4 CALIFORNIA LODGING NEWS www.calodging.com ADA Lawsuit Vulnerabilities with OTAs By Lisa Kolb, President and Co-Founder, Acorn Marketing JUST AS OCCUPANCY RATES HAVE started to increase, so have lawsuits against small lodging properties claiming violations of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). While most properties are familiar with the spate of lawsuits regarding physical accessibility at a property’s location, there’s a new tactic appearing in recent complaints: lawsuits over inadequate virtual accessibility to accommodations. Plaintiffs are suing properties whose websites are not up to the standards required by the ADA for making reservations. Making these suits more troubling for small operators is that they often include claims about property listing on OTA (third-party booking) sites that aren’t accessible. That includes listings on sites like Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Orbitz, Priceline, Cheaptickets, Agoda, and Travelocity— sites that often do not provide property owners with the ability to provide users with the details necessary to meet ADA rules. For example, a B&B in New Mexico found itself the target of such a suit last November by a plaintiff claiming to have sought to book an ADA-compliant room via an OTA. The B&B offers nine guest rooms, including one accessible guest room. However, the plaintiff stated that when she planned to visit in September, she could not find enough information about the property’s accessibility features on the property’s OTA listings. It’s important to note that the same plaintiff has filed lawsuits against 10 independent lodging properties in New Mexico making the same claim. Even though she might have elected to use an individual property’s website or online booking engine, where such information might have been available, her suits rely on the lack of the required information on the OTA site. All these suits, and others like them, have a few things in common: • They cite the section of the federal rules under the ADA concerning the information provided to individuals with disabilities about accessible features and the means of reserving accessible rooms. • They were filed despite the fact that these OTAs do not allow lodging providers to document the details necessary to comply with the law. • They were filed against the individual small properties, rather than taking a complaint directly to or legal action against the OTAs.