Hospitality Law - A Guide to Hotel Management

Address by Srilal Miththapala - President, Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka and the Director/Chief Executive Officer of Serendib Leisure Management Ltd., at the Launch of the Book titled ‘Hospitality Law - A Guide to Hotel Management by Dr. Irwin Jayasuriya at Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management on 19th March 2009.

Dear Friends,

I am very proud to stand before you today, having being invited by Dr. Irwin Jayasuriya to make a critical evaluation of his book titled ‘Hospitality Law - A Guide to Hotel Management, which is being launched today.

I got to know Dr. Jayasuriya when I joined the Serendib Group almost a decade ago, and I have interacted closely with him since then, both formally and informally related to a wide range of subjects associated with the tourism industry.

When Dr. Jayasuriya gave me the manuscript and I saw the title, I quite honestly thought this would be another theoretical analysis, which I will now be forced to read through, because of my assignment. However, as I started reading it, I was pleasantly surprised, firstly at the very practical approach that he has taken, and secondly how he has linked the law and everyday practicalities at hotel operational plant level. This is obviously due to his long and close involvement with the industry, and his in-depth knowledge about hotel management.

The book starts off by giving an analysis of the historical perspective of the development of tourism in the World, and also Sri Lanka, leading up to the promulgation of the New Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005. He then deals with the definition of a hotel and the different legislation that distinguishes different types of accommodation providers. From a Sri Lankan perspective, he discusses the Rest Houses Act No. 43 of 1956 in relation to the term ‘Inn’. He also touches on the various new design features of hotels in a modern setting, as well as some information about the tallest and largest hotels in the world.

He then moves onto discuss the rights and duties of a hotel manager. This covers a plethora of very practical management issues and problems that are prevalent in the day today operations of a hotel. We all know how complex a hotel manager’s job can be. Coming from outside to this industry, I can quite confidently say that a Hotel Manager’s job; specially in a Sri Lankan context, is far more difficult than a equivalent white collar job in any industry.

Let me try to put this in some perspective.

‘A Hotel Manager must be a diplomat, a democrat, and autocrat, and acrobat and a doormat. He must have the facility to entertain prime ministers, prices of industry, pickpockets, gamblers, bookmakers, pirates, philanthropists, popsies and prudes. He must be on both sides of the ‘political fence’ and must be able to jump, or sit on the fence.

He should be or have been a footballer, golfer, bowler, tennis player, cricketer, dart player, sailor, pigeon fancier, motor racer and linguist as well as have a good knowledge of any other sport involving dice, cards, horse racing and billiards. It is also most useful, as he has sometimes to settle arguments and squabbles, that he should be a qualified boxer, wrestler, weight lifter, sprinter and peacemaker.

He must always look immaculate - when drinking with the ladies and gentlemen mentioned in the first paragraph, as well as bankers, wankers, theatricals, commercial travellers and company representatives even though he has just made peace between any of the two, four, six or more of the aforementioned patrons.

To be successful he must keep the bar full, the house full, the storeroom full, the wine cellar full, the customers full and not get full himself. He must have staff who are clean, honest, quick workers, quick thinkers, nondrinkers, mathematicians, technicians and at all times be on the boss’s side, the customers side and stay on the outside of the bar.

To sum up: He must be outside, inside, offside, glorified, sanctified, crucified, stupefied, cross eyed and if he’s not the strong silent type there’s always suicide’.

Dr. Jayasuriya seems to have been able to capture most of this complexity in his book. I was particularly interested at some of the practical and legal aspects as to when and how a hotel manager can enter a guest room. There were some intriguing examples where the right to search a guest in a paying room is discussed. I myself was not aware that in Sri Lanka, if a Police search has to be made of a room of a paying guest, the Police are required to obtain a Magisterial warrant before entering the room of the guest. Any search of a guest room without a warrant would entail a violation of a right under the provisions of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

He describes another amusing incident (not in Sri Lanka) where, I quote,

‘the Hotel Manager entered the room and accused the husband and wife of being unmarried and ordered them out of the Hotel despite their being paying guests, Court ruled that the Hotel manager trespassed on the privacy of the guests by entering their room and was liable for humiliation his conduct had caused’.

He also discusses the very common issue of loss of cash and valuables in hotel rooms. In this regard, there was a situation described in the book where the importance of the acceptance of the terms of contract, at the point of checking in at the reception is highlighted. I quote

‘a couple who booked in to the Hotel saw a notice on the door of the room to the effect that Proprietors will not hold themselves responsible for articles lost or stolen unless handed over to the manageress for safe custody". The guests handed in the key of the room to the reception and went out and when they returned they found that some of their valuables had been stolen. The defendant Hotel tried to use the notice in the room as a term of the original contract of booking but Court held that since the contract was completed at the reception, no subsequent notice could affect the rights of the guest. Court held that if the Hotel is to include a new term to the contract, then the guest should have been informed at the reception desk or a notice should be displayed at the reception.’

The subject of injuries a guest can sustain in hotel, a real life situation that the Managers are faced with very often, is also dealt with including accidents in swimming pools.

The book also dwells on accommodation booking, including tour operator contracts. There was an example where Dr. Jayasuriya highlights the contractual obligation of hotels, in failing to provide the required accommodation to a guest, according to the contract, or providing a standard of accommodation below what was promised, as a breach of the condition of the contract and damages that become payable. I quote

‘a client had booked a well known Colombo Hotel for the wedding of his daughter, and the booking had been made at least 6 months before the function. However, about three weeks before the function the then (late) Foreign Minister of Sri Lankan government of the time had arranged an important international Conference and most of the rooms in the Colombo Hotels, including this Hotel, had been taken over by the Foreign ministry to accommodate the foreign delegates and all functions had to be cancelled. The client who had booked the Hotel for his daughter’s wedding and who had paid an advance, was informed and when his lawyers took this matter with the Hotel, the Hotel agreed to pay back the advance plus 30% of the cost that would be incurred by the client in arranging another Hotel out of the city for the function, and at very short notice’.

There are detailed Chapters on House Keeping and Food and Beverage Service with special emphasis on the Excise Ordinance and liquor Service in Hotels and Restaurant, which is also a very relevant subject among hoteliers, given the complexities of dealing with local Excise department officials. There are also details about the Food Act and the Municipal Councils Ordinance, which also makes interesting reading. There is an analysis about when a hotel or restaurant is expected to serve every customer who walks in demanding service and under what conditions can the establishment refuse to service a customer, based on the principle of freedom of contract. The aspect of setting intoxicating drinks at the pool side is also dealt with in depth, with particular emphasis on who shall be responsible, if there is injury or death as a consequence of accidents occurring in the swimming pools after taking of intoxicating drinks.

The last chapter deals with Service Charges and Tips in the industry.

The book also has a substantial amount of annexures, where relevant gazette notification copies are provided.

If I were to dwell on a few possible shortcomings in my mind, it would firstly be that there is inadequate explanations and exposure about the New Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005. All of us in Sri Lanka Tourism are well aware, of the long and arduous journey that many of us trod for over a decade, surmounting so many obstacles, to get this Act to finally see the tight of day. Actually although the New Act was passed in Parliament in 2005, it was finally implemented as Law only in late 2007. It has currently been in operation for about 1 1/2 years and although there are still remains some teething problems, by and large, it has forged closer ties between the Public and Private sector and greater understanding among all stakeholders, In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is one of the best examples where Private Sector and Public Sector participation has worked considerably well, and it would be a shining example for many other industries.

And also felt that a more in depth analysis could have been given to tour operator contracts, which is a very important aspect of Sri Lanka tourism. With litigation and consumer rights becoming stronger in the Western world, Tour Operator contracts are also consequently becoming more and more complex, as most of us, who go through the bi-annual thankless task of negotiating tour operator contracts.

Breakages and related Service Charge deduction specially in Sri Lankan context could have been discussed more in detail, which is currently a highly debated subject with the hotel ‘Unions. The aspect of consolidation of Service Charge into salaries is also another area that would have been worth working at, as well as how Service Charge is implemented in other countries. In Sri Lanka we apply it across the board, even for tour operator contracts signed in advance, where as in countries like Maldives it is applied only to direct sales.

Although, the book indicates a few Sri Lankan examples, most of the other references mentioned were from external countries. More examples from Sri Lanka, and local cases, would have been more interesting and relevant.

Notwithstanding these minor observations, I reiterate that this is indeed, not only a very comprehensive and readable book, but it could also be an important reference book for Managers and students alike.

May I congratulate Dr. Jayasuriya for the excellent work, which will enhance the tourism industry, and wish him many more years of fruitful efforts and useful inputs to the hotel industry.

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