Another Side to the ‘Do Not Disturb’ Issue

a hand opening a hotel guest room door

Early this year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association clarified its position on a suddenly controversial subject: the right of hotels to enter an occupied guest room when a “Do Not Disturb” sign remains on the door for an extended period, usually 24 hours or more.

AH&LA believes hotels not only have a right to enter such rooms, but they have an obligation. While all guests make the valid assumptions that they will be afforded privacy during their stays, AH&LA argues hotels need to address building security and the safety of all guests.

Hotels that changed “Do Not Disturb” policies say there’s no connection, but the moves come largely in the aftermath of last October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. The gunman in that case was able to hoard a large cache of weapons in his room at the Mandalay Bay Resort undetected by housekeepers, who respected the “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on his door.

While the argument for entering an occupied room is compelling, guests still should expect that their privacy will be respected and they’ll be left undisturbed. M&R Hotel Management has five airport hotels in its portfolio, for example, and airline crews and travelers whose flights have been delayed or canceled are often among the guests. It’s not unusual for these guests, especially those coming off an arduous long-haul flight, to sleep during the day. So they’ll often hang out the “Do Not Disturb” sign and go to bed.

It’s just one instance of how a sign might be hung on a door for a long period and be totally innocent. Furthermore, it’s an example of how a guest might be understandably annoyed at being disturbed for no credible reason.

These decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. No one policy covers all situations. To the degree possible, hoteliers should consider all circumstances. The “do not disturb” sign notwithstanding, these questions should be answered before entering: Did the guest seem physically well at check-in, and when was the room last cleaned?

Occupied rooms should be entered only as a last resort. Before that decision is made, the manager should try calling the room to check on the guest. After that, it comes down to intuition and instinct. Managers must make their decision – however difficult – then proceed.

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