|By Diana S. Barber, Esq., March 2004
Wireless or wired high speed Internet access (“HSIA”) has become the
new “must have” amenity for the business traveler in hotel public areas
and guestrooms. Every segment of the hotel industry from Microtel to Four
Seasons has recognized that business travelers want and expect access to
Internet connections to handle work and personal matters while away from
the home or office. Are your guests aware of the potential risks associated
with using HSIA in their guestrooms or public areas? Are you responsible
for advising them of these dangers? What do you do when customers
complain about systems being down or not functioning properly? How
can you lessen your exposure when a hotel employee’s attempts to help a
guest end up in disaster? These questions need to be thoroughly examined
and answered prior to, or immediately after, installing a guestroom or
public area wired or wireless Internet access system.
Currently, hospitality managers are not required by law to provide HSIA,
whether wired or wireless, in hotel guestrooms or public areas. Hospitality
managers, however, must provide an environment that is safe and secure
for the patrons and guests while on their hotel or motel property.
Once a hotel or motel provides a new service to its guests (such as providing
HSIA) the law requires that they act prudently and use reasonable due care
in providing and fulfilling the service. Generally speaking, the
standard of care required by hospitality operators requires that a manager
apply the same diligence as any other reasonable hospitality manager in
a similar situation. Standards of care are constantly evolving,
however, reasonable care generally requires the manager to correct potentially
harmful situations that they know exist or that may be reasonably foreseen
to exist. For your guests’ protection and your protection as
a manager or owner of a lodging property, your guests need to know about
the inherent risks in using HSIA in their guestrooms and in the public
areas where wired or wireless service may be available.
Once you begin providing HSIA services to your guests you are required
to provide and perform the service in a safe and reasonable manner.
Here are a few suggestions that are aimed at protecting the legal liability
of your hotel or motel:
|1) Make it clear to your guests that the hotel does not directly
control the Internet provider company nor the system providing wired or
wireless HSIA to the guestrooms or public areas. Your literature
or brochure describing this new amenity should expressly state that another
company, independent from the property manager or owner, is providing the
service and not the hotel or motel. Of course, you need to find a
very reliable source to provide the HSIA service to your guests; however,
the guests need to be made aware that since you can’t control the service,
there is no guarantee.
|2) It is critical that your Internet service provider or vendor
goes through an extensive certification process whereby a complete security
assessment is examined and security protocols are put in place prior to
retaining them to install and provide the service. Don’t use just
any vendor to supply your Internet service. Do your homework and
make sure that appropriate security measures are in place such as adequate
firewalls and other features that are becoming standard in the industry
for the protection of your guests and your hotel. You also want to
make sure that the provider of the guestroom and public area HSIA system
has security measures in place so that your own property management and
hotel computer systems are not compromised in any way.
|3) The Internet provider should include an on-line tutorial during
the initial connection to the Internet whereby the guest must read and
agree to the terms and conditions of use. The guest would be required
to read through these paragraphs which will put the guest on notice of
the inherent risks associated with using the Internet system provided.
Providing notice of the risks is as simple as requiring them to electronically
agree that they are aware of the significant security and privacy risks
associated with accessing or transmitting information over the Internet,
whether wired or wireless connections are used. Also include a clear
disclaimer whereby the property and the Internet service provider are both
protected stating that they are not liable for any loss of data, file corruption,
hacking or any damage to one’s computer while using the Internet service.
If the property allows the guest to print documents to a central printing
resource in the hotel’s business center or at the front desk, the guest
needs to know that security, as to the contents of the documents, is not
guaranteed. The agreement must require that the guest accept the
terms of the arrangement before logging on to the Internet. If an
on-line disclaimer is not available, consider having your guests sign a
written disclaimer prior to using the HSIA service. This disclaimer
should contain the same items as described above. Make sure you keep the
signed waiver on file in the event there is a claim brought by the guest
in the future.
|4) Your HSIA service needs to provide support for a VPN (Virtual
Private Network) so that guests will be able to connect with their end-use
home servers with confidence that security features are in place.
|5) Ritz-Carlton has developed a concept called "Technology Butler"
whereby trained employees are available 24/7 to provide technological assistance
to guests on various computer and Internet access needs. Other hotels
and motels have or will most likely follow this service trend since guests
will have questions about wired and/or wireless services provided in the
hotel or motel and how to access the Internet. It is very important
that a written procedure be created setting forth the rules for employees
to follow when approached with a guest’s computer needs request.
Although not exhaustive of all procedures, such written procedures need
to include, at a minimum:
Untrained employees should never attempt to help a guest with his or her
Those employees who are trained to assist guests with technological needs
should never personally touch the computer keyboard without the consent
of the guest.
The trained employee should keep the guest informed of every change to
the computer settings or documents that will be made. Constant communication
with the guest is essential.
All employees assisting the guest with his/her computer needs must find
out what the guest has already attempted to do up until the time that the
trained employee begins to provide assistance.
If the employee does not know how to solve the problem, he/she needs to
call for assistance. No employee should attempt to do something on
a guest’s computer that they wouldn’t do to their own computer. One simple
error could be a very expensive one for your property.
When possible, remind guests that wireless systems are not secure.
Only non-critical email and basic Internet surfing should be accessed.
Trained employees need to remind guests not to make any Internet purchases
or do anything that could expose them to liability or potential identity
theft, such as checking bank records or credit card statements, on wireless
systems. The guest needs to know that a nearby hacker, who the property
cannot control, may intercept his or her password and steal personal information
of the guest.
Be prepared to answer questions about whether the Internet sites visited
by guests will be recorded somewhere on the hotel’s computer system.
Keep a detailed written log of all guest computer service requests including
the date and time of a request, the guest’s name, room number, specific
request for assistance, action taken and the follow up with the guest.
As more hotels and motels begin to provide, and continue to provide,
HSIA systems for their guests, technology will advance and ultimately enable
HSIA systems to be more secure. Meanwhile, take these steps to place
your property in a much better legal position in the event something goes
Diana S. Barber, Esq., former vice president/associate general counsel
for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is the founder of LodgeLaw, A Division
of Barber Law Associates, a law firm specializing in hospitality law.
She also teaches at Cecil B. Day Hospitality School at Georgia State University
and is a member of Georgia Hospitality & Travel Association.
For more information, Ms. Barber can be reached at (770) 813-9363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.