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It’s estimated that room poaching results in upwards of $1.3 billion in lost revenue for hotels and lost funds for consumers every year. As hotels and consumers look for a way to fight against these losses, trademark infringement may be emerging as the most effective tool.

Room poaching occurs when companies position themselves as an event’s housing bureau in order to entice attendees to unwittingly book rooms outside of the official room block. Fake or out-of-block reservations can result in lost reservation fees for hotels, surprise charges and inconvenient and expensive last minute re-booking at alternative hotels for consumers. Further, trademark infringement can erode brand equity and good will between partnering hotels and groups.

Oregon’s legislature has broadened Oregon’s tax on short-term room rentals (also called the transient lodging tax). The new law, Enrolled House Bill (EHB) 4120, expands the scope of persons who must collect and remit the tax and file returns.

Background and Prior Law

EHB 4120 comes after a 2013 change in the law meant to treat third-party intermediaries on par with traditional hotels and motels. Apparently, the legislature now believes the earlier change did not go far enough—so in comes the amendment.

The old law and new law both require intermediaries to collect the tax along with short-term rental providers. But the old law defined intermediaries somewhat narrowly as those who simply facilitate and charge for short-term rental sales. While some intermediaries collected and paid the tax under this framework, that approach was not consistent across the market.

For example, some cities and counties reached voluntary agreements with certain intermediary companies to collect the tax; others had to rely on property owners’ individual compliance. Some intermediary companies took the position that the tax did not apply to them.

Washington State Convention CenterWashington lawmakers have decided that all types of lodging in King County should participate in funding the Washington State Convention Center. Since the advent of King County’s convention center tax in 1982, hotels and motels with 60 or more units have had to collect from guests not only the retail sales tax, but also the convention center tax. In Seattle, the convention center tax is 7 percent; in the rest of King County it is 2.8%. As smaller lodging facilities and short-term rentals have increased in popularity, it has become clear that exempting them from the convention center tax has been giving them an unfair basis for competing against larger facilities.

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.

California employers are currently scratching their heads over how to interpret “suitable seating” that is required under California Wage Orders. Nancy Cooper, member of our Labor and Employment Group and Hospitality, Travel and Tourism practice team, discusses how that term is defined will affect your business. Thank you for today’s post, Nancy! - Greg

Lately, we’ve been hearing from a number of our clients and friends in the industry of a startling increase in the number of letters and emails alleging patent infringement. As hospitality- and restaurant-industry businesses become bigger and bigger users of patentable technology, we expect we may see many more of these claims. In an effort to provide a straightforward set of guidelines to our clients and friends, I went to my litigation partner, Tom Richardson, who happens to be defending a number of alleged patent infringement claims right now, and good friend and patent attorney, Charles Moore, and asked them for a streamlined checklist of how to handle receipt of such a letter or email. Tom brings over 35 years of litigation experience to a broad range of complex cases, including anti-trust and business torts; securities; trademark, copyright and patent disputes; complex commercial contract cases; and product liability and warranty claims and risk avoidance. Charles is a patent attorney with the Portland, OR intellectual property firm of Alleman Hall McCoy Russell & Tuttle, LLP, where he represents clients in a variety of patent matters, including helping them defend against patent troll claims, and preparing and prosecuting patent applications before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Charles also has over 13 years of in-house practice, most recently as Senior IP Counsel with Hewlett-Packard Company. Here are their suggestions:

Our friends at Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau have issued a "Call to Action" regarding Substitute House Bill 1371: Boards and Commissions. They have requested our help with the following:

Happy New Year (belated)! The new year means new opportunities, and in the Hospitality industry that means it’s events time! The calendar of upcoming events is varied, but here are a couple that I plan to attend:

ALIS (America’s Lodging Investment Summit): I will be attending this San Diego event, January 24 through 26. According to the website, ALIS is the “leading and largest hotel investment conference in the world, attracting more than 7,000 delegates from around the globe over the past three years.” If you plan to attend, and you’d like to get together, please email me.

2011 Hospitality Law Conference: Held at the Omni Houston Hotel in Houston, Texas, this event covers the latest trends and issues in hospitality law. This year, I’ll be speaking at the conference on the topic of distribution. I would love to meet up with you in Houston; just send me an email and let’s get together.

Of course, I’ll be providing updates and a thorough follow up after each conference. If there is a topic to be covered at either of these events that you’d like particularly to hear about, please let me know and I’ll do my best to cover it.

Given the recent attention paid by clients to local security issues (including the recent and well received Hotel Industry Security Forum sponsored with the Washington Lodging Association – see Ruth Walter’s recent post on this event), I thought it a good time to review the obligations imposed by law on hoteliers and restaurateurs in Washington and Oregon to protect their guests and customers from crimes committed by third parties.  In other words, what responsibility does a hotel or restaurant owner have for guests or customers who are injured (or whose property is damaged or stolen) by criminals.  As I explain below, the more a hotel or restaurant owners knows about potential criminal conduct at her establishment, the more likely it is that she may be held responsible for not warning and/or protecting her guests or clients against it.

For those of you that routinely purchase split cases of wine, December 8 is an important date. On December 8, the Washington State Liquor Control Board will hold public hearings in Olympia on proposed regulatory changes that would authorize wine distributors to collect handling fees from hotels, restaurants and other retail licensees that order and receive split cases of wine. As you may have already guessed, the newly proposed rule is the result of a request made by the Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.

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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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