6 Legal Issues for Hotel Digital Marketers

At HSMAI’s Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable last month, attorney Greg Duff — principal and firm chair for Garvey Schubert Barer — offered an overview of “Legal Headlines and Headwinds for Digital Marketers.” Here are snapshots of six legal considerations and concerns that Duff said digital marketers should have on their radar: 

1. Rate parity: Keep an eye on the European Union, where member countries continue to take different positions. While many have accepted Booking.com’s “narrow” approach to rate parity, others have found parity to be outright unlawful. It’s difficult to predict how things ultimately will turn out, although a good guess is that countries outside the EU — including Australia, New Zealand, and in Eastern Europe — will follow the EU’s lead.

 2, Direct booking/loyalty: We’re seeing a puzzling twist on the use of direct booking to promote loyalty, with some brands forgoing the benefits of direct booking and leveraging loyalty-program enrollment through third parties. Obviously, this makes OTAs happy, but it seems to run counter to the purpose of direct-channel booking — and brands need to be realistic about the fact that there’s likely no turning back once you start down this road.

 3. Short-term rentals: It’s time to acknowledge that Airbnb, VRBO, Home Away, and other short-term-rental platforms are viable distribution channels — just one more way to push your inventory. Indeed, Airbnb recently announced that it’s introducing segmentation that mimics hotel tiers, including boutique, meaning they know full well that traditional lodging inventory is now a real business opportunity for them.

 4. Social-media influencers: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seems to be cracking down on social-media influencers, issuing guidelines and also bringing its first-ever enforcement action against two influencers for deceptive endorsement practices. What’s most important to realize is that the FTC has been quite clear that it will pursue not just an influencer but the company or brand benefiting from the influencer’s work — if the influencer and the company have a promotional relationship and haven’t publicly disclosed that.

 5. Smart speakers: Some hotels are installing Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other increasingly popular smart speakers in their guest rooms, which raises several legal concerns. The first and most obvious one relates to privacy. These devices have the potential to collect all manner of data from a hotel room. Where does that data go? To the hotel company? To the technology provider that set up the devices? To Amazon or whatever other company manufactured them? And what terms govern the use of that data?

Another concern with smart speakers: the various tools and applications that might be installed on them. Each one comes with pages of terms and conditions that under normal circumstances a user would agree to. But within the context of a commercial hotel, the user — i.e., the guest — will never seen any of that, meaning they can’t actually agree to anything.

6. Website accessibility: This is an emerging issue, with court cases making it increasingly clear that website accessibility and usability are going to be governed by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). That means everyone — normally or differently abled — has to be able to find your website reasonably easy to use. Photos or videos must include descriptions for visually impaired users, for example, while color schemes and brightness levels should be adjustable for people who are light-sensitive. If you haven’t addressed this yet, a good place to start is by posting information on your website with alternative methods for reaching you.


Categories: Marketing, Digital
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