Hotel chains improved diversity, but lacking in some areas, NAACP says

Tuesday, July 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ Hotel chains have made progress in providing business opportunities to minorities, but have been slow to increase black property ownership and advertise in black-owned media, a new NAACP report found.

The hotel report cards, which cover 2001 and 2002, were issued at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's annual convention. They assigned grades to 11 national chains _ Marriott received the highest grade, B, on the 2002 report card; Starwood was the lowest with a C.

``The ability of African-American and Latino entrepreneurs in particular to break into the historically closed-door society of hotel ownership remains hampered,'' NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said. ``The hotel industry generates huge revenues,'' yet those are ``disturbingly being enjoyed by only a few.''

The NAACP did note some progress in board appointments, employment and increased contracting opportunities, the report said. Hotels have also formed diversity councils and franchise recruitment programs, it said.

Mfume said he hopes the report card will influence consumers' decisions. American blacks spend more than $35 billion annually on travel and tourism, according to the NAACP report.

``We're asking people of all races, who believe in fairness in this country, who for whatever reason make a decision to go to a hotel, to use this report as a guide,'' Mfume said.

The grades are based on the NAACP's assessment of the hotels' diversity in hiring practices, vendors, advertising, philanthropy and equity ownership and franchise opportunities.

David Sampson, senior vice president of diversity initiatives at Marriott International, Inc. said the company was pleased with its B grade.

``We have to mirror the communities which we do business in,'' Sampson said. ``When you consider the demographic changes in our country _ the Asian, Hispanic and African-American markets _ those are huge new markets for us to expand and tap.''

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, owner of the Sheraton and Westin chains, ``takes the NAACP report very seriously,'' said spokeswoman K.C. Kavanagh. ``We're a relatively new company and are aggressively pursuing diversity issues.''

Starwood formed a diversity council of senior executives and recently hired a seasoned diversity executive, she said.

Donna DeBerry, senior vice president of diversity at Wyndham International, said the chain's lower grades in the past _ a D in 2000 _ ``definitely impacted our business.'' For 2002, the Wyndham received a B-.

Hilton Hotels Corporation, which also received a B-, has created an internal grading system based on the NAACP's measurements.

In the last report card, issued two years ago, the NAACP gave grades of mostly C's and D's to the chains.

``Although the NAACP has seen great responsiveness from the industry,'' Mfume said, ``we are also somewhat disheartened to report progress in certain categories still remains stagnant.''

Most companies failed to spend a significant percentage of their advertising budget with black-owned media, the report noted. Hotels also provided minimal contracting and business development opportunities to black businesses, it said.