Timeline: Chi-Fi vs. Westin Chicago River North
I’m writing this in part so that I can try to sort out for myself what happened, or at least as much as is known.
January 14: Chi-Fi, a new Chicago-area convention, announces the cancellation of their 2014 event. From that announcement, made by con chair James Dobbs:
“A senior Westin employee referred to our staff, attendees, and guests as “freaks,” and hotel staff expressed their disapproval of our anti-harassment policy … By mutual decision, we agreed to part ways with the hotel. We wish to make clear that these views were expressed by staff of the Westin Chicago River North and do not reflect the opinions of the Westin brand or Starwood Hotels.”
Dobbs provides what he remembers of the hotel manager’s “freaks” quote in another article, saying, “My recollection is that she actually said that ‘Costumed freaks are not in keeping with the reputation’ [of the hotel].”
The hotel posts a brief statement about the cancellation on their Facebook page, expressing disappointment about the “false claims” being spread by Chi-Fi.
“Our team worked diligently to accommodate this group booking, and we never objected to the organization, its attendees or the anti-harassment policy. After much discussion, Chi-Fi Con asked to be allowed out of their contract when it became clear that mutual needs could not be met, and we agreed.”
January 15: Chicago-area fan Michi Trota writes a reaction post, including links to the anger spreading through certain circles of SF/F social media. The story was also picked up by several media outlets, including My Fox Chicago, which interviewed both Dobbs and Trota.
January 16: Anne Elliot, Chi-Fi convention vice-chair, comments on a Skepchick blog post about hotel concerns over the convention’s harassment policy.
“I was present in the meeting with hotel senior staff who expressed concern over our No Harassment Policy. The hotel staff seemed to believe that the fact that we had a policy was an indication that there was something wrong with our attendees and/or guests … This was only one more piece of evidence that led us to believe that the culture of this hotel was not a good fit for our event.”
January 18: Steve Davidson posts an article at Amazing Stories called Pushing Fannish Buttons: Chi Fi vs The Westin River North Hotel of Chicago that notes a lack of “solid, verifiable information” and describes the fallout as, “what is perhaps the greatest demonstration of Geek Power in the history of fandom.” Davidson has done a lot of work on this article, and there’s much more than I can summarize, so I recommend reading the whole thing. Davidson presents two possible narratives:
“The Chi-Fi narrative lays the blame squarely on the hotel for non-cooperation, disparagement of the fan community and the questioning of their anti-harassment policy.
“The other, less vocal narrative comes as speculation on the part of experienced con-runners and it suggests that the real story is that Chi-Fi’s attendance and hotel booking numbers were well below what was needed to float a successful convention.”
Davidson provides documentation from M. Menozzi, the Account Director for the Westin Hotel, which states in part that:
“…it was not about any claimed disparagement, which didn’t happen, or about their anti-harassment policy, which we never objected to in any way only asked whether there was history of problems that necessitated it. It was about economics and a straightforward contract issue. With a short time until the event, very few guest rooms had been booked and we do not allow any group to use the suites as party rooms.”
In response to the low booking, James Dobbs notes that “We began telling everyone to hold of on booking hotel rooms” in response to various difficulties and miscommunications with the hotel.
January 20: Michi Trota writes a follow-up post, Further Thoughts on Chi-Fi Con, Transparency, and Con Culture. She acknowledges that inexperience and low booking numbers may have been a factor, but questions why this needs to be an “either/or” situation.
“It’s entirely possible Chi-Fi Con bit off more than they could chew and the hotel, seeing the lower than expected numbers, decided it would be beneficial to release the con from their contract in order to open up the venue for another event. None of this means that a negative attitude from the hotel toward the con wasn’t a problem that factored into the decision.”
John Scalzi notes that while he doesn’t “know about the details of the Chi-Fi ruckus,” he does have a general comment about harassment policies.
“A harassment policy should not be used as a shield to deflect attention or legitimate questions with regard to the organization of a convention. Aside from any other problematic issue with such a maneuver, doing so has the potential to make it harder for other conventions who wish to implement harassment policies to do so, or for other conventions to work with hotels at all…”
To summarize, what I’m seeing is…
- James Dobbs claims the hotel staff referred to convention staff and attendees as “freaks.” The hotel denies this.
- Dobbs claims the hotel disapproved of the con’s harassment policy. Anne Elliot also witnessed this, saying the staff seemed to think the policy suggested there was something wrong with the con and attendees. The hotel denies this.
- M. Menozzi claims the contract was ended because of low booking numbers and the hotel’s policy against letting suites be used as party rooms. Dobbs says the numbers may indeed have been low, but that this was due at least in part to miscommunications and other difficulties with the hotel.
What really happened? Which claims are true and which aren’t? I don’t know. I’m not aware of anyone who does, aside from the people who were there. What I am seeing is people trying to push for one interpretation or another.
Davidson concludes that claims about the hotel’s derogatory comments and concerns over the harassment policy seem to have been “designed to obscure … the more likely scenario” that the con was simply unable to meet their obligations, by pushing “two of the hottest buttons in fandom.” I’ve seen similar conclusions from individuals in various conrunning groups.
When I first heard about this story, I took Chi-Fi’s claims at face value and Tweeted a link to their statement. And I admit that in a clash of geeks vs. corporations, my inclination is to stand with my fellow geeks.
After following the story, my conclusion is that I don’t know what happened. Any or all of the claims from both sides could be true or false or — perhaps more likely, given human nature — somewhere in between. But I don’t know, and without further facts, I don’t expect that to change.
Full disclosure: I was asked a while back to be a guest at Chi-Fi 2014, but declined due to scheduling issues.
Michi Trota (@GeekMelange)
January 21, 2014 @ 3:03 pm
Thanks for the comprehensive timeline on this, Jim. I think your conclusion about sums it up:
There’s enough data out there that people are going to come to their own decisions about the situation. I don’t blame people who saw red flags in some of the information that went out, nor do I think the wariness from some corners is unwarranted. For my part, I don’t think this is an either/or situation, and I feel that inexperience and a different set of metrics applied to the decision to cancel are just as good of an explanation for what happened. I hope that the Chi-Fi Con organizers have learned some valuable lessons as they move forward and are able to pull something off for next year.
January 21, 2014 @ 4:28 pm
A few other things transpired that begin to shift the scales in favor of the hotel’s story, as far as I’m concerned: chief among them is the fact that once I had obtained both room block size, booking figures from the hotel and the size of the cancellation penalty (from which it is fairly easy to guesstimate the total charges to the convention) and presented that information to Dobbs requesting acceptance, denial or something in-between, Chi-Fi apparently stopped communicating with me.
Again, it is very clear to anyone who has been involved with the running of one of these conventions that if Chi-Fi had supplied anything remotely resembling their sign-ups and hotel bookings – even as little as stating that the hotel’s numbers were incorrect – would have placed the con in a more favorable position. That they would not go on record commenting on the numbers suggests that those numbers are correct.
From that data, anyone familiar with convention budgeting would have to conclude that there was no way the convention was going to meet their obligations and would have to give up facility space, move to another hotel or cancel and pay the penalty fees.
Add to that a signing date of 2/13 and no publicly distributed information about signing up, booking rooms, etc until 6/13 and it really does look like the con was in trouble for quite some time. Probably at least from november of last year (I’m still looking for a copy of a 11/26/13 document that details the outcome of the review meeting between the hotel and the con.)
January 21, 2014 @ 4:35 pm
(copied and pasted my LJ comment)
I agree that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, although based on other things I’ve heard from several others (some in Chicago fandom, some outside of Chicago who mention prior experience with the chair), I’m leaning more towards the hotel’s side of things.
In addition, I am the hotel liasion for the convention I work on, and even though we had some issues with reservations not working right (charging people the wrong amount, etc), I still told them to book their rooms, and then send an email and I would make sure that the hotel fixed the problem.
That’s the best thing to do; it shows the hotel that you DO have bookings coming in, and that *even though* there are problems, you trust the hotel to be professional and take care of the issues before the convention.
January 21, 2014 @ 5:04 pm
Regarding the “questioning” of the anti-harassment policy: I find it to be entirely reasonable that a hotel, unfamiliar with such policies, would question the convention regarding their need for it.
I would even go so far as to say that it would even be reasonable for the hotel to ask – in some fashion or another – if the reason for having a policy in place is because it is anticipated that it might be needed.
Both are entirely reasonable questions regarding something that the hotel may have been unfamiliar with and especially so because worst-case scenarios could potentially affect the hotel.
If you are buying a new pair of pants from a tailor and had never encountered suspenders before and were offered some by the tailor, it would be reasonable to ask “why? do I need them?” – or even “why, didn’t you measure my waist correctly?”
The time to have brought this policy up with the hotel was PRIOR to the signing of the contract. The policy should have been brought to the hotel’s attention during negotiations; at that time, if the hotel really and seriously objected to the policy/or objected to the policy applying to hotel staff/or clashed in some other manner with the convention over the policy, no contract would have been signed and the con could go on to the next possible venue.
That this is not what happened is pretty clear: the contract was signed in February of last year and we’re only hearing about the problem now – so the policy was introduced to the hotel AFTER the contract was signed (which is supported by the fact that the announcement of the implementation of the policy was not made by the con until August 14th 2013)
This strongly indicates inexperience if nothing else.
Yes – all conventions should have, announce and enforce an anti-harassment policy: visitors here should be very familiar with that. It should be one that can be presented to 3rd parties that are not familiar at all with conventions and fandom and the territory that the policy encompasses should extend only to the convention staff, attendees, guests of the con; inappropriate actions taken by hotel staff, outside vendors, people who walk in off the street are necessarily handled in an entirely different manner for all kinds of legal reasons.
January 21, 2014 @ 5:59 pm
You mentioned in your article that some convention runners consider it basically fraudulent for a convention to tell people not to book rooms at the venue of the conference. Is this more of an unwritten rule kind of thing, or is it usually written into contracts that the cons can’t do this? It seemed weird that the con-runners would use that as their excuse if this was explicitly prohibited, but with all that has happened, I could see them not knowing it if it wasn’t explicitly stated anywhere.
I don’t know much about the actual running of conventions, and I found your article very education on that end (both in describing what likely went wrong here and in general). Thank you for writing it!
January 21, 2014 @ 6:19 pm
in general, when someone contracts to meet certain obligations and is then complicit in preventing those obligations from being met, it is actionable by the other party to the contract.
The statement was made and supported by several individuals who have a long history of successfully running cons, so I have no problem believing that the general legal principal would have applied in this case.
You sometimes see such things with manufacturing agreements when the manufacturer is doing work for more than one company, at least one of which is a competitor for another; the mfg slows down work for one, or uses substandard materials or in some other way interferes with their own contractual obligations to one of the parties.
January 21, 2014 @ 9:43 pm
My immediate thought was: can’t it be both?
January 21, 2014 @ 11:59 pm
“in general, when someone contracts to meet certain obligations and is then complicit in preventing those obligations from being met, it is actionable by the other party to the contract.”
And yet, the hotel even waived the cancellation penalties in the contract. Funny, that. Very peculiar behavior if the problem was that the concom were screw-ups. It’s as if, instead, the hotel were worried about something, as if they had a problem they wanted to quietly go away.
January 22, 2014 @ 12:01 am
I don’t know what happened either. It seems likely that bookings were a main issue since if the problem was with the hotel, a possible other venue could be found for the con rather than a cancellation of the whole con.
But the hotel should not have been at all unfamiliar with the idea of an anti-harassment policy and should not have had to ask whether there was a problem with attendees that required it. This hotel apparently handles many conventions and it is standard practice of almost every type of business and many organizations to have anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct for their conventions. Furthermore, the hotel itself would have had staff conduct policies and other policies in place to protect their own legal and insurance liabilities regarding events in the hotel. It is the SFFH sector that is very behind the times in getting these policies in place, but a lot of the new cons have them and more importantly other non-SFFH conventions have had them for decades, and any hotel should have been perfectly unconcerned about such a standard procedure.
So it should have been entirely unnecessary for the hotel to ask this question. Yet it admitted that it did ask this question: “or about their anti-harassment policy, which we never objected to in any way — only asked whether there was history of problems that necessitated it.” This is a brand new con — it doesn’t have a history to ask about in the first place. They should not have needed to ask even if it wasn’t a new con in the second place.
It seems clear that the hotel asked if the attendees were likely to be rowdy and if they would be dressing up in costumes and tearing about the hotel, thus requiring an anti-harassment policy, when instead anti-harassment policies are standard for all conventions and do not indicate rowdiness. (Are accountants rowdy? Because accountants have anti-harassment policies at their conventions.) And the policy of the hotel not to allow parties in the suites — a conduct policy of the hotel and also a problem for most SFFH cons, I would think, creating another conflict. Even if the hotel has hosted SFFH events before, it sounds, from their own admission, as if they were concerned about the character of the event, not simply the numbers. So while the con runners may have used the conflicts as an excuse to back out of their contract because they were in financial hot water, clearly there was a conflict with the hotel being concerned about the event and the hotel staff interacting with the con staff not being very with it about basic convention policy. The complaints the con staff made about remarks about their attendees being freaks and worries about costumes may well be valid, given that the hotel admits they were concerned about the nature of the potential attendees. And this has come up for SFFH cons before with various hotels in the past.
So it being both is looking more and more as if it were the actual scenario. It is to be hoped that everybody who signed up gets their money back; that’s going to be a key issue. In any case, this is at least one valuable lesson to con runners — before you book a hotel or other venue, not after, make sure they understand what the hell an anti-harassment policy is, because if they don’t know that basic set-up of nearly every business they should be doing business with on events, then there will probably be problems having them handle your event.
January 22, 2014 @ 6:26 am
my experience says that it is not common at all for conventions to have such internal policies AND to request that the venue itself be subject to it;
January 22, 2014 @ 7:52 am
furthermore, I believe that the hotel is justified in asking any question about an event that the hotel believes is necessary to it’s securing and successfully hosting the event. They have a duty and a responsibility to both themselves and their negotiating partner.
Just one example from reality: a hotel I was negotiating with (non-fan event) had a restaurant, but it closed at 10 pm and didn’t open until 6 am. Many, if not most of our attendees would be up and out well before 6 am.
I asked the hotel if they could open the restaurant at 4 am for the duration of our event. They asked “why?”.
I explained that our activities started at 8 am; people wanted to be out early for a couple of hours of prep and wanted to get a meal before that.
They agreed – AFTER asking “how many of your guests do you think will be wanting breakfast at 4 am?”
I told them probably 85% (we were booking the entire hotel).
They then said “well, maybe we ought to put some extra staff on” and then offered to leave non-perishable foods out and available 24/7. I then explained that their food would be gone in two seconds once it was discovered.
“How many attendees are going to want breakfast?” is not on the same scale as “why an A-H policy?”, but I think it goes to the heart of the matter: if you are trying to successfully host a guest, you want to find out as much as you can in order to do a good job. Anyone with experience neogiating with hotels goes into the discussion with a list of things that they already know the hotel ought to be informed of (hey – you might want to lock the access doors to the indoor pool after midnight and prominently display a sign to that effect: hey – tell your staff that our people will be hanging out in the lobby ALLLLLL night long) and is prepared to field questions about anything and everything regarding the needs of the event.
January 22, 2014 @ 2:26 pm
It’s not common for SFFH conventions, no. That’s been the problem. It is, however, extremely common for business conventions, which make up far more of any hotel’s convention business. Again and again, as the struggles to get con runners to take this stuff seriously have come up, we’ve had people from a variety of professions express astonishment that these anti-harassment policies weren’t already in place and old hat, because they are in their professions. Whether they follow through on such policies is probably a lot more variable, but the legal liabilities for not having them are considerable. SFFH fandom has essentially been living on borrowed time in this area. Most new SFFH cons are using anti-harassment policies because they want to attract attendees, younger and diverse attendees, and to legally protect themselves.
Hotels deal with a wide range of conventions. Any hotel staff running conventions for the hotel who don’t know what an anti-harassment policy is and what it is for doesn’t know how to do their job, plain and simple. Instead, these people by their own admission thought that it meant that the crowd of SFFH fans would be rowdy and run around in costumes, a common stereotype about SFFH fans that has caused a lot of conventions problems in the past, which was exactly what the Chi-Fi con folk complained about: “The hotel staff seemed to believe that the fact that we had a policy was an indication that there was something wrong with our attendees and/or guests.”
That is not a case of a hotel trying to anticipate special needs of their guests like opening a restaurant early. That’s a case of a hotel being ignorant of basic convention protocol in the business world and deciding that a standard policy to ensure a con is smoothly run must mean that the geeks who are coming can’t control themselves — i.e. “if there was a history of problems that necessitated it” with SFFH fans at conventions. So at least part of the conflict was clearly that the hotel staff dealing with the convention were uncomfortable and nervous about this convention, even if they’ve handled SFFH events in the past. Because otherwise, there would not be this statement from the hotel where they worried about a history of problems with SFFH fans requiring a policy that every professional convention they deal with would have some version of.
Further, the convention would be obligated to tell the hotel about their conduct policies and how they are handling their volunteer staff in the hotel. You can’t have con staff dealing with potential conflicts, possibly having to eject people from the con, and in rare, extreme cases having to call the police to the hotel without the hotel understanding what’s going on. That’s again standard business practice in this day and age and protects the hotel as well as the convention. The hotel should in fact have their own anti-harassment codes in place, which the convention would also have to follow.
So no, the questioning from the hotel wasn’t reasonable. It was a stereotyping concern about SFFH fan attendees who are no more likely to get drunk and rowdy than accountants, lawyers, salespeople, librarians, etc. attending conventions and events at that hotel. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t financial issues with the con runners, but it does mean that the hotel admits that they had concerns about the attendees — unreasonable concerns for a hotel experienced in conventions to have — and this clearly did create a conflict.
January 22, 2014 @ 3:48 pm
First-time poster here….
Just wanted to mention that the American Astronomical Society — an association of non-costume-wearing science geeks *smile* — has an extremely detailed anti-harassment policy here: http://aas.org/policies/anti-harassment-policy. The 2-cm-thick printed program that every AAS meeting attendee received at the most recent meeting contained a four-page “Guide to AAS Meeting Etiquette” that began, “Attendance at AAS meetings is not a right but a privilege,” and points readers to the full anti-harassment policy on the Web.
And the AAS holds its meetings at some pretty swanky sites, like the Gaylord in National Harbor in Maryland (just outside of DC), various other Gaylord hotels, the Westin Copley Place in Boston, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront and the Hawai’i Convention Center in Honolulu. Just saying….
January 22, 2014 @ 6:01 pm
I’ve seen SFF cons sharing space with high school jock/cheerleader gatherings, or religious groups, and guess who causes the most trouble and the most damage? But guess who gets blamed for it?
The fact that the hotel didn’t charge the cancellation fee seems to indicate much of the problem was on their side, and they wanted the “freaks” to go away and were willing to give up the money in the signed contract. Businesses don’t give up money so easily unless there’s something wrong — esp. since they knew Chi-Fi would have nowhere else to go at this late date.
The concom may be guilty of something, but I see a difference between incompetence and malice aforethought.
The hotel is certainly guilty of not handling PR correctly in this social media world, and needs to up its game there.
(I have served my time as hotel liaison and concom, for cons both new and old, in several different cities. My gray hairs, let me show you them.)
January 22, 2014 @ 6:05 pm
(I once worked on a con that had to scramble to get a new hotel a few months out. The one it was scheduled for was rendered useless by an earthquake. When your hotel appears in ruins on worldwide news, you have a problem.)
January 22, 2014 @ 8:14 pm
It’s definitely a bad idea. I think “fraudulent” is a gross overstatement.
Factoring out events that just outright rent hotel function space, our sorts of convention contracts waive rental fees for the convention space in exchange for minimum room-night sales. If this minimum isn’t met, “attrition charges” kick in to make up the difference.
Unless your contract has attendees pre-paying one or more hotel nights, there’s no cost to you or to them to make a reservation and, if the event is canceled, canceling the reservation. Pre-payment clauses are rarely applied to conventions that aren’t already very successful at filling room blocks, though.
So telling your people not to make reservations yet while negotiating out difficulties with the hotel is stupid. It doesn’t cost anybody any less, and it definitely weakens your negotiating position with the hotel (who doesn’t believe you will satisfy your obligations to them, because there’s no evidence in the form of bookings that you might).
January 23, 2014 @ 5:29 am
I’ve been doing a bit of research. It is not conclusive yet at this time, but what I have managed to find so far strongly indicates the following:
2010 was the year of dawning awareness that something needed to be done
to date, the vast majority of conferences that have adopted an overt policy have been SF/F/H cons, some anime cons, skeptic/atheist conventions, open source code conventions and some related technical fields such as the above named astronomy convention.
We’re only three years into this and I suspect that the vast majority of conventions still do’t have such policies.
This site and its articles were interesting – http://adainitiative.org/what-we-do/conference-policies/. It includes a list of conferences that have policies – about sixty, roughly split between organizations to which the policy applies to all of their conferences and individual events.
I am sure that it is not a comprehensive list, but even so, 60 is nowhere near ‘most’.
http://adainitiative.org/2013/08/conference-anti-harassment-campaigns-do-work-three-existence-proofs-from-sff-atheismskepticism-and-open-source/ – gives a history of the roll-out of policies.
However, I don’t think that discussing how many or how few conferences have or don’t have a policy is really the focus here. I’ll concede that perhaps a few more conferences and organizations that I might have thought didn’t have such may. I’ll also state that I think more conferences that don’t have such policies ought to.
suppose you were in that situation and knew that the other party could not afford to pay whatever the settlement fee was if you successfully sued them in court? Would you want to spend untold tens of thousands of dollars to get a judgement – while enduring all kinds of potentially negative PR – or would you simply drop it and move on with the business that is going to make you money instead of costing you?
January 23, 2014 @ 7:20 am
here’s a blog post that indicates that at least as of October of 2013, many scientific conferences do not have anti-harassment policies – http://highheelsinthelab.blogspot.com/2013/10/your-conference-needs-anti-harassment.html
January 23, 2014 @ 7:58 am
Since you mentioned accountants, and I go to a fair number of conventions for accountants….to the best of my knowledge, none of those conventions has ever had an anti-harassment policy. And yeah, actually, accountants are kind of rowdy. I don’t think we’re any rowdier than any other group of adults, but you might be surprised at how rowdy a group of professionals can get, when it’s after hours.
Chi-Con staff has been caught in a couple of important lies, and that calls into question everything else they say. Hotels are in the image business, at least for the high-end ones. It is entirely possible that the hotel staff did nothing wrong and still wanted the problem to go quietly away. I work in a very image-conscious industry, and I have seen companies pay amazing sums of money to handle problems they didn’t create, just to avoid any bad press.
Jim C. Hines
January 23, 2014 @ 8:03 am
Chi-Con is not the same event as Chi-Fi.
January 23, 2014 @ 3:00 pm
As Jim points out, this was not Chi-Con, but a new con, Chi-Fi, that had never been held before and therefore had no history of rowdiness of their attendees. And to the best of your knowledge doesn’t actually mean that the conventions didn’t have a policy, nor that they are not standard practice in the business world and that high end hotels have to deal with them all the time.
More to the point, it was the hotel spokesperson who confirmed that they did ask if the anti-harassment policy meant the attendees couldn’t be trusted. So whatever claims the Chi-Fi folk made that are untrue, that particular claim has been shown to be factually true because the hotel itself confirmed that it was true. So that particular point of conflict is not under suspicion because everyone agrees that it occurred. The difference of opinion is that Chi-Fi staff regarded this question understandably as problematic for getting cooperation out of the hotel, whereas the hotel staff seem to have just been clueless. So whatever else happened or didn’t happen between the hotel and the Chi-Fi staff, that particular point of conflict has been proven to be true. Which was my point.
It is 2014. If you think that a hotel should be confused about anti-harassment policies for conventions, you’re about fifteen years out of date.
January 23, 2014 @ 3:20 pm
2010 was not the year of dawning awareness that something needed to be done in SFFH. People have been screaming for years and years that this needed to be done. Female and non-white authors have been screaming for years and years that this needed to be done. It was an issue alive and well in fandom for a very long stretch of time. And those trying to move folk forward got pilloried for it.
2010 was the year that the threat of legal liabilities and Internet exposure got bad enough in SFFH, and the noise got loud enough, that more con-runners sat on their colleagues who kept blocking action on it and got to work. And now SFFH is playing catch-up.
But the hotel should not have been playing catch-up. What you had was hotel staff who clearly hadn’t been properly trained and on this particular point, they were out of bounds. They have confirmed that they did it. They clearly, like a lot of folk, still don’t have a clue what they are talking about. Which is poor business practice. It doesn’t mean that the conflict wasn’t used as an excuse for other problems, but it does mean that the conflict was real. It also illustrates an important point that con runners need to discuss such policies with a hotel before they book it. And not a bad lesson either — if you are starting a new con, don’t book an expensive, high end venue that freaks out over their suites either.
January 23, 2014 @ 4:26 pm
I believe that in at least one of the documents to Westin, James Dobson referred to fans as ‘geeks,’ as did just about everyone else in the conversation. It’s a common term in SF culture. Perhaps in the view of the hotel representative, the line between ‘geeks; and ‘costumed freaks’ wasn’t obvious.
January 23, 2014 @ 4:26 pm
KatG – yes, the hotel confirmed that they asked about the policy and whether or not it meant that they could expect problems during the event: that is not out of line at all with other examples of the exact same thing happening at other science fiction conventions recently.
The difference is, I have never seen any other convention go on local television news about it, nor turn the question into an accusation that the hotel was dismissive of the policy. They weren’t dismissive, merely questioning.
I understand that you think that more than enough time has passed for all hotels and all events to have put these policies in place – and in an ideal sense you are absolutely correct – but I have found (with very little research) that the reality is that many conferences and associations do not have them in place for their conventions.
Many industry conferences appear to be relying on their bylaws, which incorporates the kind of anti-discrimination language that is the law of the land, but many do not have a specific policy.
And of those policies that I have read for other organizations, they state that the policy applies to their guests, attendees and other third parties that may be working directly with the convention – such as vendors – but never is there any mention of it applying to the hotel and its staff.
Besides: if someone is unfamiliar with such policies – despite being in an industry that ought to be fully aware of them – the answer is to educate them so that at least one more hotel knows what is going on.
January 23, 2014 @ 4:29 pm
I use “freak” myself, amongs close friends.
It was a poor choice of words. The intent depends entirely on ‘how’ the word was used. Hotel staff should avoid “playing the game” until they’re absolutely sure of usage – and to whom they are speaking.
January 23, 2014 @ 7:12 pm
I know, sorry! In the middle of the afternoon, doing something completely unrelated, this popped into my head. Really, brain? You couldn’t remember this sooner? And was that really worth an adrenaline rush???
January 23, 2014 @ 7:26 pm
M’kay. “To the best of my knowledge” is a verbal tic that I unthinkingly carried over to writing. Sorry, shouldn’t have done that. It’s intended to allow for the possibility that an anti-harassment policy might have been hidden somewhere on the website of one of these conventions. The fact is, I’ve never seen one for any professional convention I’ve attended, despite looking. And as several other people have pointed out, here and elsewhere, the trend of all kinds of cons adding anti-harassment policies is relatively new, within the last 3 – 5 years. I think it’s about bloody time, and I hope the trend continues to more professional conventions, but it isn’t as wide-spread as I would like.
And at the end of the day, the accusation that the anti-harassment policy bothered the hotel was made by someone who has already been caught lying. It’s hearsay, from an unreliable witness.
Jim C. Hines
January 23, 2014 @ 7:46 pm
Two different witnesses have publicly stated that the anti-harassment policy bothered the hotel. And I’d prefer we not get into calling people liars here.
January 23, 2014 @ 7:59 pm
I’d missed that two people had witnessed the hotel’s discomfort with an anti-harassment policy. The last thing I read only had it in the con’s official statement. Duly noted!
January 24, 2014 @ 11:44 am
Again, the hotel spokesperson confirmed in writing that they had asked the convention runners if they had the policy because attendees were problematic. So it’s not hearsay; the hotel confirmed they asked the question. It’s fact. And they shouldn’t have asked the question because any upscale, convention running hotel should know that an anti-harassment policy is not a red flag that there are problems with the convention goers, but a standard practice to have policies in place should something unfortunately occur. An anti-harassment policy protects the convention and protects the hotel, as well as attendees. The hotel should have one of their own that conventions have to accept to protect the hotel. So this question, which the hotel admits they asked, was unprofessional and a cause of conflict.
Whether a member of the hotel staff called the attendees “freaks” is in question. The convention runners say that this person did do that; the hotel denies it. So that’s a dispute, not fact. But the question about the attendees is confirmed and is fact. So the claim that some are making that the convention runners had no real and confirmed conflicts with the hotel staff about the attendees is not true. Whatever other things they may have mis-managed or misled, this particular part was agreed by the hotel to be true.
There has been a past history of hotels and other convention venues regarding SFFH conventions as weird, undesirable, problematic events, because people dress up in costumes, have unusual meetings, and the convention is about things some hotels regard as juvenile and not in keeping with an upscale image. There have been many conventions that have run into this attitude, so it is not at all surprising that when the hotel asked this question, which it confirmed it asked, it pissed the Chi-Fi con runners off.
Whether it became just an excuse to get out of a financially problematic contract, I don’t know. That issue is in dispute, and there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of competence on either side, but conventions are not simple things. But this particular conflict did occur, it’s a general problem for SFFH events with hotels, and I don’t see what the big deal is about simply accepting that fact when all the parties involved agree that it did happen.
January 24, 2014 @ 12:11 pm
“yes, the hotel confirmed that they asked about the policy and whether or not it meant that they could expect problems during the event: that is not out of line at all with other examples of the exact same thing happening at other science fiction conventions recently.”
It is out of line in the sense that it should not be happening and is unprofessional of the hotel. And in that sense, it was a point of conflict, which both parties confirm happened, and which was a highly negative experience for the con runners. Whatever else happened, trying to excuse the hotel and say there was no conflict when there clearly was, is changing the facts. Which again, was my point.
“The difference is, I have never seen any other convention go on local television news about it,”
That has utterly nothing to do with my point. And saying that convention runners should shut up in public about grievances strikes me as unproductive and very similar to the response given to people asking for these anti-harassment policies in the first place.
“nor turn the question into an accusation that the hotel was dismissive of the policy. They weren’t dismissive, merely questioning.”
That’s your opinion. My opinion is the hotel dismissed the policy as an indication of bad character in the attendees, rather than treating it as it should — a standard, legally wise policy for any convention. Instead, they didn’t “question” the convention runners; they employed an unprofessional stereotype that aggravated the con runners and created one of what seem to have been several conflicts. Some of those conflicts seem to have been created by the con runners, but pretending the hotel were innocent babies is not an accurate representation of the facts so far. If this attitude comes up from hotel staff, public exposure is an excellent way of making sure it doesn’t happen again. Sunshine is good medicine.
“I understand that you think that more than enough time has passed for all hotels and all events to have put these policies in place – and in an ideal sense you are absolutely correct – but I have found (with very little research) that the reality is that many conferences and associations do not have them in place for their conventions.”
The fact that many hotels may be incompetent in their convention staff does not mean that the convention runners should have been sanguine and not upset about the conflict.
“Many industry conferences appear to be relying on their bylaws, which incorporates the kind of anti-discrimination language that is the law of the land, but many do not have a specific policy.
And of those policies that I have read for other organizations, they state that the policy applies to their guests, attendees and other third parties that may be working directly with the convention – such as vendors – but never is there any mention of it applying to the hotel and its staff.”
You seem to be working awfully hard to come up with excuses for the hotel for something they’ve already admitted they did. The fact is, as agreed by all parties, they messed up. And this was one point of conflict in the dispute.
“Besides: if someone is unfamiliar with such policies – despite being in an industry that ought to be fully aware of them – the answer is to educate them so that at least one more hotel knows what is going on.”
Well no, it’s not. It isn’t the job of the convention runners to “educate” the hotel staff about their jobs. It is the job of the hotel to educate their staff and to be up on the latest policies and practices for running conventions at their hotel. This is an up-scale hotel that does a lot of convention business, so that’s even less excuse. If they want to continue to do a lot of convention business, antagonizing their clients, even small ones, with ignorant insults isn’t really the way to do it. The convention runners had a right to be very concerned on this one point, and to fear that they would run into further problems of this sort with hotel staff during the course of the convention. The hotel messed up and it’s their problem to fix. The convention runners had a right to publicly complain. I’m afraid you’re just going to have to live with those facts.
The other issues — whether the convention runners had low bookings and used the conflict over their attendees, the suites, etc. to wiggle out of their contract with minimal financial problems — is another matter entirely and one that can be discussed. But the hotel did in fact, as they admit, act in an antagonistic manner about the attendees towards the con runners and did not seem to be very knowledgeable about running conventions when they should have been to get the business.
You could say that we’re in transition all over the western world and I’d agree. But being in transition isn’t a free pass, nor most importantly does it require people to be silent. And whether the con runners pulled some fast ones or not, this factually confirmed example with the hotel illustrates a real problem concerning harassment and fair treatment throughout industry and recreation that we need to keep addressing and discussing, not excusing.
January 24, 2014 @ 4:47 pm
Bottom line — the hotel was unprofessional with their out of date assumptions. The concom may have done things wrong, too, but are amateurs new to this endeavor. The hotel has no such excuse.
The hotel’s presenting an image of fancy uber-professionalism and have failed miserably in their treatment of their customers, their inability to recognize 21st-century best practices, and sheer unbelievable incompetence in handling bad PR.
This and That - Amazing Stories
January 25, 2014 @ 11:01 am
[…] Chi-Fi debacle is winding down a bit though there is still some debate going on on Jim C. Hines’ site. The thrust of those arguments is (still) an attempt to deflect some of the “blame” […]
January 25, 2014 @ 12:42 pm
Sally, that’s perhaps your personal view, but many others will disagree, especially professional people with a life outside SciFi fandom.
Jim C. Hines
January 25, 2014 @ 1:46 pm
“…especially professional people with a life outside SciFi fandom.”
Well that was a bit snotty. Please knock it off, or further comments will be eaten by goblins.
January 25, 2014 @ 3:10 pm
When two businesses work together for mutual benefit, it is the responsibility of both parties to educate themselves about each other to the best of their abilities. There is supposed to be an open communication link between the parties, and one that assumes that not everything is known about the other. They are supposed to be partnering towards accomplishing a joint goal. If awkward questions get asked, they should be received within the framework of that working relationship: here is why we think that question was awkward, here is how we prefer to handle this kind of thing in future. That’s not “educational”, that’s two different parties learning how to work together.
Is this: “I want to reiterate that it was not about any claimed disparagement, which didn’t happen, or about their anti-harassment policy, which we never objected to in any way only asked whether there was history of problems that necessitated it.” the quote about which you are sayinig this – “Again, the hotel spokesperson confirmed in writing that they had asked the convention runners if they had the policy because attendees were problematic.”
If so, I’m sure that you are aware that there are multiple ways – not just yours – that the hotel statement can be characterized.
The hotel had a responsibility to ask that question for liability reasons – there’s just no two ways about it.
And the truth is, one of the major reasons why many conventions have adopted anti-harassment policies is “because (some) attendees were problematic”.
If I were the hotel, I’d want to know so I can consult with my staff and determine if there is anything else that the hotel needs to do or wants to do in order to help the convention have a successful event. I’d be asking my staff attorney what the hotel’s exposure was, given that there have been some incidents in the past. I’d be reviewing the hotel employee guidelines…I’d be making sure that every staff member is familiar with the hotel policies and the convention’s methods for handling issues in case they should run into something during the con.
I remain unconvinced that this particular question from the hotel was meant in a disparaging, negative way.
Jim C. Hines
January 25, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
Steve and Kat,
I just wanted to check in and ask if you both think this back-and-forth is going anywhere. It’s obvious you both have pretty strong opinions about what happened, but given that none of us were actually there, it feels a bit like this is going around in circles.
Which is fine, if you want to keep going. Just not sure how much time and energy the two of you wanted to spend.
January 25, 2014 @ 9:25 pm
I simply made a point, which is that there was indeed an actual conflict between the hotel and the convention, irrespective of the booking issue, and that both parties confirmed that the particular conflict did occur. I never said that the hotel is to blame for everything that occurred, nor that the convention runners aren’t fibbing or deflecting about other things. But the claim that there were no actual conflicts between hotel staff and convention runners over the attendees is false, as the facts showed.
I also made the related points that A)this is a new convention, which therefore did not have a history to ask about; B) the incorrect stereotype that SFF fans are more problematic in their behavior than folk in other conventions was employed by the hotel staff, which generated conflict; and C) asking a convention whether its attendees are ruffians is not professional nor standard hotel procedure with clients. And finally, quite simply, anyone who works in the convention business, such as the hotel, should know that an anti-harassment policy is used as a precaution and legal protection and not as a red flag of attendees who are ruffians. In my opinion, the behavior of the hotel in this particular instance of the conflict — not in others — will lose it business, booking issues aside, if they continue to do it in the future.
Mr. Davidson seems to have a very determined agenda that the hotel not be given any blame about anything having to do with this conflict, which is kind of strange, to the point of bending over backwards to justify their asking the problematic question. Saying that the hotel screwed up on one point doesn’t exonerate the convention runners from questionable behavior. But since we’re now in the case where Mr. Davidson is characterizing all SFF convention attendees as ruffians who have to be carefully vetted, I’d like to answer, if it’s okay with you, Jim. It’s your blog and I know you don’t have a lot of time to referee. I don’t think Mr. Davidson and I are likely to get anywhere, no, as he seems to be on a crusade, but I think we’re being reasonably polite so far. So if you’ll indulge me:
“They are supposed to be partnering towards accomplishing a joint goal.”
No, they are not partners with joint responsibility. The convention is hiring the hotel to provide services. The hotel has the responsibility to provide those services. If the hotel is concerned about the attendees doing damage to the hotel, they could refuse to book the convention. You’re trying to deflect responsibility for the hotel about something that they are very responsible for — pleasing the client. If the hotel messes up and upsets the client, it is not then the client’s job to train the hotel in how to do their job and fix it. It’s the hotel management’s job to make sure it gets fixed, then and in the future with other clients.
“The hotel had a responsibility to ask that question for liability reasons – there’s just no two ways about it.”
They have a responsibility to ask questions like how many are you expecting, how many are going to be in X room which has a fire law head count, are you going to have parties because we don’t use the suites for parties, etc. because those are liability reasons. Asking if an anti-harassment policy means there will be lots of harassment is not a liability question. It’s an ignorant question that shows lack of understanding of how anti-harassment policies work. By characterizing the attendees as potential ruffians just because of a standard policy, the hotel staff insulted the con runners. That’s not necessarily what caused the break, but it did upset the con runners because it is a common attitude about SFF fans that people running conventions have run into.
“And the truth is, one of the major reasons why many conventions have adopted anti-harassment policies is “because (some) attendees were problematic”.”
Yes and no. One of the main reasons that conventions adopt these policies is because IF there is a problem, they want a way to handle it that protects all involved and to get that information out through company procedure or stated policy, in the case of a SFF convention. The adoption of the policy itself, however, does not mean that their attendees are automatically ruffians and that there will definitely be incidents. Many conventions don’t have incidents. And the hotel, which is in the business of hosting events, should know this again in working with their convention clients. It’s their job to be up on all of this stuff. So it was, again, a faux pas on the part of the hotel staff. They knew less how this works with conventions than the convention runners who were new to it (and apparently not necessarily that competent at other things.) They should know more because it is their business. And if they don’t know more, then that understandably causes conflict. To insist that SFF fans are somehow more ruffians than folks at other conventions and therefore the hotel had to know if they were extra difficult exhibits exactly the same mistake the hotel did.
“I’d be asking my staff attorney what the hotel’s exposure was, given that there have been some incidents in the past.”
Except that there weren’t any incidents in the past for this particular convention because this is the first time the convention was being held. Any industry or entertainment field that holds conventions in general has “some incidents in the past” at various events but not at others. So the idea that the Chi-Fi convention must have more dangerous attendees than other conventions because of the anti-harassment policy and them being SFF fans is a mistake that the hotel staff made, again. If the hotel was deeply concerned about the fans being rowdy, then they wouldn’t book the convention at all. But the hotel had done other SFF events, apparently without incident. Therefore, the staff should have been quite familiar with the nature of the attendees and not have to ask the question about a first run convention.
“I’d be reviewing the hotel employee guidelines…I’d be making sure that every staff member is familiar with the hotel policies and the convention’s methods for handling issues in case they should run into something during the con.”
Well, yes, every hotel does that with every convention. It’s part of the job. That doesn’t mean it has to include freaking out about an anti-harassment policy. The hotel has its own anti-harassment policy, so again, the expression of concern about the attendees over it was misplaced.
“I remain unconvinced that this particular question from the hotel was meant in a disparaging, negative way.”
I’m quite sure that the hotel staff didn’t see the question as disparaging or negative either, from what they said. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t negative and disparaging, however. Nor that it wasn’t incompetent of the hotel staff who weren’t up on stuff they are supposed to be up on. It is understandable that the convention runners, faced with the question of whether their attendees were harassers because they had a standard policy conventions use and SFF conventions in particular are trying to use, and in particular a question that promotes an annoying stereotype of SFF fans that conventions have had problems with, got upset and aired the complaint. So the hotel is getting a crash course in A) how anti-harassment policies work (which they should have known,) and B) how not to piss off SFF fans in the future if they want that convention business.
None of this excuses what the convention runners may or may not have done with the finances. But it was not entirely, it seems, a one-way train wreck. The hotel screwed up and provided poor service in this one area. Given the public exposure of it, I’m sure they’ll do better next time — or stop booking SFF events.
As for the con runners, I have no idea what’s going to happen to them. If they try to not refund fees, they’re going to be in a lot of trouble. Clearly they didn’t have a contingency plan, or know a lot about what they were doing in finance, publicity, etc.
But they did know to have an anti-harassment policy. And if hotels go around asking convention clients if their anti-harassment policy means that their attendees are hooligans, those hotels are going to lose convention business. All the excuses you want to come up with are not going to change that situation.
There, I’m done. 🙂
January 28, 2014 @ 7:42 pm
Jim: In future, if someone’s snotty to me, can I request that Smudge reduce them to ash instead? I looooove Smudge best. 🙂 Not that there’s anything wrong with goblins.
Jim C. Hines
January 28, 2014 @ 7:48 pm
Smudge helps out with comment moderation from time to time too.
March 1, 2014 @ 12:13 am
I’ve never seen an anti-harassment policy at finance conventions either. Last October the Financial Management Association (FMA) Conference was just a few blocks away from the Weston at the Chicago Hyatt Regency. This contains a link to the PDF of the Conference program: http://www.fma.org/ConferenceArchive.htm