HOUSTON—A host of legal trends affecting the hospitality industry will be put under the microscope at this year’s Hospitality Law Conference.
The conference, presented by HospitalityLawyer.com, takes place 9 February to 11 February at the Omni Houston. The event is expected to attract approximately 300 attorneys, risk managers, human resource officials and C-level executives, said Stephen Barth, founder of HospitalityLawyer.com and professor of hospitality law and leadership at the University of Houston.
“There’s a lot of value for the attendees,” he said. “I also hope they walk away with new relationships.” He added, “Our goal is to bring them up to speed on everything that has happened in the past 12 months.”
Issues under discussion during the event will include health care, privacy and security, joint ventures, franchising and more, Barth said. Following is a preview of a few additional topics of discussion on the conference’s agenda.
Christian Stegmaier, an attorney at Collins & Lacy, is scheduled to be part of a panel that will look at what hoteliers can learn from some of the news stories that arose from the hospitality industry during the past year.
Some of the more intense coverage surrounded the outbreak of bedbugs at several hotel properties. Because bedbugs are associated with a lack of cleanliness, hoteliers should do everything in their power to keep the bedbug problem quiet while addressing the issue.
But what if word manages to leak out? Tackle the issue head-on, Stegmaier said.
“No comment is no answer,” Stegmaier said. Be sure to get the message out that the existence of bedbugs does not mean the hotel is dirty; rather, the little pests are more a product of an increasing amount of international travel.
In fact, Stegmaier said when dealing with the media, it is best to be aggressive and own the message. Respond quickly while being cordial and honest.
“The bottom line is if something comes up, whether it’s through Twitter, YouTube, the TV or newspapers, you have to be proactive,” he said.
Data security also is going to be a major focus at this year’s Hospitality Law Conference. Stephen Cannon, chairman of Constantine Cannon and managing partner of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, will advocate for a more equitable way of assigning liability when data security issues arise.
Right now, liability is on the merchants’ side of things but not on the payment systems, and that has to change, said Cannon, who is counsel to the Merchants Payment Coalition.
“Right now, all liability runs downhill and at the bottom is the merchants’ coalition and, partially, the hospitality industry,” he said.
Cannon added he would like to see more incentives put in place to encourage more secure methods of payment authorization. One example of this is the “chip and PIN” system in use outside of the United States. In this system, credit cards use a tiny PIN-activated microchip that protects payment information.
“As it stands, virtually every Western and Eastern nation have migrated to this (system),” Cannon said. “You know which countries haven’t? Iran and the U.S.”
The federal government is reviewing the issue of data security liability and could potentially come up with a new way of assigning liability by 21 July of this year.
“In terms of the regulatory process, this is the speed of light,” Cannon said.