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Finding hotel privacy without a ‘do not disturb' sign

Finding hotel privacy without a ‘do not disturb' sign
Posted at 4:21 PM, Feb 07, 2018

If you’ve visited a Walt Disney World hotel recently, you may have noticed that the traditional “Do not disturb” signs have been replaced with “Room Occupied” signs. The new signs also warn guests that any hotel staff may enter the room at any time — even if the sign is hanging on the door.

Similarly, Hilton Hotels and Resorts updated its “Do not disturb” policy: While the signs are still available for guests to hang on their door, hotel staff may check on guests after 24 hours of consecutive “Do not disturb” sign use.

While neither company attributed these changes directly to the October 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, in which a gunman fired on a music festival from a hotel room, travel experts say that attack likely prompted hotels to take a closer look at how staff can help prevent such tragedies. The gunman kept a “Do not disturb” sign on his door for days before the attack as he stockpiled weaponry, so hotel staff didn’t enter the room, according to news reports.

For hotel guests, the changes can be a mixed bag: On one hand, improving security by preventing attacks like the one in Las Vegas is a priority for everyone. On the other hand, some guests value their privacy and don’t want hotel staff entering their room at any time. We talked with travel experts about what guests can do to feel comfortable in their rooms. Here is their advice.

Embrace the added security measures

Mike Belobradic, a luxury travel blogger and founder of the Disney travel blog The Finer Side of Travel, welcomes the changes.

“It’s a good thing for hotel security all around,” he says, adding that most guests won’t notice any difference, since hotel staff already tend to enter the room at least once a day to clean.

Belobradic says that few people keep a “Do not disturb” sign up for longer than a day — and he notes that guests can also find comfort in the changes, since they could be checked on and helped if they hadn’t left their room due to a medical emergency or illness.

Anyone concerned about privacy under the changes should ask about it at check-in, he says. “I don’t expect that any Disney hotel cast members will be barging in and trying to surprise you,” he says, adding that any interruption would likely be similar to a housekeeping visit now, which is typically preceded by a loud knock. (Disney’s new signs state that “hotel staff will knock and announce their presence before entering.”)

Still, Belobradic adds, “If you are in the bathroom or the shower, be sure to close the bathroom door to avoid any awkward surprises.”

Call for details in advance

Because privacy policies aren’t easy to compare online, Travelocity spokesperson Keith Nowak suggests contacting the hotel before booking to address any concerns you might have.

“It’s not an easy search, like ‘free breakfast’ or ‘free parking,’” he says.

That means the only way to get details in advance about a hotel’s privacy policy is to ask, especially if you are trying to compare options before booking a room.

Don’t leave kids in a room alone

Most parents probably wouldn’t think of leaving their kids unattended regardless of privacy policies, but now it may be even more important to stick together, says Joe Wright, a former Disney cast member and frequent Disney guest who tweets under the handle @Disney4life2005.

He says given the higher chance of staff members checking on guests and without the ability to use a “Do not disturb” sign, he would hesitate to allow his daughters to change or shower in the room without an adult with them, for example.

“The safe way to have a family vacation is by staying together as a group,” he says.

Talk to the hotel about special circumstances

If you have good reason to be left alone for more than 24 hours — perhaps you’re sick or attempting to write the next great American novel — then the hotel staff will likely be understanding. At Hilton hotels, for example, the policy recommends alerting a security or duty manager if a guest has been using the “Do not disturb” sign continuously for over 24 hours, but daily visits aren’t necessarily required.

In an email, a Hilton spokesperson said that security staff will consider individual circumstances that may justify longer use of “Do not disturb” signs. “This guidance was provided to help properties protect guest privacy, but also manage suspicious activity and any concerns about a guest’s welfare,” according to Hilton’s statement.

Be flexible

Paula Pant, a frequent solo traveler and creator of the Afford Anything blog, says she frequently uses “Do not disturb” signs to accommodate her schedule: If she arrives late, she uses the sign to avoid being woken up by housekeeping in the morning. Or if she’s working on her laptop and hoping to avoid an unnecessary interruption, she’ll put out the sign.

While she is skeptical that policy changes will improve security, she is also sensitive to the desire to do so, particularly since she lives in Las Vegas. If she stays in a hotel that doesn’t allow lengthy “Do not disturb” use, she says she’ll still put the sign on the door — to protect her sleep and her focus — but within the required limits, even if she has doubts about the policy.

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