Hotels are all about improving the guest experience, which is why hospitality companies are so interested in getting their hands on travelers’ personal information. With so much riding on whether or not guests are willing to share their information with hoteliers, trust is of the utmost importance. So when a hotel in Phoenix reportedly tipped off members of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency regarding suspicions that a guest was an illegal immigrant, it may seem like the law working in due course but it also raises key questions about trust.
According to the Phoenix New Times, a front-desk employee at a Motel 6 in Arizona is suspected of doing just that in June after a guest handed them a Mexican voter ID card as identification. The guest — Manuel Rodriguez-Juarez — was not authorized to be in the U.S., and is currently being held at a detention center. In reviewing court records, the Phoenix New Times found that ICE agents made at least 20 arrests at two Motel 6 locations in Phoenix between February and August of this year. Both properties are managed by G6 Hospitality, the parent company of the Motel 6 brand.
The statement of probable cause released for Rodriguez-Juarez’s arrest noted that ICE agents were “following a lead,” implying someone had given them information on Rodriguez-Juarez’s location. When the newspaper discussed the issue with employees, the front-desk workers informed the Phoenix New Times that they sent daily reports to ICE each morning with all of the names of everyone booking into the property. “Every morning at about 5 o’clock, we do the audit and we push a button and it sends it to ICE,” they said.
Sharing hotel guest lists with local authorities is neither illegal nor uncommon. A 2015 Supreme Court decision stated that the city of Phoenix is unable to require hotels or motels to turn over guest information without a warrant, but operators are able to do so willingly. The important distinction to make is whether or not ICE agents enlisted Motel 6 employees to provide information first, or if the information was provided voluntarily. If ICE requested guest lists first, that would make Motel 6 operators agents of the government and would also trample on state privacy laws. In this case, however, Motel 6 maintains that hotel employees had been sharing information with ICE officials without Motel 6’s knowledge.
“Over the past several days, it was brought to our attention that certain local Motel 6 properties in the Phoenix-area were voluntarily providing daily guest lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As previously stated, this was undertaken at the local level without the knowledge of senior management. When we became aware of it, it was discontinued," a spokesperson for Motel 6 said in a statement.
"Moving forward, to help ensure that this does not occur again, we will be issuing a directive to every one of our more than 1,400 locations nationwide, making clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guest lists to ICE.
"Additionally, to help ensure that our broader engagement with law enforcement is done in a manner that is respectful of our guests’ rights, we will be undertaking a comprehensive review of our current practices and then issue updated, company-wide guidelines."
Protecting the privacy and security of our guests are core values of our company. Motel 6 apologizes for this incident and will continue to work to earn the trust and patronage of our millions of loyal guests.”
Statement Regarding Recent Media Reports on Phoenix-area Location pic.twitter.com/MPxaspNA6b— Motel 6 (@motel6) September 14, 2017
The law may be opaque here, but hotels also have to contend with the court of public opinion, where privacy concerns are taken seriously. This isn’t a concept isolated to hospitality, with nearly every app, company and service asking for access to consumers’ physical and email addresses, phone numbers and more. As hotels adopt new technology such as voice-recognition devices (Amazon’s Alexa comes to mind), travelers have expressed trepidation regarding machines listening for vocal cues.
The ACLU of Arizona criticized Motel 6 for failing to disclose to its guests that their personal information may be shared with law enforcement, which might be the key takeaway from all of this. In the end, if hotels want to continue to effectively gather guest information, they might want to inform their guests just how their information can be used, or they run the risk of limiting contributions.