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The future has arrived, and it has a strange sense of humor.  Pokémon Go — an “augmented reality” game that requires players to travel to real world locations to capture imaginary monsters through apps on their mobile devices — is changing how millennials choose their travel destinations and hotels.  These games have inspired a new generation of travelers, and present novel opportunities to businesses in the hospitality sector.

Hospitality industry stakeholders who host sites for online reviews or rely on review sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, or Oyster, may take comfort in the recent Ninth Circuit decision regarding the liability of the publishers of those reviews. See Kimzey v. Yelp! Inc., No. 2:13-cv-01734 (U.S.D.C. Wash. Sept. 12, 2016). But, there is an argument to be made that the protections afforded under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) may be wearing thin. As the industry looks for more ways to leverage data harvested  from online reviews, it is slipping out from the protective umbrella afforded to “passive hosts” of user generated content.

Despite lawsuits and persistent legal uncertainties, the “sharing economy” is booming, and the companies at its forefront continue to grow.  Some of these businesses are a natural complement to the hotel industry, while others directly compete with it.  Whatever may become of these companies as they are reined in by regulation, one thing is certain: the rise or fall of the “sharing economy” will define the landscape of the hospitality sector in the decades ahead.

Ridesharing giant Uber raised $2.1 billion in its most recent round of funding, buoyed by a valuation of more than $65 billion – a remarkable ascendance for the five-year-old company.  Its success has attracted a wave of new entrants seeking to gain a foothold in this burgeoning market.  But the road to a share of the sharing economy is fraught with legal peril.

Sea-Tac airportFourteen lawsuits were filed last week against employers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for paying less than the $15 minimum wage approved by Sea-Tac voters in 2013. Defendants include baggage handling firms, rental car agencies, food-service establishments and logistics firms. These lawsuits have been filed by defendants represented by Attorney Duncan Turner of Badgley Mullins Turner and seek class action status. The lawsuits currently cover about 40 plaintiffs, although Mr. Turner estimates this could grow to 1,500 plaintiffs and that total back-pay sought could be $14 to $21 million.

Alaska Airlines and three other plaintiffs had filed a lawsuit arguing that the Sea-Tac minimum wage should not apply to the airport. The State Supreme Court ruled against them in August, 2015, and in December, 2015 rejected a request to review the case.

If you have any questions about these lawsuits, would like to review a copy of one of the complaints, or would like to discuss applicable wage & hour issues, please feel free to contact Greg Duff at gduff@gsblaw.com or 206.816.1470.

The annual HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference was held in New York, NY on February 17, 2016. 

For those of you who attended, or did not attend the conference, my presentation, “Distribution Parity: Where Do We Go From Here?”, is available below. It features an update on recent worldwide parity developments (through December 2015) as well as some practical distribution contracting recommendations.

Distribution Parity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free to contact me if you have any questions.

Innovation PicDon’t miss out on the Third Annual Travel & Technology Conference/TNT: Connecting Concepts with Cash, scheduled for March 17, 2015, Hilton Union Square, in San Francisco, CA. This year’s event is being produced by our friends at Hospitality Upgrade, and looks to be another great conference, including a $10,000 prize package for the winning pitch company!  In addition to pitches by some of the industry’s most exciting start-ups, this year’s event will feature presentations and discussions on big data, distribution and restaurants, among other things.  For more detailed information, please see link to Agenda.  If you are interested in attending, please see registration link here -- I look forward to seeing you at the conference! – Greg

 

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has released its Fiscal Year 2014 per diem rates.  While the standard continental U.S. per diem is up to $83, per diem rates in the Northwest have largely remained unchanged.  For more information on the new rates, visit the U.S. General Services Administration website.

Tags: per diem

The travel industry is experiencing a technology renaissance. Long gone are the days of checking in at the airline counter or calling for a hotel reservation. Where is the future of travel going and how are emerging technologies changing the landscape? Our second annual TNT Conference will showcase emerging Northwest companies with cutting edge technologies, as well as three expert panels featuring industry users, suppliers, and consultants to explore how these new technologies will affect the industry, and to discuss the value and use of data/content and distribution. View the 2013 agenda here.  

October 1, 2013 at Bell Harbor Conference Center

12:30pm-5:00pm TNT Program

5pm-7pm Reception

Registration is open!

Registration Button

Event Sponsors

tnoozlogo

geekwire

Guestware 1

clark-nuber

HU 

Who should attend?

  • Anyone in the travel and tourism industry who would like to explore industry trends and learn about new technologies.
  • Entrepreneurs and investors who are engaged in travel, tourism or technology.

Participating companies include:

Opportunity for Entrepreneurs to Pitch

There will be an opportunity for 5-6 companies seeking funding in the travel, technology and hospitality business sectors to pitch in front of the expert panels, and around 150 angel investors and business professionals in attendance.  Each presenting entrepreneur will have the chance to gain feedback from expert panelists following their 5 minute presentation.  The cost to apply is $100, which includes attendance at the event.  To be eligible for investment consideration in the ZINO Annual Angel Investment Fund-2013, LLC, entrepreneurs will be required to become ZINOpreneur Members which in addition to pitching at TNT, will also include an opportunity to pitch at an upcoming ZINO Society investment forum plus additional screening, coaching and networking opportunities.  Please contact Meg Landies, m.landies@zinosociety.com or 206-686-3768 for details.

The TNT Explosive Idea Awards

The Judges’ Award for Best Investment Opportunity and People’s Choice Award for Best Presentation will be presented at the conclusion of the Conference.

Interested in sponsoring the event? Please contact cdann(at)gsblaw(dot)com for more information.

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Several clients have lately been asking about notices they've received that look like this. If they come from the Eastern District court in New York, they’re legitimate, and if you are a merchant who accepted Visa or MasterCard or both between January 1, 2004 and November 28, 2012, you are a probably a member of the class and should have received one too. If you didn't, the lawsuit and proposed settlement are discussed in detail here. Take a look; the settlement could affect your legal rights.  You have until May 28, 2013 to exclude yourself from the settlement (opt-out) or object to its terms; the final hearing on the proposed settlement will be September 12, 2013. Assuming the court approves the settlement, with or without changes that may occur as the result of objections, claim forms will be issued after that date to class members and a claim deadline will be set.

The United Kingdom's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) issued a Statement of Objections this Tuesday alleging that industry giants Booking.com B.V., Expedia, Inc. and InterContinental Hotels Group violated the UK’s Competition Act of 1998. The Statement of Objections will not be made public, but from OFT’s comments, it’s rate parity and best rate guarantees that are causing the trouble.

Requiring on-line travel agents (OTAs) to honor a hotel supplier’s best rate guarantee (at retail) and requiring hoteliers to provide inventory to distributors at the same price across all distribution channels are as close to universal practice in this industry as I have seen. And now, OFT appears to consider them by a less salubrious name: price-fixing.   However, the Statement of Objections is not “the final word." It is a sort of pre-trial opinion in which OFT provides official notice of a “proposed infringement [of the Competition Act 1998] decision” and the parties to the dispute may make written and oral arguments to be considered before final decision is rendered. 

OFT’s statement was issued at the end of an investigation begun in 2010 after a complaint was made by Skoosh, a small British OTA. Skoosh contacted OFT after Skoosh’s own hotel suppliers demanded that Skoosh raise its retail rates to a certain figure (among other allegations). The hoteliers, of course, were apparently acting to meet pressure applied by Booking and Expedia not to violate what was almost certainly a contractually required rate parity obligation of some sort. In effect, Skoosh raised concerns with OFT that rate parity and best rate guarantees operate together to artificially fix prices in the marketplace and therefore act as a barrier to competition, particularly for new or smaller players, like Skoosh, who might be willing to undersell the larger OTAs to grow its business.

If OFT formally issues a finding of an infringement, despite its jurisdiction being limited to the UK, the finding will cause--at a minimum--a shift in the way a significant majority of the hospitality industry conducts its distribution business, as well as the amount of competition in the marketplace. The Internet, after all, is international. So please stay tuned!

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Greg Duff, Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs GSB’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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