As the Beverly Hills City Council and the public, including celebrities Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, turn against the Dorchester Collection’s Beverly Hills Hotel due to its controversial ownership, the chain’s CEO is asking why it is being singled out.
The beef stems from the fact that the Beverly Hills Hotel is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency. Last week, Brunei adopted Sharia, a strict interpretation of Islamic law that encourages the flogging and stoning of those who are gay, have abortions, or commit adultery.
"Many iconic American brands across a wide variety of industries - hotels, real estate, consumer products, luxury goods, technology, and others - are backed by countries governed by Sharia law and not aligned with our civil liberties," said Dorchester Collection CEO Christopher Cowdray, in a statement. "Many of these companies are in our own backyard. Against this backdrop, we question why The Beverly Hills Hotel is being singled out."
Hawkins International, which represents Dorchester Collection with US media, is not involved with this particular issue, said Leslie Lefkowitz, a PR consultant at the firm.
"Dorchester Collection has secured crisis communications assistance to assist with this particular situation," Lefkowitz told PRWeek.
She would not say if the "assistance" was a consultant or an agency. Lefkowitz said the hotel chain has a strategy in place to manage this crisis, but she could not share details about it.
The Beverly Hills Hotel tapped former Clinton aide Mark Fabiani to run damage control, The New York Times reported on Friday.
Fabiani previously provided communications counsel to Chipotle Mexican Grill during a federal investigation on whether the chain knowingly hired illegal immigrants. He was also hired by Goldman Sachs to help it rebuild its image, as well as Lance Armstrong.
Fabiani business partner Chris Lehane, another former Clinton aide with whom he formed the California-based crisis-management firm Fabiani & Lehane, is not involved with the project.
On Tuesday, the Beverly Hills City Council voted to ask the Brunei government to divest itself of the hotel.
"The City of Beverly Hills strongly condemns the government of Brunei as well as other governments which engage in similar policies for adopting laws that impose extreme and inhumane penalties including execution by stoning, flogging, and severing of limbs," the resolution reads.
Cowdray fought back at this move, saying in a statement that the resolution "unfairly" targets the hotel and its 650 employees. Due to cancelled events, he said the hotel has already lost $1.5 million, and staffers could lose more than $8 million they might make working at them. Further, the boycott could result in a reduction of the $11 million in local taxes the hotel contributes, he added.
"The economic impact of this not only affects our loyal team members but extends to the local community, our valued partners, and suppliers," Cowdray said in a statement, adding that he recognizes people’s concerns.
This blog post was updated on Monday, May 12, with information about the hotel hiring crisis specialist Mark Fabiani.