At the end of the week Think Progress put out a piece critical of Hyatt for hosting the ACT for America conference at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City.
I’m unfamiliar with the group, but they (along with half of America) are described by the Southern Poverty Law Center “as an anti-Muslim extremist and hate group.” A cursory reading suggests:
- Their Executive Director used to work for the Christian Coalition.
- They appear generally pro-Trump, count several allies in Congress and the national security establishment (Michael Flynn was a board member), and lobby against the use of foreign (code for Sharia) law in U.S. courts a position which seems to me unwise because foreign contract issues are often litigated in American courts by U.S. persons and foreign law provides the necessary context for how to resolve those claims, as long as so doing does not offend US public policy.
- They have also opposed the practice of female genital mutilation, which concerns many liberal human rights groups as well, although perhaps their motivations are more strategic than expressions of genuine concern.
The Think Progress piece reports on a petition with 100,000 signatures delivered to Hyatt demanding they back out of providing a venue to the event this coming week. The piece is exasperated that Hyatt “even offered conference attendees discounted rates” which is how conference contracts work, of course. Events guarantee a minimum number of sleeping rooms and the hotel sets aside those rooms at a set price.
Zohab J., a Hyatt loyalist disappointed in Hyatt for this decision, wondered if I might write something about a Hyatt hosting this conference — especially because I’m not sure the right way to handle it. I think this is actually hard.
Last year Marriott’s CEO made a stand for not picking and choosing conference groups based on the views held by those groups
The fact they are having a meeting with us and using our hotel does not mean we support their point of view. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d love to have it so that those types of groups never exist.
…Do we really want, as a society, for companies like Marriott and the peers in our industry and others to sit and make judgments or points of view on people sitting in our meeting rooms? I shudder to think that we really expect that my role or Marriott’s role is to say your views are not acceptable in our hotels and that another person’s views are..
We are serving people from all around the world, from all walks of life, with all points of views, equally and with a genuine welcome, with people who are equally diverse. Our arms need to be open.
By the way I am a long-time supporter of same sex marriage but always found it odd for people to call on businesses not to do business with people they disagree with while not supporting bakeries making the choice of which couples to make wedding cakes for.
I have to imagine the individual hotel signed a contract that the chain wasn’t involved in and now they can’t really just abrogate it. In fact I bet Hyatt corporate wishes the Hyatt Regency Crystal City hadn’t signed this event contract and put them in this position! But what do they do days before the event, when the group represents ideas shared by many, doesn’t bring with it the threat of violence, and there’s no reports of involvement in illegal activity?
If it is me as the hotel’s sales manager maybe I don’t host it, right? It strikes me as very much the right of the hotel to decline (or at least it should be), just as it’s the right of customers to choose not to do business with a hotel based on their decision, whether that’s wise or not.
The hotel’s ownership may not like me turning away the business and might even fire me but do I really want a part of this? Probably not.
Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport, credit: Hyatt
Still I am not sure what the rule is here that works for a hotel chain and I am a bit loathe to say I know the right policy. Earlier this summer Hyatt found itself on the opposite end of similar criticism, targeted when the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport hosted an event held by the Muslim Congress.
Freedom of speech only means something if it protects the speech you hate. There’s no need to protect popular speech.
Hyatt isn’t government, this isn’t a first amendment issue and I think they should have the right to choose whom they work with and host for conferences. At the same time I think the first amendment model is useful in terms of whether to criticize someone for offering a platform or speaking venue.
Even Nazis should be able to hold meetings. And we should criticize them whenever and wherever they express their views. Simply shutting down their expression can easily backfire in terms of sympathy and making groups more cohesive since they feel under attack.
People increasingly want to shout down their opponents and deny them a voice, rather than countering that voice. That seems unwise to me. Just last week the Chairman of the California Democratic Party called for a boycott of In ‘n Out Burger because the chain donates to the state Republican Party (as well as to Democrats).
And yet I understand people who feel less connected with a business that does business with people they disagree with and find offensive.
Does the groups a hotel chain hosts for conferences affect what you think of the chain? Should businesses that portray their values as inclusive have political or ideological tests for group sales contracts? Should customers “vote with their wallet” and choose to spend only with businesses whose associations they agree with?