“It was likely not intentional, but the fact that he equated us with an anti-Muslim group which promotes bigotry is inappropriate because we promote civil rights and understanding,” said Ibrahim Hopper, the group’s communications director. Mr. Hooper added that CAIR had spoken out against ACT for America extensively.
The controversy illustrates the balancing act that hospitality companies must perform given their mandate to open their doors to all comers without alienating any, even when those guests have become increasingly polarized.
Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, does not shrink from politically charged issues, recently citing the company’s commitment to inclusion as its reason for canceling accounts and bookings related to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Airbnb also said that it would house refugees in the wake of President Trump’s travel ban.
Large hotel brands, though, would not say that they would deny any group a booking, suggesting that Marriott is not an outlier.
Critics took to social media to protest Marriott’s decision both before and after Mr. Sorenson spoke about the issue at Skift’s forum.
Some groups penned letters to Mr. Sorenson asking him to cancel the conference. The online racial justice organization Color for Change wrote a letter on Sept. 22 saying that accepting ACT for America’s business is an “indicator of support and an endorsement of their hateful efforts.”
Marriott responded with a form email that said its acceptance of the booking did not indicate support or endorsement. (Marriott responded with the same email to a request from The New York Times.)
Some travel industry experts said they were surprised by Marriott’s stance. Mr. Sorenson was one of the first travel industry leaders to speak out against Mr. Trump’s travel ban, and the company has a reputation for its inclusive and welcoming culture.
Sharon E. Jones, the founder of Jones Diversity, a consulting company that advises corporations on how to have a diverse and inclusive culture, said that, in this instance, Marriott should consider aligning its business approach with its professed diversity and inclusion commitment because not doing so could deter travelers from staying at its properties. “Similar to how people make a decision to stay at a hotel because it’s sustainable, they can make a decision not to stay at one where hate groups have events,” she said.
Ultimately, though, Mr. Sorenson’s position may protect Marriott from a potential exposure to liability, said Heather Adelman, a partner at the River Edge, N.J.-based law firm Hartmann Doherty, who practices employment and discrimination law. “By not allowing ACT for America to have its conference at a Marriott, the company could be exposing itself to liability for failure to accommodate.”
The long-term impact, if any, on Marriott’s business because of its refusal to cancel the conference is yet to be seen, but CAIR is still giving the Gateway Marriott its business by holding its annual banquet at the property. “The hotel gets attacked every year for hosting us, but they have always supported us, and we have a good relationship with the management there,” Mr. Hooper said. “Of course we will continue to have our banquet there.”
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