Editor's Blog

Marriott’s very modern dilemma

One of the creepiest things about marketing is the way it attaches ‘values’ to corporations - as if they have a higher purpose beyond selling more products and making their shareholders more rich.

Banks, insurance companies, even fast-food chains now effuse a fake bouquet of worthiness, usually focused on that holy trinity of modern-day virtue: equality, diversity and inclusion. Stuff against which boxes can be ticked.

The results can be unintentionally hilarious – as when The Carphone Warehouse had to distance itself from a reality-TV racism scandal which, it claimed, was ‘entirely at odds with its values’.

The spectacle of a stack-em-high, sell-em-cheap retailer issuing a pompous statement about its values – as though it had been musing on Rousseau and Mill – meant we had finally reached peak bullshit.

And yet there are times when corporate behemoths are seemingly forced to make moral judgements, often centring on the kind of people with whom they choose to do business.

The hotel chain Marriott is facing flak for hosting a convention of ACT America – a 750,000-strong membership association that calls itself a ‘grassroots national security organisation’.

Awkwardly for Marriot the group has also been called America’s ‘largest anti-Muslim hate group’.  

Whatever the truth of the matter –  ACT America’s website carries its own anti-violence, anti-discrimination policy - for a people-facing company like Marriot perception is everything.

Yet, amid calls to cancel the event, Marriott has decided to play this one straight. “We are a hospitality company that provides public accommodations and function space,” it says unarguably. “Acceptance of business does not indicate support or endorsement of any group or individual.”

Part of me admires this stance. After all, when corporations take a moral position on something, it is usually with damage limitation or reputation management in mind – not because a public company with thousands of shareholders is capable of having a belief system, in any meaningful sense.

There is an honesty about Marriott’s position here that it refreshing, even if elsewhere its website points out that ‘diversity and inclusion is fundamental to our core values and strategic business goals’, the kind of meaningless babble that might support or contradict any decision it makes.

Sure, there will always come a point when we expect corporations to exercise some judgement. I would cancel my loyalty card if a hotel chose to host the KKK for example. But life would get pretty tedious if venues – or any other type of corporation – bowed to pressure at the first sign of a Twitter storm. No, those tortuously trite ‘value statements’ should really be kept for special occasions. 

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  • Anonymous User 06/10/2017

    Marriot did the right thing here. We had this year ourselves a situation that our property in Cologne was the host hotel for the AfD party event in April. In January 2017 the leader of the AfD made some poor comments and our company gave him a so called 'house exclusion'. The press was all over this - how could we have the AfD holding there party congress in our hotel?
    The fact is, while we were by no means in agreement with the policies of this party they are an official party prior to the elections just held. They are now the 3rd strongest party in Germany (sad) and 1 in 8 German voters voted for them yet in April we had staff at the hotel attacked verbally even children of the GM had to be taken out of the school and our Frankfurt property had one night the front glass facade smashed in by the left wing parties so Marriot we actually understand that business has to be looked at professionally and certain business has to be declined from ethics and laws but as a hotel group we have to choose these ethics ourselves. The laws of the country are straight if the event is a banned or legally border-case then the hotel/venue should walk away. In our case the AfD event caused a lot of problems leading up to the event and security was raised for the meeting. But they are a legal party and today they scored 16% of the votes at the general election (SPD 20.5% and CDU/CSU 34.5%)
    they have secured 94 seats in parliament. Hotels/Venues have to be open to defer business morally and ethically but that is the choice of the company. We know 1st hand the issues that arise here