Amy Benson is a friend of various members of our blog. In recent travels to New Orleans at the beginning of the year, she found herself in a situation that many black people in their life have faced at one point or another. Rather than recapping the story, I’m going to let her explain it through her own words from her Facebook post. Please note that we are posting this story to get the attention of the Hyatt Centric French Quarter in New Orleans, LA who has yet to effectively apologize or reconcile the situation. We hope that spreading this story will help get their attention and let others know to be wary of these types of situations to prevent them from happening again. All wording from here on out (unless inside parenthesis like so) are Amy’s.
Most people of color have had “it” happen to them. On my last visit to the mainland, I was profiled, targeted, and harassed by employees at The Hyatt Centric French Quarters.
Here’s what happened…..
I entered their lobby restaurant, Batch, around 11:30am and took a seat at the table closer to the television, alongside the window. The bartender looked over but never greeted me or brought me a menu. Besides this being unacceptable service, it didn’t prepare me for what was yet to come. I stayed and continued watching ESPN. There were several white patrons throughout the restaurant. Quite some time later, I stood up to look out the window at all the activity in the heart of French Quarters and the wind was ferociously blowing and small flurries began to fall. I enjoyed watching it. At this point, I still hadn’t been greeted.
A tall wide-bodied white male appeared next to me…extremely close to me. Literally shoulder to shoulder. I became extremely uncomfortable especially because there was so much space in the restaurant available. I then turned sideways to face him and said,”Hey how’s it going?” He too turned his body, and then he glared at me. That is when I saw his name tag. Douglas. He didn’t have a standard uniform on so just from my extensive hospitality background I assumed he was a manager and/or in a department such as engineering. He continued to glare at me and walked away.
Moments after, I turn around and there’s now two men approaching me. This time, it was Douglas and a man named Javier, who appeared to be Security. He immediately asked me assertively, “Are you a guest here?” Patrons and guests outside of the restaurant in the lobby area began to look in our direction. I replied, “ Is there a reason why you’re asking me if I’m a guest in a public hotel space?” He says it louder, “Are you a guest here?” I responded, “Yes I am and again is there a reason you’re asking me if I’m a guest in a public space and not asking anyone else?“ Douglas then fades into the background. There was silence. All eyes from the lobby and inside the restaurant are still in our direction. The hotel was busy this particular weekend due to NCAAF BCS playoffs. It was pretty active. “What room are you in?” For my own confidentiality, I gave him my last name instead of my room number and then asked him again what reason he had to inquire whether I was a guest.
He waves his hands in an up and down motion from my head to toe and says, “You look out of it.” His response completely threw me off. I replied, “Excuse me?” He repeats it, including the hand waving up and down display motion. I ask him to explain to me precisely what that means. Silence. I requested he point me in the direction of someone who can explain what exactly that means since he was incapable or unwilling to do so.
It was such a scene, from the restaurant to the lobby.
We go to the front desk, Javier and Douglass are now both present. Stephanie, the front desk manager, confirms to Javier that I am indeed a guest and furthermore, the reservation was a Hyatt Global status reservation. I then tell her what just transpired. She looked mortified. I requested the GM and was advised he was off property. I told them to contact him right away and have him call me.
Instead of the GM at the time, Travis Teague, contacting me, the Director of F&B, Ray Gil, reached out hours later and advised he would be the next in the chain of command present on property and suggested we meet in the lobby.
My sister TK Benson accompanied me during this meeting. We both gave Ray the courtesy of advising him that we would be taking down notes during the conversation which he responded that would be fine.
Ray immediately entered the conversation as if we were meeting about a service concern or an overcooked steak dining experience and not a discriminatory event that just took place. Although he stated his was made aware of what happened, his nonchalant approach prompted me to believe otherwise so I informed him directly of what took place.
He agreed that both Javier and Douglas were “wrong” and “unprofessional”. Then he went on to say this and I quote from my notes that day and memory, “I don’t think it’s racial profiling because I don’t like to accept that these kind of things happen.” I quickly responded, “Ray just because we don’t like to accept that things happen, doesn’t stop them from happening and it being a reality for some people.” I was mortified that someone in a directorial leadership position would be so dismissive and unprofessional. MORTIFIED. He then went on to say, “The only reason I could think of for why this happened, is that our hotel is located in a very urban area. Sometimes we get homeless people that wander off the streets onto our property.” My jaw dropped to the floor. I responded, “Ray, you just confirmed that I was profiled. What’s your GMs name? Please have him contact me. Thank you.”
Ray called me about 4 hrs later and said, “I just wanted to let you know I’m leaving for the day but I did email Travis and called him twice and was unable to reach him. Hopefully he calls back.” I said to Ray, “You report directly to Travis. If there were a fire in the hotel, you’d be able to reach him. Treat this like a fire.” The following day I checked out and inquired once more about Travis, the General Manager, because I wanted someone to take ownership of what happened. I departed the property. I was told both Travis and Ray were unavailable.
Travis never contacted me. I contacted both the Hyatt Centric and Hyatt Corporate office and filed formal complaints. Spent hours contacting them, after “dropped calls” and let me “transfer you to …”. One representative advised me that an incident like this has to be handled by the actual hotel property not the corporate office, but was told someone would still contact me because that hotel property currently lost their GM. Travis left many weeks after this happened, he could have contacted me. But failed to do so. Perhaps intentionally.
No one from Hyatt corporate office ever contacted me. It’s been months.
They then received a new GM, Scott Webber. I tried on several occasions to contact him and left voicemails with him and the person next in line after him.
On Monday of this week,(May 14th) Scott Weber, finally contacted me. The first contact by anyone from the Hyatt since I left there 5 months ago. He stated he knew about the incident and spoke to Ray and that he had called the previous GM, Travis. He too was very nonchalant about what took place. He seemed to be more interested in talking about Hawaii once he realized I live here. He began telling me how he visited Hawaii before and would like to visit again, which I found extremely deflective of the issue at hand. At the end of the conversation, he says that for the inconvenience he would like to refund me one of the nights we were there, plus tax. I advised him that this has been more than an inconvenience and that resolution was inappropriate therefore I declined. I thanked him for his time and wished him a good day. We were done.
The following day, Tuesday, I see a missed call from him and a voicemail. You can imagine my surprise due to having declined his offer and gracefully ending communication with him. Why is he calling me? He left a voicemail saying he was really sorry about what happened that day and that Javier made an “inappropriate communication and comment.” He also mentioned that Javier had been disciplined after the incident. Lastly, he advised that he would still be refunding the one night in the amount of $626.16 that he extended in our conversation the day prior, despite I thought it was not an appropriate resolution and verbally declined it the day prior. He states that on their end they found it to be fair. He then ends his voicemail by discussing Hawaii again. Unbelievable.
I live on Oahu, not Big Island by the way Scott. The volcanoes aren’t erupting on this island.
UNACCEPTABLE: The fact that this even happened is a reality that many of us face. It’s despicable. It was absolutely egregious. Disgusting.
UNPROFESSIONAL: Hyatt Centric French Quarters is an embarrassment to not only the Hyatt brand, but to luxury hospitality. In my years of not only working professionally in luxury hospitality directly and indirectly, I have never experienced or seen a management team refuse to take ownership. Especially from executive level leaders such as directors and General Managers. I’m appalled. From the bartender, to Douglas, to Javier, to Ray, to Travis, to Scott. I’m literally appalled.
I’m attaching images from that day just to give you an image of me that day and where I was sitting, and the hotel layout (we have posted these images throughout this piece). Also attaching the voicemail the GM left me this week on Tuesday following our conversation Monday.
You have my permission to share this on any platform. In fact, I’m asking you to PLEASE SHARE and tag HYATT. Mahalo.
(Voicemail posted below)