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'America owned' hotel signs trigger discrimination row

April 04, 2013 13:45 IST

The Asian American Hotel Owners Association has recently launched an aggressive and concerted campaign to fight the practice of putting up ‘American owned’ signs at some hotels.

The organisations claim that such signs are “discriminatory and racist”.

AAHOA chairman Alkesh R Patel has asserted that discrimination and racism will not be tolerated. AAHOA would always protect the best interests of its members to ensure that this type of injustice, manifested by “the evils of American owned signs, would be met with vehement opposition”.

In a message to the more than the 11,000 AAHOA members -- more than 99 percent of whom are of Gujarati origin -- and to the mainstream hospitality industry in general, not to mention US lawmakers, on the eve of AAHOA’s annual convention in Houston, Patel said, “As an association that promotes and protects the best interests of our members --more specifically Indian American hotel owners -- we always strive to oppose social injustice or inequality.”

“In doing so,” he said, “we are strong advocates for promoting the values of entrepreneurialism, fairness and cultural diversity. We are proud of our more than 11,000 members being part of the fabric of America.”

Patel said, “Because of this pride, we see ‘American Owned’ signs displayed at hotels as an insidious attempt to prey on people’s prejudices under the guise of patriotism.”

AAHOA was founded in 1989 by a group of Asian American hoteliers, to counter in a concerted manner the obstacles they were facing, particularly in the forms of resistance and discrimination by insurers and bankers, who were skeptical of these new motel owners and wanted to provide neither insurance nor loans to them.

Since the 1990s, when hotel ownership by AAHOA members started growing and becoming a powerful force in the hospitality industry, according to Patel, these ‘American Owned’ signs begun popping up.

In fact, Time magazine, in a 2007 report titled ‘No-Tell Motels’, had acknowledged this discriminatory phase in the industry, noting that “while this seemingly innocuous phrase may appeal to many customers, it can also be intended as code for ‘not owned by immigrants’ and an attempt to divert business from upstanding first-or second-generation citizens whose ethnicity distinguishes them from most of their small-town neighbours.”

It said that “to those in the know, like veteran road-trip author Michael Wallis, ‘American Owned’ is a subtle reminder of the days when customers too suffered from prejudice --back when African American, Hispanics, Native Americans and, at least on Route 66, poor Oklahomans fleeing to California were all denied lodging”.

Patel said, “Several months ago, we were notified that a Best Western Hotel was displaying an ‘American Owned’ sign. We are pleased to announced that we received a letter from Best Western on March 1 that explained Best Western has adopted an anti-discrimination policy that will be included in its brand identity manual”.

The letter from Best Western said, “The policy includes that Best Western International, Inc, sales and marketing material shall not include the phrase ‘American Owned.’ In addition, Best Western will continue to educate its members that while the phrase ‘American Owned’ could reasonably be viewed as truthful and patriotic, it might also be viewed negatively and its use is therefore discouraged.”

The missive from Best Western further stated that the hotel chain -- which includes several thousand AAHOA members who are franchisees -- would “continue to suggest other options to express patriotism, such as using the phrase ‘we support our troops’ or flying the American flag.”

Patel, said, AAHOA, which has been “assertive -- and highly successful -- in working with hotel franchisors and the American Automobile Association to strop the display of such signs,” appreciated Best Western’s “understanding and recognition of our serious concerns regarding the intent of ‘American Owned’ signs.”

“Our industry has a proven track record of sharing the same values as our members, which clearly opens the door for every hotelier to pursue the American dream,” he said.

Aziz Haniffa In Washington, DC