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What You Need to Know About the Dorchester Boycott

May 13, 2014 By: Jena Tesse Fox

The weeklong boycott of the Dorchester Collection hotels is making its impact felt with a decrease in the company’s revenue by about $2 million, according to the New York Times. If your clients are confused about the situation, or if they are unaware of what's been going on, here's what they—and you—should know.

The Dorchester Collection is owned by the sultan of Brunei, a small but wealthy Southeast Asian country that recently instituted Shari’a law, with restrictive measures against women and LGBT people. Many people, both within the LGBT community and beyond, have expressed concern about supporting a country with such restrictive policies.

Virtuoso travel agent Ken Neibaur of Cardoza-Bungey Travel told Travel Agent that while his clients have not yet requested stays in any Dorchester property, he does not know how he would feel if they did—or if he could recommend the hotels in good conscience. “A lot of people and institutions oppose gay rights and they finance a lot of businesses," he said. Still, he acknowledged, LGBT rights can have an impact on where travelers go and where they stay: Ever since Russia’s anti-gay policies became more widely known, he has seen a significant decrease in demand for visits to the country.

When we reached out to Christopher Cowdray, CEO of the Dorchester Collection, he issued the following statement: "While we recognize people’s concerns, we believe this boycott should not be directed to our hotels and dedicated employees. The economic impact of this not only affects our loyal team members but extends to the local community, our valued partners and suppliers.
"Today’s global economy needs to be placed in a broader perspective. Most of us are not aware of the investors behind the brands that have become an integral part of our everyday life, from the gas we put in our cars, to the clothes we wear, to the way we use social media, and to the hotels we frequent. American companies across the board are funded by foreign investment, including Sovereign Wealth Funds.
"During this challenging time, we have been deeply touched by the tremendous support received from our loyal guests and long standing business partners who recognize that Dorchester Collection hotels are part of the fabric of their local communities. We will continue to honor their iconic heritage and remain committed to our core values of integrity, equality and diversity." 

The Boycott and its Impact

The New York Times reported that even before the controversy became widespread, the Human Rights Campaign in Washington began asking the LGBT community, women and others to avoid the Brunei-owned hotels. Once word got out about the conditions, the response was swift and dramatic. An estimated 20 events slated to take place at the Beverly Hills Hotel have been canceled or moved to other venues, including the Motion Picture & Television Fund's annual "Night Before the Oscars" charity event and the Feminist Majority Foundation's annual Global Women's Rights Awards.

According to The Economist, the Collection has acknowledged that the boycott has started to affect bookings, and the New York Times said that the dropoff in business has decreased the company’s revenue by about $2 million, mostly from cancellations at the Beverly Hills Hotel. In London, the Dorchester and 45 Park Lane hotels have seen a slide in entertainment-related business. (Fox, for example, reportedly moved its press junket for “X-Men: Days of Future Past” from the Dorchester.) 

In what may be an acknowledgement of the Collection’s challenges, the company hired the communications consultant Mark Fabiani, who worked with Bill Clinton and other high-profile individuals and companies during similar controversies and problematic times. 

Other individuals and groups within the travel industry has also spoken out about Brunei’s laws and the impact they will have on LGBT people. Virgin president Sir Richard Branson tweeted "No @Virgin employee, nor our family, will stay at Dorchester Hotels until the Sultan abides by basic human rights.", a British online cruise community, announced in a statement that it would also boycott the Dorchester Collection's hotels. “Nothing brings people together more than travel," said Seamus Conlon, managing director of the site. "This is one of the core philosophies of our business and something like this is anathema to that principal. As soon as we heard this news there was only ever one course of action we could take. Any guests asking to book one of these hotels will be politely told why we are unable to fulfil their request and offered a suitable alternative.

The city of Beverly Hills, home to the only two Dorchester Collection properties in the United States, took steps (largely symbolic) to convince Brunei to sell its California properties, including the usually popular Beverly Hills Hotel. According to Fox News, the Beverly Hills City Council voted unanimously 5-0 last week on a resolution to put pressure on the government of Brunei to sever its financial ties to the two properties. (The council could not impose a city-sanctioned boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel Air, however, since Brunei's laws do not interfere with the Sultan's rights to operate a business in the United States.) 

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About the Author

Jena Tesse Fox
Jena Tesse Fox covers Europe, Africa, Australia/South Pacific and business travel for the Questex Travel Group's publications. The daughter of history teachers, she can spend...

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By Jena Tesse Fox | May 13, 2014
If your clients are confused about the situation, or if they are unaware of what's been going on, here's what they—and you—should know.