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Getting hotels up to standard

For decades, routine restaurant inspections have been an Allen County Department of Health function. And in recent years, to enforce state-set as well as local regulations, the department has added tattoo and body-piercing businesses to its inspection list. But hotels have remained exempt.

That is a step closer to changing. Health department board members on Monday unanimously recommended hotel standards to be implemented on Jan. 1. All that remains is the commissioners’ approval.

The regulations would for the first time set sanitary standards for the county’s lodgings (bed-and-breakfasts are covered separately by state law). Each hotel would receive a letter grade after its annual inspection; the grade card would go on display in the lobby.

People affiliated with tourism led the push, which was in part a pushback against a worrisome trend.

TinCaps President Mike Nutter, a member of the Visit Fort Wayne board, told The Journal Gazette’s Vivian Sade: “I constantly get the same message from visiting teams: people are so friendly, businesses are honest and ethical, it’s a great ballpark – but your hotels need work.”

Added Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne: “By and large, we have a lot of great properties with the highest standards, but some are not up to standard. And when we get full, the two mix.”

Most corporate-affiliated hotels maintain standards even higher than those in the health department’s proposal. But the department has seen a steadily increasing number of complaints – 29 in 2011, 41 in 2012 and more than 30 with two-plus months remaining in this year. The complaints have included bedbugs and other pests, structural damage and subpar mattresses.

Troubling as the complaints themselves are, the Internet can quickly compound matters, particularly for those whose job it is to attract tourism and commerce. A single negative online review can affect the decisions of potential visitors worldwide.

Having seen such reviews, O’Connell and others decided to take action. And at the start of 2014, the health department will have the authority to fine and demand changes of area lodgings that earned such online Trip Advisor reviews as “Run away,” “Bed Bug City” and “ ‘Hotel Impossible’ candidate.”

In recent weeks, the necessity of government has been much debated. If the protection of its citizens is one of government’s chief functions, the government of Allen County will have served citizens well with the passage and implementation of hotel standards.