This morning my friend and colleague Pauline Frommer called and asked me what I thought of the proposed settlement agreement between the Department of Justice and Hilton Worldwide, Inc. “To be honest,” I told her, “it’s not unexpected. I think Hilton saw the handwriting on the wall and decided they didn’t stand a chance in court, so it was time to bite the bullet and settle.”
I don’t think that was the answer Pauline expected. But then again, I always enjoy surprising her.
Still, considering some recent rulings, changes in the law and settlement agreements, the November 6 proposed consent decree was not unexpected.
Well among other things, Hilton agreed to upgrade their reservation system so disabled guests can reserve an accessible room on-line or by phone, in the same manner as able-bodied guests. They also agreed to block (they used the word guarantee) those rooms upon reservation. And lo and behold, that just happens to be the same thing that the new ADAAG requires. Granted the new ADAAG won’t go into effect until March 15, 2012; but it represents a huge shift in the way the industry will operate.
A shift that started with the hotels.com settlement in 2009. Prior to that hotels.com treated reservations for accessible rooms as requests. Today, because of that settlement, travelers can reserve an accessible room on hotels.com, and rest assured it will be blocked for them, and available when they arrive.
And that’s progress.
On the other hand, there is one part of the Hilton settlement agreement that did surprise me. Hilton also agreed to survey all properties built after January 26, 1993 and bring them into ADA compliance. Plus (and this is the part that surprises me) they agreed to survey new franchises or properties that change ownership to make sure they are ADA complaint. The latter condition surprises me because it’s the first time the Department of Justice (or any other entity) has required any type of access inspection of new properties. It’s just not something that’s done.
Truth be told, even most local building inspectors don’t inspect for access. Sure, you’re required to build accessible properties, but nobody inspects them to make sure everything is done according to the ADDAG. In fact, most access problems aren’t found until a guest complains, and at that point they’re pretty costly to remedy.
Perhaps other hotel chains will follow Hilton’s lead? After all, it may save them some time, trouble and money in the long run.
We can only hope!