Hospitality law has evolved as a specialty within the legal profession in the last several decades. It is also offered as a course on the undergraduate and graduate levels as well as in some law schools. A typical hospitality law course covers the history of hospitality law, the impact of federal and state civil rights laws on the hospitality industry, and an extensive discussion of contract law, including discussions of remedies for overbooking and a guest’s breach of the contract regarding a reservation. Courses today also include discussions of contracts that are entered into on the Internet, which is very common in hotel bookings, as well as negligence, innkeeper rights, guest rights, and employment practices. Every state and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes to limit innkeepers’ liability. These statutes require that notice be posted for room occupants. Universally, these notices are posted on the backs of hotel room doors so there can be no question that the hotel guest can see and read the statute and liability provisions, if they wish to do so. Nevada has the most pro-innkeeper statutes of any state. The changing nature of the travel industry, including an increase in bookings through the Internet, has caused hospitality law to continue to evolve and include issues such as rented time-shares and hotels that include condominium-like rooms. Contracts and Reservations
Historically, most hotel arrangements were booked through travel agents. Although Internet bookings today are still primarily through travel agents, many are made directly with the hotel properties through websites that offer general travel arrangements or, in some instances, specifically hotel arrangements. Most consumers merely acknowledge acceptance of the extensive exculpatory language present in website booking programs without giving any thought to what would occur should problems arise. Many lawyers have had clients come to them with Internet hotel booking issues; generally, these consumers have already waived their rights through exculpatory language called “consumer disclosure notices” in the industry. However, most state consumer protection statutes require full disclosure of taxes and fees when booking through any channel of distribution. Several years ago in Florida, hotels were imposing an energy tax, which was only disclosed by a small sign in the hotel room, adding in some instances $15 per day to the room charge. This was not disclosed on any website or other advertisements. In addition to the lawsuits that were filed, the Florida Attorney General alleged consumer protection violations and ultimately forced the offending hotels to return the illegally collected funds. Had these hotels contacted their in-house or outside counsel prior to implementing the surcharge, they would have been able to avoid any issues by properly implementing and disclosing the surcharge. The written confirmation of a guest’s reservation, received either by e-mail or snail mail, generally will include the dates of the stay, the rates, and perhaps a category for the accommodations, such as “garden view,” “ocean view,” or “junior suite.” If the guest arrives at the appointed time and there is no room available, industry practice is to “walk” the guest to a similar property; the original hotel picks up any additional expense incurred by the guest as a result of the failure to honor the reservation contract. Issues that arise in such circumstances may include a guest being moved from the four-star hotel in which the reservation was made and a deposit paid to a one-star or two-star hotel because that is the only property with rooms available. If the areas in which the properties are located are significantly different, security issues also arise, particularly if there is less security at the lower-rated property or if the area is not deemed as safe. Because of the economic climate, many properties have altered their meeting contracts to...
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