By Hunter Webster, CHDM, SVP, Digital Marketing, Interstate Hotels & Resorts and Bill Clarke, Director of Sales, Milestone, Inc., and members of HSMAI’s Digital Marketing Council
We’re marketers, not lawyers. But considering how much time we’re spending with legal counsel talking about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and what it means for our hotels’ websites, perhaps we should be charging by the hour.
When it comes down to it, very few websites – in hotels, retail, or really anywhere – conform to today’s ADA guidelines. However, more and more hotel companies are under increasing pressure to create, and maintain, ADA-conforming websites.
Why should you be paying attention to this issue?
- It can be expensive and time consuming if you ignore it.
Sure, there are expenses involved in updating and maintaining your website in accordance with WCAG guidelines. But it can be minimal compared with potential litigation and/or settlement expenses.
Litigation is increasing. As of today, with no final ruling yet from the Department of Justice, when a consumer files a complaint against a hotel for a non-conforming website, a settlement is typically reached out of court. Settlements we’ve seen are in the range of $15,000 to $25,000, and can go higher. And, depending on your agreements, the owner, management company, and vendor can be on the hook for it.
Wouldn’t you rather spend that money up front on an asset you’ll get to keep rather than pay it out for a settlement?
- You may be leaving money on the table.
Just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering, poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities.
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau, 19% of Americans have some form of disability. ADA guarantees that they have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. That includes the ability to purchase goods and services, like travel products.
If someone comes to your hotel’s website, they are in your funnel. Make sure you don’t turn them (and the revenue they bring with them) away.
Look at the ADA as a market of opportunity, instead of as a compliance/regulation issue.
- You need to know where your company is exposed and to have a plan of action.
There are steps you can take now to get ahead of the curve.
- Understand what features go into making a website ADA conforming for people who are blind or color blind, have low vision, are deaf or hard of hearing, have limited mobility or dexterity, or have some kind of cognitive disability.
- Utilize tools (free or paid) that can scan your website and tell you where your site is not meeting ADA standards and pinpoint the areas on which you need to focus. The WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool is a free example
- Consider following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 from W3C. At the moment, this outlines the commonly accepted design features for retail and hotel websites, and some hotels have found these guidelines to be the de facto standard. An official ruling from the Department of Justice on regulations for private websites is expected early in 2018.
- Meet with your legal counsel and make sure they understand the issues involved and work closely with your marketing team.
- Talk to your agency and booking engine provider and clarify how ADA conformance is addressed in your contract. Is it part of normal services? Does it require an addendum? How is conformance maintained as new content is added to your site? Who is responsible in the event a consumer sues?
- Get started with some low-hanging fruit: adding alt tags to images. This step is very easy to implement immediately, especially as images are added or updated. Make sure that all personnel adding images (at your corporate office, at your agency, and on property) understand what to do, how to do it, and why.
Remember, we’re digital marketing and design people, not lawyers. Absolutely talk to your own legal counsel about this issue and make sure they are tuned into the situation. And, ensure that the people developing and maintaining your site are knowledgeable and capable in terms of ADA website conformance issues.
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 from W3C
- A Beginner’s Guide to ADA Compliance for Websites from Search Engine Journal
- WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool
- ADA compliance in action: The Statler Hotel meets WCAG 2.0 AA ADA compliance standards
About the Authors
Hunter Webster has over 31 years of experience in the hospitality industry. In his current role, he leads the digital marketing efforts for Interstate, providing both corporate direction, managing vendor relationships, and expanding field resources and training. He’s held corporate senior leadership roles in sales, revenue management, and business planning. In addition, he has held multiple on-property roles in sales and operations. Hunter has been with Interstate Hotels for the past 13 years. Prior to joining Interstate, Hunter worked for Hilton and Marriott. Hunter holds a MBA in Marketing & Organizational Development from The George Washington University.
Bill Clarke has over 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry. He has held sales and marketing leadership positions in property, regional, and corporate roles for companies and brands including BedandBreakfast.com/HomeAway, Dolce Hotels & Resorts, Hyatt, and Davidson Hotels & Resorts. In his current role, Bill oversees digital marketing needs for Milestone’s clients in the Northeast U.S. & Canada Region. Bill holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel Administration from the University of New Hampshire.
About HSMAI’s Digital Marketing Council
HSMAI’s Digital Marketing Council connects travel marketers in a way that leverages interactive customer engagement as a marketing medium while increasing the awareness of emerging issues, opportunities and trends. This is accomplished through a wide range of information sharing, networking and educational opportunities. Members include:
- CHAIR: Holly Zoba, CHDM, VP, Signature
- Dustin Bomar, Head of Industry, Travel, Google
- Aimee Cheek, CHDM, Director of eCommerce, OTO Development
- Bill Clarke, Director of Sales, Milestone, Inc.
- Robert Cole, Founder-CEO, RockCheetah
- Chris Copp, VP, Global Digital Marketing, IHG
- Jessica Davidson, Vice President, Digital Content + Creative, Wyndham Hotel Group
- Joey Egan, Vice President, Marketing & Customer Experience, Leonardo
- Erica Eyring, CHDM, Director, Account Management, Expedia Media Solutions
- Isaac Gerstenzang, CHDM, Assistant Vice President, Corporate E-commerce, Two Roads Hospitality
- James Hansen, CHA, CHDM, Director, Marketing, Best Western Hotels & Resorts
- Carolyn Hosna, CHDM, Sr. Corp. Director, Marketing & Distribution, White Lodging
- Jay Hubbs, III, CHDM, Senior Vice President, eCommerce, Remington Hotels
- Michael Innocentin, Vice President, E-Commerce & Digital NCA Region, AccorHotels
- John Jimenez, CHDM, Director of E-commerce, Interstate Hotels & Resorts
- Sarita Mallinger, Regional Director, Digital Marketing, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
- Delana Meyer, CHDM, Vice President Digital Strategy, Crescent Hotels & Resorts
- Amy Mierzwinski, CHDM, Director, Horwath HTL
- Anna Paccone, CHDM, eCommerce Director, Second Wave Marketing / Aimbridge Hospitality
- Shawn Paley, CHDM, Director, Global eCommerce & Digital Services, Marriott International
- Olga Peddie, SVP, Client Strategy & Success, Cendyn
- Donna Quadri-Felitti, CHDM, Director and Associate Professor, Penn State University
- Mariana Safer, CHDM, Senior Vice President, Marketing, HeBS Digital
- Dave Spector, Partner, Tambourine
- Dan Wacksman, CHDM, SVP, Marketing and Distribution, Outrigger Hotels & Resorts
- Hunter Webster, CHDM, SVP, eMarketing, Interstate Hotels & Resorts
- Misty Wise, CRME, CHDM, Director, Digital Strategies, John Q Hammons Hotels