Liability & legal reasons for collecting guest contact information
March 22, 2011 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Looking for references or citations regarding legal requirements (or due diligence) for lodging facilities, hotels, or guest houses to obtain the contact information of their guests.

I work at a university lab which has a guest house affiliated with it. The guest house is a minor feature of the infrastructure, donated many years ago by a private citizen and there isn't really a formal process in place for managing reservations. Guests are charged per night for their stay. The current office person who takes the reservations typically does so based on a quick phone call or email from the guest, just recording their name and dates of their stay on a grid in Excel. This creates problems, as you can imagine: We often need to know where these guests are from or need to contact them before their stay to discuss room changes or what-have-you, but we do not have their contact info. Our dept. just had a meeting to improve this process, including a new mock-up of a simple database we could start using to collect guests' data (full name, phone, email, address, who they work for) at the time the guest calls us. Long story short... office person blew a gasket and basically refused to change the process, saying this would add too much extra work and "what would we need that info for anyway?". Office person was yelling, so supervisor backed down to keep the peace. So the reservation process will basically be left the same.

I think this is incredibly irresponsible and must surely put us at a liability risk. Hotels take guest contact info -- they need all that data for each person responsible for a room. So I'm wondering if we can convince the office person from a liability standpoint (or at least provide incentive for management to be more firm about this). YANML, YANAL, yadda yadda, but what resources are available that would spell this out? Any simple guides or legal data points we can refer to online? I've tried looking around in here but couldn't find anything specific.

Note: I am not looking for comments along the lines of "well, office person will just need to suck it up & do it anyway." That's not very helpful -- We know they need to "move with the cheese." I'm looking for specific legal or business reasons to take guest contact information. This is in Wisconsin. Thanks so much for any suggestions.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (2 answers total)
The legal requirements and liability concerns are going to depend on your state and are probably best handled by contacting the university's counsel's office, which exists to answer precisely this kind of question. Many states have specific laws related to innkeepers and innkeeper liability, so the counsel's office can advise you on whether you are subject to any of them and what you need to do to comply.

Am I correct in assuming that your guests are visitors to your lab and that you aren't really running a public hotel? A database would work, but it seems like overkill unless you have a lot of guests coming through and lots of people who need to contact them. Adding a phone number field to the excel spreadsheet seems like it can't add more than a couple minutes of work for the "office person" to collect this from guests. If you have the guest's name, phone number, and whoever they are coming to see knows generally why they are visiting your lab and what institution they are affiliated with, what more do you need?

Alternatively, you could setup a shared calendar amongst your group. Each booking would be a calendar entry and you can put the guest contact info in the notes field. That way everyone can access the calendar so it's not all dependent on the "office person" with a single copy of the spreadsheet. You can do this in Outlook or Google Apps for Education if your university offers it, or just set up a free Google Calendar and give everyone involved permission to view/edit it.
posted by zachlipton at 10:05 AM on March 22, 2011

There may be a local ordinance for the particular town or county in Wisconsin. For example, in Brookfield WI there appears this requirement (PDF, see section 9.25) (I've removed large sections - see the PDF for the entirety):
keeper, proprietor or agent of any lodging house, rooming
house, motel, hotel, inn or other transient lodging facility
shall keep a register wherein all guests, roomers, or lodgers
shall inscribe their names and permanent address ...
(2) IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED. Said owner, keeper,
proprietor or agent shall request identification of any
guest, roomer or lodger paying in cash, at the time of
registration. Such identification shall be in a valid and
current form showing the person's name, date of birth, and
may be, but is not limited to, a driver's license, ....
(5) RECORDS RETAINED. Records required to be kept in
accordance with this section shall be retained for one (1)
year after the date the last entry is recorded.
posted by exogenous at 10:10 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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