by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | February 01, 2004

Once in a while, we want to disown the very people we have brought to the party. The 1991 meeting of the Tailhook Association was the poster child of bad guest behavior.
   In a Las Vegas hotel, 83 women and seven men were assaulted by attendees during the three-day aviators’ convention, according to a report by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense. The hotel did little, if anything, to stop the activities. According to reports, hotel security guards were present and merely stood by observing, taking no action unless asked to intervene.
   Ultimately, both the hotel and the association were held responsible and liable for the unconscionable behavior.

Thirteen years later, some measures have been taken to prevent a repeat scenario. Some hotel contracts now include a responsibility/liability clause obligating the meeting planner’s organization to hold harmless and indemnify the hotel for any damage done by attendees in sleeping rooms, public areas, etc.
   The contracts often state that should the behavior of guests be “unruly” or otherwise not follow the guidelines established by the hotel, the entire group could be asked to leave. Unacceptable behavior is sometimes defined as disturbances; drunkenness; violent, offensive or abusive language; or behavior directed to any hotel guest or hotel staff.

But what obligation does the hotel have to the meeting sponsor? In a recent case, it was alleged that a number of teenagers were drinking, crowding the hotel public spaces and engaging in violent behavior, which culminated in the shooting death of a guest. The hotel, the court ruled, could be held liable for the death of an individual on the premises because such a result was “foreseeable.”
   Findings in the above case and the Tailhook decision indicate if hotel managers think something untoward might occur, they must take steps to prevent harm or risk being held liable later on. In other words, rowdy groups must be reined in.
   Thus, many hotels now are adopting procedures relating to behavior of guests and the responsibility of the event sponsor. Under most state laws, a hotel has the right to reject a potential guest who is intoxicated, disorderly, filthy, or who is a thief or other criminal. Some hotels have guest dress codes. Others have policies stating that if hotel management receives more than one complaint about someone being aggressive or invasive, that person will be asked to leave the property.

Planners also are trying to minimize liability by printing codes of conduct in advance. The Aggressive Skaters Association Pro Tour took a proactive approach by sending a strong message to attendees:
   “We do not expect any problems with ASA guest behavior at the hotel, but here are the rules just to be clear. We have zero tolerance for any incidences that reflect poorly on our event, our sponsors or our sport.”
   The rules go on to say no skating is allowed on hotel property at any time, and competitors are required to be courteous of the other guests at the hotel.

What takes place within the hotel room itself, as long as it does not interfere with others, remains a private matter. On the other hand, the hotel has the right to protect itself and its guests outside that room from any liability or damage that may occur.
   The bottom line: Make sure your contract clearly states proper behavior guidelines and what obligation the property has to protect your well-behaved attendees.