Hotel faces criticism over ATM theme party

Dubai’s prestigious Fairmont Hotel faces accusations of gross insensitivity, after throwing a ‘construction works’-themed party, complete with scaffolding, hanging cables and waiting staff pushing wheelbarrows, dressed in blue boilersuits and hard hats.

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By  Alicia Buller Published  May 14, 2006

Dubai’s prestigious Fairmont Hotel faces accusations of gross insensitivity, after throwing a ‘construction works’-themed party, complete with scaffolding, hanging cables and waiting staff pushing wheelbarrows, dressed in blue boilersuits and hard hats. The party, scheduled to celebrate the Arabian Travel Market 2006, came at a time when the issue of workers’ rights in Dubai is under the international spotlight - amidst concerns over long working hours, low pay, poor living conditions and unsafe working practices. Only last month, there were reports of protest riots at the site of the Burj Dubai. “There have been some major issues with labour relations in Dubai recently and this has attracted heavy international media coverage because the city is high-profile right now,” said Alex McNabb, group account director at Spot On PR. “With so much negative coverage, and with feelings obviously still running high, and with the government moving to address the issue in every way it can, it appears to be an insensitive choice of theme and execution for such an event. “You wouldn’t, for example, go ahead with a party on a school bus theme, if there had been some children hurt in a minibus a few days earlier,” he continued. “The prevailing moral environment, the news context, and the tide of public opinion are all critical factors that need to be evaluated when you’re planning public events.” The ATM gala, which attracted 1700 guests, promised partygoers a ‘strong theme, delicious food and drink and a hint of scandal'. Attendees were presented with a US-based dance troupe performing in workers’ overalls, along a series of plywood platforms suspended above the main ballroom. “I find it an odd choice of theme,” admitted Sarah Walker-Kerr, regional director of travel and tourism at Trans-Arabian Creative Communications Services (TRACCS). “In PR you should always be aware of the media context you are operating in. And I can think of no reason why you would chose a ‘construction works’ theme for travel and tourism party in the current circumstances.” The Fairmont has defended its decision, downplaying the event as “just another unique party theme”. It insists that the party’s theme was decided over a year ago, and was in the best possible taste. “The ‘building’ theme was purely that − about building in the sense of building our brand in the region,” added Kent Cooper, sales and marketing director at the hotel. “It was not meant to be a political statement. As a company, the Fairmont has a great human rights record.” Other hotel operators in Dubai were less sure about the party’s appropriateness. “I would not choose to focus on the construction theme,” admitted Imad Elias, chief operating officer of the Rotana hotel chain. “I would focus on things that are relevant to the travel and tourism industry – such as the upcoming monorail. I would aim to pay tribute to the good and positive things that Dubai is doing, and the exciting projects that are coming up.” The Fairmont has 266 guest rooms and 128 suites, with rooms beginninng at US$425 a night for a standard double. When pop star Robbie Williams performed in Dubai last month, he stayed in the hotel’s US$6534-a-night Imperial Suite. Construction workers in Dubai are reported to earn, on average, around US$160 a month.

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