Destinations

The truth about why US hotels are ditching 'Do Not Disturb' signs

The humble hotel ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign is checking out Credit: GETTY

The humble hotel ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign has become a thing of the past – and something of an online cause célèbre – for guests at Walt Disney World in Orlando and, potentially, other hotel groups this year.

The sudden change from the traditional door-hanger message to a new ‘Room Occupied’ sign comes in the wake of the tragic Las Vegas shooting last October, during which a hotel guest at the Mandalay Bay resort killed 58 people at a neighbouring music event.

Disney’s decision to replace their signage at four of their hotels around the Magic Kingdom park has led to a furore from Walt Disney World fans, who are disturbed by the change of language, but it follows a move by the Hilton group to require staff to alert security if a ‘Do Not Disturb’ is displayed for more than 24 hours. Here’s what’s happening.

The policy has led to a furore from Walt Disney World fans

Which hotels are involved? 

Two major Las Vegas hotel companies, Boyd Gaming and Wynn Resorts, put out new guidelines to staff in late October requiring ‘welfare checks’ on rooms that displayed a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for extended periods. Hilton followed suit in November.

Disney went a step further on December 22 by changing the door-hangers at four hotels – the Grand Floridian, Bay Lake Tower, Contemporary and Polynesian Village resorts – to read ‘Room Occupied’, and adding the wording, “The Disney Resort hotel and its staff reserve the right to enter your room, even when this sign is displayed, for maintenance, safety, security or any other purpose.”

The Wynn Las Vegas

All other Disney hotels, including those in Disneyland California, are expected to follow suit this year, while other hotel groups are monitoring the situation closely.

Why are people angry about it?

The online backlash against this new policy centres on the idea that this is an invasion of privacy for guests in hotel rooms. Some people envisage hotel staff making unannounced checks under “safety and security” guidelines.

However, industry experts point out hotels have always had the right to enter a guest’s room, whether or not a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign is displayed, as a matter of basic house-keeping, including for safety reasons.

What are the conspiracy theories?

Many Disney fans, who are notoriously sensitive to any changes to “the most magical place on earth,” have protested loudly online, insisting it is heavy-handed and a potential annoyance, while also claiming staff are not sufficiently trained to carry out the new policy sympathetically.

Some have even claimed it is a deliberate policy aimed at increasing covert surveillance of guests or even a reason to increase dues for Disney Vacation Club guests (Disney’s timeshare hotels), which typically do not charge for daily housekeeping.

Is it anything to do with terrorism?

No hotel group has come out with a stated link to Las Vegas or any other terrorism-related incident, but the timing of the change would certainly indicate that it is a direct response to the largest mass shooting in American history, when hundreds were injured in addition to those killed.

What are Disney and Hilton saying?

The Hilton group has not commented officially on the change, but guests checking in should now receive a statement on their documentation that says, “We understand and respect your need for privacy. The hotel reserves the right to visually inspect all guest rooms every 24 hours to ensure the well-being of our guests and confirm the condition of the room. If service is refused for this length of time, a member of hotel management will check on the guest room.”

Equally, Disney has not issued any statement on the change, but the new door-hangers are already prominent and have been featured in many an angry Facebook post, as well as on other social media.

What’s the bottom line?

There should be no real practical difference for anyone using these hotels, apart from what is, ultimately, a cosmetic change in the wording of the ‘Do Not Disturb’ message.

Many hospitality industries are extremely sensitive in the wake of major incidents like Las Vegas and they seek to reassure customers that they are aware of ongoing security issues. Hotels do not want to upset guests with unnecessary room visits, but they have made it clear, for safety but also legal reasons, that they are now spelling out what Do Not Disturb actually means.

And, if you leave your sign up for more than 24 hours at a time, be ready for a knock on the door from a staff member.