by Jonathan T. Howe, esq. | December 01, 2003

One of the things that continues to amaze me is that some hotels refuse to provide meeting planners with information about who is staying on property.
   Planners need this data to verify their room pickup, regardless of whether their attendees made their reservations through the room block, on the Internet, direct through the hotel or via the hotel chain’s central reservations number.
   Hotels today have provided a myriad of distribution channels, for which planners should not be made victims. Indeed, in no small part, hotels now are competing with the planner in selling guest rooms.
   When we become involved in attrition fees or related claims, it is important for our client, the meeting planner, to be able to obtain a rooming list. However, the hotel’s typical response is, “Sorry, that information is private.”
   If someone calls the hotel and asks to speak to a guest, does the operator say, “I can’t tell you if he or she is here; that information is private”? Of course not. The call is simply connected to the room.
   Well, the courts finally have weighed in on this issue, and in their view, hotel rooming lists are not private.

In a recent case, the United States Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a motel guest had no reasonable expectation that the information in the motel’s registration records would be held private.
   In this particular case, the Seattle police obtained the registration details of a motel in a high crime area and ran a criminal-records check on guests. The check turned up an outstanding warrant on the defendant, and police entered the motel room, searched it and arrested the defendant for possession of a firearm by a felon.
   The Appellate Court relied on a U.S. Supreme Court decision opining that “&a person does not have a privacy interest in information revealed to a third party and subsequently conveyed to governmental authorities, even if the information is revealed on the assumption that it will be used for a limited purpose and that the third party will not betray their confidence.”
   The court also emphasized that the registration records were the property of the motel, and a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in an item in which he has no ownership interest.
   In another case, decided in 1995 by a different federal district court, a candidate for political office sued a hotel on suspicion that hotel employees leaked information about the candidate’s stay, which coincided with the stay of a woman with whom he was alleged to be having an affair. The plaintiff claimed that he and the hotel had an implied contract obligating the hotel not to disclose any information to third parties without the plaintiff’s consent, and the hotel had a duty to maintain the confidentiality of the plaintiff’s records.
   The court disagreed, since the plaintiff never made nondisclosure of such records a condition of his stay at the hotel. Interestingly, although the hotel’s legal manual stated that guest registration was to be kept confidential, the court found no evidence that the plaintiff was aware of such a policy. The court further held that the hotel’s confidentiality policy was voluntary and did not create any duty to the plaintiff.
   The plaintiff also claimed invasion of privacy. However, the court found that the information contained in the hotel records did not constitute “private facts.”
   These cases pave the way for change in meeting contracts. My advice is to make it a contractual obligation for the hotel to provide registration information, so credit is given for all in attendance.