It is important to understand how hotels need to be welcoming to physically disabled guests. New US regulations will make this welcome mandatory. If you operate a hotel in the United States and your answer to any of these questions is “Probably”, “Maybe”, or “No”, you may have a serious problem.

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Justice issued revised regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The updated regulations, the first issued in 20 years, took effect on March 15, 2011, and those regulations stipulate facilities and services that must be in place beginning March 15, 2012.

Is your hotel prepared?

Are the special facilities in disabled traveler guestrooms described in your reservation channels in sufficient detail so that a potential guest who is disabled can determine if the guestroom and the hotel overall would be suitable for them? Is this level of descriptive detail available on your hotel’s website? On OTA websites in which the hotel participates? In the GDSs used by travel agents? From sales agents answering calls to your toll free reservation number? When they call the front desk?

If they determine your lodging to be appropriate for them, can the traveler reserve a room within that disability-friendly room type as easily as other travelers can reserve in any other available room type?

When they arrive at or after check-in time, is it certain that a room in that room type will be available to them?

If you operate a hotel in the United States and your answer to any of these questions is probably, maybe, or no, you may have a serious problem

The original ADA regulations required physical accessibility and other capabilities within hotels (as well as in other public spaces).  The 2011 regulations have added specific requirements that apply to the reservation process for hotel guestrooms.  Moreover, in many respects they apply to timeshare complexes and condo-hotels that operate like hotels as well.

The objective of the reservation-related regulations is to assure that a physically-disabled traveler may reserve, and then occupy, hotel accommodation with the same confidence and convenience enjoyed by their disability-free peers.  Specifically, the regulations (described in Section 36.302 (e) require:

  • That individuals with disabilities (be able) to make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as other guests.
  • That places of lodging …identify and describe accessible features of a guestroom… in sufficient detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs.
  • That the lodging operator holds back the accessible guestrooms for people with disabilities until all other guestrooms of that type have been reserved and the accessible room requested is the only remaining room of that type.hat the lodging operator ensures that a reserved accessible guestroom is removed from all reservations systems so that it is not inadvertently released to someone other than the person who reserved the accessible room.
  • That the lodging operator guarantees that the specific accessible guestroom reserved through its reservation service is held for the reserving customer, regardless of whether a specific room is held in response to reservations made by others.

The lodging industry’s has long been committed to appealingly describing, and then delivering, accommodation. The updated ADA Title III regulations add a legal responsibility to those longstanding efforts to persuasively present, and reliably provide, accommodation.  Plus they call for consistent adherence to these “describe and deliver” requirements through all sales channels.

Primary responsibility for that adherence falls to the lodging operator, but the distribution partners of the lodging organization (including reservations representation companies) share responsibility as well for compliance with these regulations.  Achieving this compliance requires review, and possibly strengthening, of room type descriptions, availability management processes, and of front desk room allocation practices.  Ensuring full compliance may require consultation with qualified legal counsel.

For many lodging and representation companies, initiatives to ensure compliance with these new ADA requirements have long been in place.  On March 15, 2012 the performance bar will be raised.  The question to hoteliers is will your hotel – and their reservation presence and practices – now consistently adhere to these new performance requirements?