Dorchester’s dilemma

The luxury Dorchester Collection operates pretty autonomously from its owner, the Sultan of Brunei. But after the gay community — especially leaders in fashion and entertainment who have the disposable income Dorchester hotels covet — learned about new Brunei legislation advocating the stoning of gay individuals committing what it calls sexual crimes and flogging for abortion, the hotel group has had to go into serious damage-control mode to manage planned boycotts.

Dorchester Collection CEO Christopher Cowdray was proactive and said that its hotels abide by the laws of the countries in which it operates and do not tolerate any form of discrimination. After an LGBT advocacy group canceled its plans to host a conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel, representatives there made a similar statement.

Unfortunately for the Dorchester Collection team, as well intended as they may be, perception is reality, and in this age of social media a story that in the past might have flamed out and gone away could very well have legs as impassioned opponents to Brunei’s laws can make this a very long and public fight, and do serious damage to the hotels’ images.

Just look at what happened this week with the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers after its owner made alleged racist remarks caught on tape and pushed out to the general public via social media. Within 48 hours, multiple major corporate sponsors of the team left in droves, pulling their financial support, and that firestorm is far from over.

It is not a fait accompli, but the Dorchester Group could face similar consequences, and it is going to be very interesting to watch how it manages this crisis and separates itself from its owner. Stay tuned.