Marriott is once again getting involved in a potentially divisive social and political issue.
In a letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (embedded below), representatives from the hotel giant came out publicly against Arizona Senate Bill 1062, which allows businesses to deny service to customers they believe may be gay or a lesbian.
Steve Hart, Area Vice President for Arizona, and Thomas Maloney, Director of Government Affairs co-signed the letter.
In it, they write
This measure … would have profound negative impacts on the hospitality industry in Arizona and on the state’s overall economic climate for years to come.
While we have still not returned to pre-2008 occupancy and revenue levels, our Arizona properties have seen a slow and steady recovery in both leisure and business stays since the end of the recession.
We have serious concerns that passage of SB 1062 would undermine — or worse, counteract — that progress. This legislation has the potential to subject our state to travel boycotts by both individual leisure travelers and groups looking to hold meetings here. Conference business from corporations and associations, in particular, will relocate to other states. It is exceedingly difficult for us to sell Arizona as a destination against a backdrop of negative attention suggesting certain travelers or conference attendees would not be welcome here — as a matter of law.
At Marriott, we have worked hard to build an environment where every guest and employee feels welcome, safe and respected when they enter one of our hotels. Regardless of whether or not SB 1062 goes into effect, our internal policies have and will continue to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation. Still, at a fundamental level we need a state law to also reflect these values of inclusion, or our industry will be at a permanent competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis other jurisdictions.
Despite having deep ties to Republican leaders, Marriott and its leadership have made a habit of taking public stances on potentially divisive issues. Last year it pushed for immigration reform and came out swinging against last fall’s Republican-led government shutdown
Along with Kimpton, Marriott came out in support of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act last January. At that time, executive vice president and chief human resources officer David Rodriquez said “We are proud of our longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and equal treatment of all our employees within our benefits programs. Joining the Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal affirms that commitment.”
Marriott is aware that the legislation it is urging the governor to veto has the potential to have a much greater impact on its conventions and resort industry than previous boycott-worthy issues in the state. Businesses that are planning conventions will likely be forced to forego Arizona out of fear they will be breaking anti-discrimination laws in their own states by planning an event in a location that openly discriminates against their employees and other potential attendees.
Marriott also sees its resorts business losing out on a growing same-sex weddings business. Gay and Lesbian weddings have become big business in states like California and Hawaii; even Minnesota and Iowa are competing for marriage tourists.
They don’t have to look far to see lost business, either: Officials in Arizona’s neighbor New Mexico said in December that they expect a “banner year” in 2014 after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
The Trouble With Arizona
Even though Arizona is a relatively conservative state politically, it’s difficult to find business groups who are in support of the Senate bill. And within the tourism industry it’s almost impossible.
That’s because Arizona has been down this road many times before.
After state leaders refused in 1993 to recognize the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., the National Football League pulled the Super Bowl from Phoenix.
A boycott movement spurred on by anti-Latino legislation in 2010 didn’t keep visitors away from natural wonders lithe Grand Canyon, but it had a ripple effect on the conventions business. Even though conventions are planned long in advance, in the four-month period after the anti-Latino legislation was passed, the state lost $141 million in business.