The CEO of the Dorchester Collection, parent company of the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, warned that the simmering boycott of the properties was misdirected and may end up hurting jobs and local business.
In an interview, the hotel chain’s CEO, Christopher Cowdray, said protesters “have the right to demonstrate, but please direct the demonstration to the formal channels. Lobby Washington. Why try and kill your local business? Your local business has absolutely nothing to do with this.”
Hours earlier, Jay Leno and other entertainment and political figures appeared at a rally across the street from the 101-year-old hotel, calling for a boycott because of the hotel’s backing by the Sultan of Brunei, who is implementing a series of harsh new Islamic laws in his country that have drawn condemnation from LGBT, women’s and human rights organizations.
Cowdray said that nine events have been cancelled at the Beverly Hills Hotel since calls for a boycott started, and the impact on the Hotel Bel-Air has so far been “nothing notable.” The Beverly Hills Hotel hosts about 550 events a year, a spokeswoman said.
He took issue with the demonstrators’ focus on the Dorchester Collection, which is based in Great Britain and has about 4,000 employees, and one of its signature properties. He said that what they are protesting is an international issue.
“My response is, ‘You are singling out the Beverly Hills Hotel, but have you considered your actions?’” he said. “And are you going to single out every other company that has an association with a country with laws that you don’t agree with?”
He noted that other hotels in Los Angeles are owned by Saudi Arabia, which has a set of harsh laws restricting women’s and LGBT rights, while trade between the U.S. and the kingdom is at about $60 billion a year. He also noted that consumer goods, like clothing and car parts, are sometimes manufactured in countries with poor working conditions.
“We are in a very global world today, and therefore my view to everyone is you need to consider your actions correctly before making statements,” he said.
The Dorchester Collection, he said, is not owned by the sultan himself but the Brunei Investment Agency, the sovereign wealth fund that is the investment arm of the country’s ministry of finance. The sultan of Brunei, he said, “is not my boss,” and Cowdray reports to the investment agency’s board of directors.
Asked whether the collection would issue a statement condemning the new and planned laws in the country, Cowdray said: “No. Not at all.” Instead, he cited the company’s code of conduct, endorsed by the owners, that is “absolutely about equality and respect for everyone.”
He said that the boycott risked having the effect of hurting the region’s economy as well as the employees. The collection’s two Los Angeles properties employ about 1,000 people, he said, and about $19 million is reinvested in the local economy each year.
Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse has proposed a resolution calling for Brunei to divest its stake in the hotel.
“Beverly Hills as a city, Los Angeles as a city, rely significantly on foreign travel from people in the Middle East and Asia and countries that abide by Islamic rules,” he said. “By singling out the Beverly Hills Hotel, she is also singling out Beverly Hills, and that could be very damaging to business, which doesn’t only affect the hotels. It affects all the other services.”
He said that his message to his employees is that “even if business were to get very bad, we would not lay off anyone. We are here to protect their positions.” He also noted that, even as local groups pull out of the hotel, they “have a very international business, so we are not totally reliant on the trade we get from Beverly Hills.”
He said that he learned of the boycott about a week ago and flew to Los Angeles last week. The boycott has been tough on the employees, he said. “When some one you have been serving for 40 years then boycotts, you have got to take that personally,” he said.
“When you have a boycott of the hotel, yes it hurts the business, but it is getting to the heart of what we are about, and that is our employees, and it is hurting them.”
Cowdray was particularly critical of Richard Branson’s announcement that his Virgin companies would boycott the hotels, saying he found it “very unprofessional from a person of his stature.”
“I don’t know why he chose to make that statement, particularly considering he has an airline that flies to the Middle East. He has hotels in Morocco. He flies to Dubai. He flies to Nigeria.”