Marriott International made a bold and controversial decision recently when it opted not to make adult content available at any of its new properties going forward, while also planning to phase it out of its existing hotels. The company announced this as part of a switch from traditional video systems to an Internet-based VOD system.
The salacious nature of such an announcement—combined with the lack of anything substantive in terms of deal-making news—became the talk of the recent ALIS conference in San Diego. Particularly when keynote speaker Virgin Group founder/president Richard Branson went out of his way to point out that his newly launched hotel brand would never deny guests “sexy movies.”
Believe it or not, Marriott’s decision was not at all popular with many in attendance. The reaction from some of the people I spoke to at the conference was that of, “who is [chairman and CEO]Bill Marriott Jr. to tell people they can’t watch adult movies?” That’s not to mention what the reaction must have been from the current video-on-demand vendors that are going to lose a whole lot of distribution as a result.
However, I for one, applaud Bill Marriott for taking a stand and making the unpopular decision in this case. While the company’s official line references changing technology and the declining revenue stream of in-room movies—and there’s certainly no doubt those are factors—you have to believe that this was very much a personal decision as well.
Bill Marriott, who comes from a conservative Mormon background, has been fairly outspoken over the years regarding his disdain for pornography while recognizing it as a necessary evil, so to speak, of doing business as a large branded hotel company.
Over the past couple of years, Bill Marriott has been leaned on by a number of religious groups to discontinue offering adult content. In fact, presidential candidate Mitt Romney—who recently resigned from the board of directors at Marriott—apparently received criticism from family-oriented interest groups for not pressing the company to drop its adult content.
There is one major reason that many of these groups have appealed to Marriott and that’s because they knew their collective voices would be heard. In addition to Bill Marriott’s feelings on the matter, the company has in the past expressed concern about the ability to safeguard against children watching inappropriate content.
As the father of three children under the age of 11, that’s a huge issue for me. While I don’t envision many scenarios where my kids are by themselves in a hotel room, that is likely to change in the next few years as they get older. And frankly, the advertisement on the channel guide for adult entertainment is enough to make anyone blush around their family, and is also likely to prompt questions from those curious kids.
What I appreciate most about the decision, though, is that there hasn’t been any grandstanding or proclamations from Bill Marriott himself. This would be the perfect opportunity for a public relations campaign against competitive hotel companies that continue to offer adult content. But the announcement was made in a very businesslike, matter-of-fact manner.
To be fair, Marriott is not the only company to make such a move. Omni Hotels, in fact, years ago decided that adult content was “not the way it wanted to make money.” However, few can make the impact that Marriott can with its more 3,400 hotels.
You don’t have to like Bill Marriott’s decision, but you do have to respect it. After all, his hotels are the legacy of both he and his father. In a day when supposed ‘leaders’ are afraid to take a stand for fear of offending people, here’s one who is clearly not afraid to say that he—and at least a portion of his hotels’ guests—don’t want to be offended anymore.
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