Hoteliers respond to protests for racial equality

The death of George Floyd at the hands of police leads to national demonstrations

The May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes has led to demonstrations across the U.S. demanding racial equality. Hotel owners Sunny Tolani, executives at major hotel companies and AAHOA are speaking up about it.

THE DEATH OF George Floyd at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25 has stirred massive protests for racial equality across the U.S. Some in the hotel industry are calling for justice and unity in response to the case.

Floyd, a black man, died after white police Officer Derek Chauvin kept a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, according the New York Times. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder in the case while the other three officers who also held Floyd down were charged with aiding and abetting that murder.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been organizing protests in cities around the U.S. since the incident. AAHOA and the CEOs of Hilton and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts have issued statements supporting the call for justice.

And the situation led California hotelier Sunil “Sunny” Tolani to have to teach his children a most difficult lesson.

Explaining racism

Tolani said his wife and he had done their best to explain racism to their children, but it isn’t easy.

“They see many of our managers, staffs at hotels and have diverse books around to read. We are brown and talk about the experience of having two brown children. I am constantly sending them affirmation coloring books or poems that will remind them as they are growing up about the beauty of who they are and the resiliency of people of color. We are brown and let them know them lives matter and encourage their whole identity,” Tolani said. “Their life does not matter just because of how big or important they are, or how many hotels their father owns. It is not about how great their grades are or how many trophies they won. They matter just because they exist. Because they are here. All are equal children of God.”

Prayer helps, he said.

“What I believe may be needed most right now is…peace,” Tolani said. “Peace of societal friendship and harmony in the absence of hostility and violence living together harmoniously and for a common purpose. Let’s start in the hospitality community.”

The protests have touched those on all levels of the industry.

Respect, dignity and opportunity

“George Floyd deserved to live a life full of respect, dignity and opportunity,” said Wyndham President and CEO Geoff Ballotti in his statement posted on “Let’s never underestimate the power of compassion and conversation. Let’s not be afraid to ask the questions we’ve been uncomfortable to ask in the past. It’s OK if you don’t know exactly what to say or how to say it. What matters is that you can feel comfortable knowing that when you are talking to your Wyndham family, they’ll be listening. Let’s be there for each other. And let’s all continue to give our time, attention and action to the causes and organizations we’re passionate about in our communities.”

Chris Nassetta, Hilton’s president and CEO, posted a message to employees about the need for racial equality in light of the protests. He mentioned several other incidents, including the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death by two white men in Glynn County, Georgia, and Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, by police serving a no-knock warrant.

“I am also troubled by everything we are seeing about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color around the world,” Nassetta said. “I know my feelings cannot compare to those of our black colleagues, some of whom have shared their pain and fear with me personally in recent days, but I feel it is my responsibility to address this injustice head on.”

Nassetta said the company supports its “team members of color” and urged all employees honor Floyd by living by “Hilton values.”

“At Hilton, we have integrity: We strive to do the right thing all the time. And the right thing to do is to stand up to racism, bigotry and violence,” he said. “Please listen to and learn from your colleagues who may be experiencing life in a very different way because they are different from you. Engage others with compassion and respect, even if their views vary from yours, in an effort to foster greater understanding. And reflect on how Hilton – a company that has been globally recognized for our commitment to diversity – can continue to play a positive role in our communities.”

The spirit of hospitality

Hospitality is about virtue, respect, kindness, peace and protection, AAHOA said in its statement on the protests.

“Far too many of our fellow Americans continue to face discrimination and injustice. Our nation cannot reach our true potential unless everyone has the opportunity to pursue their dreams free from the obstacles of intolerance and oppression,” the statement said. “During these difficult days, when serious reflection is required, some sow further discord through rioting, damage to property, and even additional loss of life. In the days to come, let us hope that all Americans can have a civil discussion that leads to real progress on an issue of enormous importance to all Americans and to the very fabric of our society. As Gandhi taught, ‘nothing enduring can be built on violence.’”