The Dorchester Collection takes social media offline in Brunei political row

The Dorchester Collection takes social media offline in Brunei political row

Blunt force trauma is a medical term which describes an injury caused when an object hits or strikes a body. These days, social media has pretty much the same effect.

This week’s case in point is Brunei. More specifically, the call on social media for nine hotels owned by the state to be boycotted because of new anti-LGBT laws.

The laws call for the death penalty for adultery and male gay sex, prompting condemnation from governments worldwide.

The travel industry reacted quickly: Regent Holidays stopped selling a tour of Brunei, and Premier Holidays is reviewing its use of Brunei’s state airline. Virgin Australia also cancelled a staff travel arrangement with Brunei.

But the sharpest reaction came from social media. Celebrities weighed in on Twitter, including Ellen DeGeneres and Billie Jean King, calling for people to “rise up” and boycott the high-profile hotels which include The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Dorchester in London and Le Meurice in Paris.

The episode illustrated how social media has become such a blunt force. It goes something like this: a story breaks, abuse follows, company reacts (often too late to undo damage). Indeed, the hotels did become a focal point for abuse from those seeking to attack the Brunei regime.

What is intriguing in this case, however, is how quickly the hotels, collectively known as The Dorchester Collection, moved to mitigate against the negativity created.

Within 24 hours, the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram accounts of all hotels were taken down. In a Twitter statement on its corporate account, The Collection said the decision was taken ‘due to the personal abuse directed at our employees.’ (photo below).

This is a new development: story breaks and travel company reacts swiftly to prevent its platforms becoming swamped by abuse. The company also moved quickly to post a holding message on its website homepage, which attempts to distance itself from the row – “Our values are far removed from the politics of ownership”.

Softening the blunt force is something that travel companies are learning, in much the same way that it is developed crisis management plans in recent years. But it is the first time, to my knowledge, that a brand has taken such a decisive step by taking down its social accounts – as opposed to trying to use the platforms to fight back.

I would imagine the accounts have just been parked rather than deleted, and will return in due course when the heat dies down (a couple of weeks?). It will be interesting to see how The Collection returns to social.

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

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