I’m not much for political debate and rarely find it has a place in business, especially in the travel and hospitality industry where our focus has always been on serving everyone equally well.
Unfortunately, though, there are times when the political dialogue forces your hand and begins to impact your business, regardless of what your party affiliation or beliefs may be.
The recent Religious Freedom laws being introduced in Indiana (and Arkansas) demonstrate just how significantly your business can be threatened and your reputation tarnished over actions that you have little influence or control over.
For those who have somehow missed the furor, the state of Indiana passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that, in effect, gave businesses in the state the right to discriminate against gay patrons under the guise of protecting the business owner’s right to practice their faith freely.
Not surprisingly, the condemnation was swift and intense.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) immediately threatened to cancel their 2017 convention in Indianapolis, which has an economic impact estimated at $8 million. And Gen Con, one of the country’s largest gaming conventions, said they would move future versions of their conference which attracts over 56,000 people and brings approximately $50 million into the state.
Angie’s List, which is based in Indianapolis, said that it would abandon a deal it had in place to expand its headquarters. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced that they were immediately canceling all required travel to the state of Indiana, and even the mayor of San Francisco weighed in, saying that effective immediately all city employees would cancel their business travel to Indiana.
Perhaps Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald articulated the threat to all of us in travel best when she tweeted to her followers, “Some in my band are gay & we have 2 gigs in your state next month. Should we call ahead to make sure the hotel accepts us all?”
Given that the travel industry has always been one of the more inclusive industries, with a workforce including large numbers of gays, women, immigrants and other minorities that are often discriminated against, I was surprised that more travel leaders, brands and organizations didn’t step up to voice their concerns.
One who did was Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott. He spoke out publicly in a clip that was distributed on CNBC, saying, “The legislation in Indiana … is not just pure idiocy from a business perspective — and it is that — the notion that you can tell businesses somehow that they are free to discriminate against people based on who they are is madness.”
Also expressing their dismay were such travel companies as Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, American Airlines and Orbitz, as well as Apple, Levi Strauss, Microsoft, Wells Fargo and others, all of whom signed on in support of a statement from the Human Rights Campaign that decried this kind of discriminatory law.
The statement made it clear that this kind of legislation is bad for business and went on to make a business case for equality, citing it as a necessary ingredient to foster talent and innovation in the workplace and a requirement for creating a welcoming place to live and thrive. It also pointed out that, “while these bills won’t alter our commitment to equality in the workplace, this legislation sends the wrong message about the states in which we operate and threatens our core corporate commitment to respect all individuals.”
Perhaps no one articulated the need to champion equality and rail against anything that might intentionally or unintentionally allow discrimination better than Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, who wrote the following in a Washington Post op-ed piece:
“Our message, to people around the country and around the world, is this: Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination.
“Men and women have fought and died fighting to protect our country’s founding principles of freedom and equality. We owe it to them, to each other and to our future to continue to fight with our words and our actions to make sure we protect those ideals. The days of segregation and discrimination marked by “Whites Only” signs on shop doors, water fountains and restrooms must remain deep in our past. We must never return to any semblance of that time. America must be a land of opportunity for everyone.
“This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous.”
That is a message that all of us in travel can and must embrace. And one we must constantly champion.
Window signs suddenly popping up in businesses all over Indiana address this reality most directly and succinctly, “This Business Serves Everyone.”
They are words that all of us marketing travel should steadfastly defend and communicate.
No matter your politics.
*Originally published on MediaPost.