Washington, D.C.

2010 AH&LA Legislative Action Summit
March 15-16, 2010
J.W. Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Join other AH&LA members from across the country in the U.S. lodging industry’s annual legislative summit. Come to the AH&LA Legislative Action Summit in Washington, D.C., during March 15-16, 2010, and make a difference through coordinated visits to Capitol Hill to share your perspective to lawmakers on key issues affecting your own workplace.

This is your chance to visit your Senators and Representative and let them know your opinion on pending legislation. There is no better opportunity for hoteliers to come make a big difference on the legislation that matter most to you in 2010: economic recovery, hotel taxes, healthcare reform, card check, and travel promotion.

At the 2010 LAS, you will gain insights from lawmakers and top industry executives on how impending legislation will impact your business decisions. LAS’s Industry CEO panel will feature an in-depth discussion on issues from these top industry leaders:

Jim Abrahamson, President, The Americas, InterContinental Hotels Group
Steve Joyce, President & CEO, Choice Hotels International
David Kong, President & CEO, Best Western International Inc.
Christopher Nassetta, President & CEO, Hilton Worldwide

With the economy, healthcare, and card check legislation on the table during the 2010 election year, Congress needs to hear your point of view.

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