L.A. Hotels Mount PR Counteroffensive as Hollywood Boycott Grows

Nine Events Now Pulled Over New Legal Code in Brunei

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The Beverly Hills Hotel
The Beverly Hills Hotel

Nine entertainment industry-related events have now been pulled from the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air, both owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, in protest over the sultanate's enactment of Islamic criminal law.

The bookings at the Southern California properties, part of the Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels, were each expected to draw at least 150 people, and three similar events at properties in Europe also were withdrawn, according to Dorchester CEO Christopher Cowdray.

Islamic criminal law took effect in Brunei last week, and the penal code eventually will include death by stoning for rape, adultery and sodomy. The United Nations has criticized the code, saying it contains provisions that violate the rights to freedom of religion, opinion and expression.

The Motion Picture & Television Fund may move its Night Before the Oscars fundraiser from the Beverly Hills Hotel next year if the law isn't changed, according to Andy Gelb, a fund spokesman.

"We cannot condone or tolerate these harsh and repressive laws and as a result support a business owned by the Sultan of Brunei or a Brunei sovereign fund associated with the government of Brunei," fund Chairman Bob Pisano, Vice Chairman Mark Fleischer, and CEO Bob Beitcher said in a statement.

Among the events moved from the Beverly Hills Hotel was the Feminist Majority Foundation's Global Women's Rights Awards, scheduled for last night. Former "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno and his wife, Mavis, are co-chairmen of the awards.

The Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air, 3 miles to the west, are the Dorchester Collection's only U.S. properties. The chain also includes such properties as the Hotel Athenee Paris and the Dorchester in London.

PR counteroffensive
"We have a truly global economy today," Mr. Cowdray said in an interview yesterday at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "Look at all the foreign investments in hotels and real estate. Our hotels are autonomously run and in that way not tied to Brunei. Religious or political views have no place in our organization."

Dorchester Collection executives are talking to media and industry leaders, and its employees have volunteered to be part of a video portraying the hotels' integrity that will be posted on the company's website, Mr. Cowdray said. Dorchester also is monitoring and responding to Twitter messages.

Among those who have posted on the social-media website about the issue are Virgin Group Ltd. founder Richard Branson, who said employees and family members wouldn't stay at Dorchester hotels until "the Sultan abides by basic human rights."

Dorchester sent a tweet asking Mr. Branson whether he will reassess his own business interests, pointing to Virgin's flights to Brunei.

Mr. Cowdray said he expects the two Dorchester hotels in the Los Angeles area to maintain their average annual occupancy of 80%. Nightly rates start at $450 at the Beverly Hills Hotel and $495 at the Hotel Bel-Air this week, according to their websites.

Cowdray said he doesn't expect the Dorchester Collection to have any problems adding a property in New York because of the controversy. The company owned the New York Palace Hotel before selling it to Northwood Investors in May 2011, and is seeking a new hotel in the city, according to Mr. Cowdray.

"I've never experienced anything like this," he said. "It's unprecedented in great part because of the social-media aspect."

~ Bloomberg News ~

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