Op-Ed: Request for Reconsideration of the Data Privacy Bill

by Christopher M. Scott I want to thank the Governor for vetoing the data privacy bill passed by the legislature. I have become increasingly concerned about the potential impact of H.121 legislation on my hotel business. The more I learn about it, the more I realize how it could disrupt our operations and affect our ability to serve and reach our customers.

Our primary concern is related to the basic data we collect and store to maintain a personal relationship with our guests. The bill restricts data collection to "what is reasonably necessary and proportionate to provide or maintain a specific product or service requested by the consumer." We are worried that if a customer checks in for the first time, we may be breaking the law by collecting their email address or sending them a future email without explicit permission.

The rise of online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Booking.com has slowly eroded the personal relationships we painstakingly built with our guests over many years. When customers book with an OTA, the OTA mediates all guest interactions to ensure the guest remains loyal only to the OTA. We only learn about our guests when they check in to stay with us.

We don't even receive their email addresses in advance. The check-in process is our best opportunity to know more about them, yet it isn't "necessary" to collect their email to process their payment information.

Therefore, it is crucial to our connection with all guests to collect an email at check-in so that we can communicate about specials, packages, and other promotions that would be of interest. Our monthly emails inform guests about things to do in the area and promote the Vermont good life. If a new law disrupts these types of communications, we will miss out on one of our most effective ways of earning repeat business.

Like most tourism businesses, we primarily advertise on digital platforms. Our marketing resources are limited, and therefore, it's crucial that we spend our advertising budget wisely. If this law hampers our marketing efforts in ways that would make Vermont an outlier, it will also impact us.

Vermont is a unique place, yet we compete with other tourism destinations in New England. We must utilize the same marketing methods and tools as other hotels across New England states to stay competitive. Other New England states have data privacy laws. If the bill that the Governor vetoed goes above and beyond those states, what is the significant benefit to consumers for the potential impact on a small business like mine?

To the legislators considering what to do with the Governor's veto, I ask for your support and urge you to work towards passing a revised law based on requirements that have been proven elsewhere.

Christopher M. Scott is President of Green Mountain Hospitality