Colin Nagy, head of strategy at FFNY, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. "On Experience" dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. You can read all of his columns here.
George Clooney has launched a boycott of hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei. It’s similar to the same movement he launched back in 2014, this time in response to the recently announced Sharia law toward the LGBTQ community in Brunei.
In a column in Deadline Hollywood, Clooney called for a boycott of the hotels within the Dorchester Collection, including The Beverly Hills Hotel, Hotel Bel-Air, and seven others in Europe owned by the sultan, who holds power in Brunei.
His apparent logic is that every dollar spent in one of the properties is somehow propping up someone who already has quite a lot of money. Billions upon billions, to be exact. In the column, he says, “every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”
Clooney’s approach reeks of a Hollywood bubble, tokenism, and is extremely misguided. The reality is the frontline staff of these hotels, the ones that welcome guests, make the beds, and deliver the service that comes with a premium property will be the ones affected in a turndown. In the words of Bill Maher, “This idea that the Sultan of Brunei is going over the receipts from the Polo Lounge … ‘Oh no, we only sold two soups today.’”
Clooney’s assertions that the proceeds from poolside cocktails at the Hotel Bel-Air are directly lining the pockets of the sultan is false and intellectually disingenuous. The money also goes toward paying the salaries of the hundreds of dedicated staff around the world at the properties, people who dedicate their time and energy toward the act of hospitality, which is one of the hardest jobs in the world. They have to be on the ball every day, creating the daily stage set and making it perfect, especially to the expectations of star-studded guests.
And in terms of showing respect to the folks that are behind the scenes in making these hotels work, Clooney is no stranger to the machinations of great hospitality. This is the core of the issue. He’s actually one of the good guys. As a longtime guest (and one of the staff favorites) at the Carlyle in New York, he’s known not only for being extremely kind and appreciative to the staff, but also as a very well-behaved celebrity in a world where this is the exception and not the rule. And while Clooney is right to call out the mistreatment of the LGBTQ community in Brunei, the tactics, in this case, are misconceived.
It would be one thing if any of these hotels were discriminatory toward a guest or somehow perpetuating the dictates of Sharia law, but they are some of the best hotels in the world, with staff representing the communities in question and clearly defined policies on the matter. In a statement, they said: “Dorchester Collection’s code emphasizes equality, respect, and integrity in all areas of our operation, and strongly values people and cultural diversity amongst our guests and employees. Inclusion and diversity remain core beliefs as we do not tolerate any form of discrimination.”
This movement will soon fade, as the first one did, and the people who put together the superb experiences for guests, as well as the luminaries of Hollywood, can go about their business. Social advocacy is important in any case of hate or discrimination, but here, the energy is misguided and will cause collateral damage to real lives and real workers.