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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 airport

Fourteen 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.

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

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, 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, its rate parity and best rate guarantees that are causing the trouble.

What do the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Timbers, NBC Universal’s television series Grimm, Timberline Lodge, the Oregon Brewers Festival, the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival, the Intertwine, the Portland Highland Games and the Oregon Dental Association all have in common? They were all recognized at the 33rd Annual Tourism & Hospitality Industry Awards Celebration breakfast, hosted by Travel Portland. Hosted during the celebration of Travel & Tourism Week presented by the U.S. Travel Association May 8-15, 2012, Travel Portland had a lot to celebrate.

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Greg Duff
Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’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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