Time: April 01, 2019
Whether we are traveling for business or pleasure, our hotel or other accommodation is a crucial element in any trip, and the hospitality sector is an integral part of the economy, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
The General Authority for Tourism and National Heritage works hard to educate consumers about their rights, in the belief that its laws and regulations are the basis for sustainable development and prosperity in the industry.
Essentially, the law regulates the relationship between hospitality operators and their guests. The most important factor is ensuring the safety of guests and their belongings. On that subject, you should note that any warning by a hotel that it is not responsible for loss or damage to a guest’s property has no force in law.
Once a booking is confirmed, the hotel is obliged to provide accommodation. If it is unavailable they must provide an alternative at the same cost, even if it is to a higher standard. If a property has to close, or an emergency situation arises that presents a danger to guests, the hotel is again obliged to supply alternative accommodation to a similar or higher standard.
Note, also, that if you wish your luggage to be carried to and from your room, the hotel is required to do so; it is not an optional service.
The law is to a large extent guest-friendly, and makes considerable demands on hotel operators. They are obliged to clearly list all the services they provide in detail, and may not require a minimum stay. All safety procedures in the property must be regularly tested.
The privacy of guests is protected. Their identity and personal information may not be shared in any way. The hotel has the right only to see a guest’s passport or other means of identity, and may not retain either the original or a copy.
The only trade-off for these rights is that guests are obliged to respect the property and its equipment, to adhere to arrival and departure dates, and to refrain from smoking in the property’s public spaces.
The law considers the booking document signed by the guest and the hotel to be a legal contract. It should contain the classification of the room and its characteristics, the guest’s information, the number of nights and the method of payment. The guest may also cancel the reservation in writing, totally or partially, at least 24 hours before arrival. Payment may be made each day or at the end of the stay.
There has been much discussion about women, whether Saudi nationals or expatriates, being prevented from booking hotels without a male guardian. In fact, the law explicitly states that women may be accommodated without the presence of a guardian.
Inspection committees play an important role in ensuring the quality of accommodation and the conduct of all parties, including guests. A special committee examines any irregularities and issues a fine where appropriate. This can be challenged with an appeal to the chairman of the General Authority for Tourism and Heritage, and if necessary by a further appeal to the Board of Grievances.
The strict enforcement of these rules and regulations by all parties contributes to attracting investments that raise the value and quality of the hospitality sector in line with the Kingdom’s development strategies and aspirations.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif