Pushing Fannish Buttons: Chi Fi vs The Westin River North Hotel of Chicago

Update 3:30 pm 1/18/2014:  While reading Facebook comments on this article, it became apparent that I should have gotten in touch with Michi Trota, the blogger who was interviewed on the Fox News’ evening broadcast.  My characterization of her interview – “A second video on Fox News 32, taking place during their evening broadcast on the same day as the original appearance, features a “woman in the street” who laments the cancellation of the convention.  It is interesting in light of everything else related here that the sole person in the street interviewed is also the publisher of a blog that has been supporting Chi-Fi’s story throughout its history.” suggests that Ms. Trota was colluding in some fashion when, in fact, she had absolutely no control over how Fox News 32 would present her interview.  My apologies to Ms. Trota for this mis-characterization and to the reader for the same.

Original article begins.

Earlier this week a fairly typical event took place, followed by a decidedly untypical tail that has been wagging the dog ever since.

Imagine Chicago, the parent company of a Chicago based convention operation, announced that their March 2014 event – Chi Fi – had been cancelled;  offers for refunds were front and center, a planned for thank you to supporters event (a one day party) was announced and everyone was assured that the Chi-Fi would take place in 2015.

Cancellation of new events is nothing new to our community.  Cancellation of old events is not new either.  (Nor are boycotts, lockouts and other weekend disasters.)  What is new in this particular case was the explanation offered by the Chi-Fi group.  In their public announcement, they pushed two very hot fannish buttons and accused the hotel of having a hostile attitude towards “freaks” and disapproval of the convention’s anti-harassment policy.

Here is Chi-Fi’s cancellation announcement in full:

Dear Valued Attendees,

We regret to inform you that Chi-Fi 2014 will not be taking place at the Westin Chicago River North as planned. After several meetings with the staff of the Westin, we had concerns about the ability of their staff to create a welcoming and accepting atmosphere towards our attendees. A senior Westin employee referred to our staff, attendees, and guests as “freaks,” and hotel staff expressed their disapproval of our anti-harassment policy. As we want to put the safety and enjoyment of our guests and attendees first, we requested that the hotel make changes to ensure that our attendees and guests be treated with the same respect as any other Westin hotel guests. 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. We are grateful to certain individuals working for Westin and Starwood who have been supportive throughout these discussions. Our organization does not condone any sort of retaliatory actions against either Westin or Starwood.

Given the close proximity of this cancellation to our event, we do not believe we can throw a successful convention as planned in March of 2014. Instead, we are choosing to push Chi-Fi 1 to the spring of 2015. We are confident that the majority of our Featured Guests, Artists, Vendors, Exhibitors, and Registered Attendees will support this change and allow us to port their registrations to 2015, given the circumstances. However, full refunds are available upon request. To cancel hotel reservations, please contact the Westin Chicago River North directly. Planning is already in the works for our 2015 convention. Information on the new venue and dates for Chi-Fi 1 will be coming soon.

In addition, we wish to thank all of the individuals who have supported Chi-Fi with at least one special event in 2014. We are in discussions with a local venue to host a Saturday-only event on March 29th, 2014, when Chi-Fi 1 was originally scheduled. We plan to have parties, musical performances and a small Artist and Vendor Area. We hope to make this event very affordable for all, and free to anyone who registers to attend Chi-Fi 1 in 2015 (including our Vendors, Exhibitors and Artists). Please watch our website, Facebook and Twitter feeds for more information coming soon.
We are so sorry that things have not worked out as we hoped for 2014, but we believe that this outcome is much better than hosting our convention in a hotel where our attendees and guests are not welcome. We hope to see you at our event in March 2014 and at Chi-Fi 1 in the spring of 2015.

Kind Regards,
James Dobbs
Chi-Fi Con Chair

(emphasis added for clarity)

The internet immediately exploded with threads on Facebook, an article on IO9, followed almost as quickly by mainstream press outlets including a Fox News affiliate in Chicago and the DNAInfo website, which led to a host of bloggers tweeting on the subject, creating what is perhaps the greatest demonstration of Geek Power in the history of fandom.

Unfortunately, some of the outrage and anger on the part of fans may be somewhat hasty, if not misdirected.

This story is a somewhat complicated one for several reasons:  solid, verifiable information has been hard to come by and the story itself is rooted in the arcane machinations of hotel-convention negotiations, contracts, performance, economics and at least partially obscured by fannish history and sensitivities.

It is also complicated by the media blitz staged by Imagine Chicago, the organization behind the Chi-Fi convention and the hotel’s (and its parent corporation) reluctance to be drawn into a PR battle that has no real upside for them.

Let’s start from the beginning and move forward from there.

Chi-Fi’s website was inaugurated in June of 2013, as was their supporting Facebook page. Local promotion of the event appears to have largely been focused on other regional conventions similar in nature to the kind of event Imagine Chicago was planning on hosting – a trip to CONvergence is featured on their FB page, along with a steadily growing list of confirmed guests and an August 2013 announcement that an Anti-Harassment Policy had been adopted by the convention.

According to Dave McCarty, Chairman of the 70th World Science Fiction Convention that was held in downtown Chicago in 2012 (full disclosure:  I contributed a biography of Hugo Gernsback for that convention’s program book) – the Imagine Chicago group apparently wanted to manage this convention on their own and did not seek help from other experienced  fan groups in the area (some of whom have decades of experience).  Dave suggests that Chicago fandom can support a small-to-medium sized “media” convention and the greater Chicago fan community seemed to have been generally in favor of the prospect.

However, Imagine Chicago apparently wanted their own in-house staff in the key positions.  (Chi-Fi does not list their staff by name on their website, so it is not possible to determine the depth and experience of their team.)  Some commentary on the web on mailing lists and forums dedicated to con-running topics and frequented by many experienced con-runners have suggested that the Chi-Fi group were engaged in a story familiar to those in the convention game: a new group of enthusiastic yet inexperienced fans wanted to try something new, declined help in order to establish their own reps.  Consensus is that such efforts usually die before they are born, running afoul of one unanticipated problem or another, unanticipated most often due to inexperience.  Other commentary on similar sites predicted failure for the convention simply based on their familiarity with some of the individuals involved in running the show.

Dire consequences aside, predictions are not reality.  Chi-Fi started up a website in April of 2013 -

chi-fi site may 2013

Screen capture from Archive.org of the Chi-Fi website in May of 2013

that added content in June.  The convention also opened up a Facebook page in the same month of 2013 and began promoting their plans, guests and activities, including road trips and parties at at least two other regional conventions – CONfusion and ICon – as part of their promotional effort.

Nine months in advance of the planned date for the convention, promotion began in earnest.  This was also FOUR months after Chi-Fi signed their contract with the hotel in February (as you will see below).

By way of partial comparison: planning to BID for a World Science Fiction Convention begins a couple of years before site selection, which itself takes place two years prior to the event.  Once an event is selected through the bidding process, the convention has a solid two years to promote and advertise.  One key thing to note here:  groups bidding for a Worldcon have already reviewed their convention facilities and negotiated a preliminary, conditional contract/memorandum of understanding or similar agreement with hotels and exhibit halls that is contingent upon their winning the bid.   A similar arrangement is not at all uncommon for other, similar events.

New events not connected to an organization such as WSFS obviously have no need to bid for their event – but they do have the uphill battle of establishing name recognition in a relatively crowded field.  They have no track record of performance (one thing that experienced, recognizable staff can help mitigate).  This would seem to suggest a strategy of more and longer promotional efforts.

From June through the present, both the FB page and the website contained news of a steady stream of guests being added to the event.

Then, on January 14th of 2014, Chi-Fi published their Aliens Abduct Chi-Fi Hotel announcement cancelling the event (see above).

Immediately, two separate narratives came to the fore.

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.

Notably, the hotel’s narrative is slight and restricted to a single public statement:

Providing a hospitable, welcoming environment is the essence of our business, and The Westin Chicago River North is extremely disappointed in the false claims being made by Chi-Fi Con. 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. We are disappointed that we were unable to resolve the situation.

Amazing Stories obtained three emails from James Dobbs (Chi-Fi Chairman) – later confirmed by M. Menozzi, the Account Director for the Westin Hotel, as being complete and accurate representations of the communication between Chi-Fi and the hotel.  Those documents are included below:

Letter to the Westin from Chi-Fi’s attorney:

5 December 2013

Ms. Maggie Menozzi
Sales Manager

RE: Agreement Between IMAGINE CHICAGO and WESTIN CHICAGO RIVER NORTH HOTEL
dated 22 February 2013

Dear Ms. Menozzi,

Please be advised that the undersigned represents JAMES DOBBS, event planner, for IMAGINE CHICAGO. Thank you for taking the time today to meet with me. As you are aware, the group, IMAGINE
CHICAGO is asking today to CANCEL the above captioned Contract, and to be released from the Contract, without paying any Cancellation or Mitigation damages, as specified in the Contract.

At today’s meeting were members of the Imagine Chicago Group. They expressed feelings of being unwelcomed by the Westin Hotel Staff. For the past three months , there was no dedicated agent or
representative available to the group. Numerous requests for room dimensions, and hotel amenities have been left unanswered. Assurances that the Group could advertise on the Hotel Web site were not honored. Assurances that the Group could host parties in the Suites have been met with less than enthusiasm. The room block rates are just a few dollars under the cost advertised on the Hotel’s Web site for that weekend. The fact that the clientele will be in costumes, of all sorts has been met with a lukewarm reception, at best. Mr. Dobbs was told personally that the Hotel really didn’t want the guests in costumes. This is of great concern as the Group will be hosting Chi-Fi, Convention.. This is been billed as “Geek” Convention, and is comparable with Star Trek and Doctor Who Science Fiction Conventions. People come in all sorts of garb, and perhaps this is not the image you wish for Westin Chicago River North Hotel.

When the Contract was first negotiated and signed, The Group made full disclosure of plans to have speakers, events and room parties. We feel that this Hotel and this Group are a bad fit. We don’t want bad feelings from either the Group staff nor the many hundreds of attendees. If the attendees are made to feel unwelcome, or called names, then the damage to both sides will be irreparable, both in dollars and in the reputations to both parties. The upcoming dates are 27 March-30 March 2014 . As these dates are less than three months away, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE for the Group to find and work with a Hotel that can accommodate their needs. The group will need to mitigate its damages by re-advertising, reprinting marketing materials, and the like.

The Group members specifically feel un welcomed by the Hotel Staff. As mentioned, the Group fully disclosed that this was to be a “Geek” Convention. Being thus referred to a “FREAKS” by the Hotel
Manger has led us to believe that the Convention would be better suited in a warm and friendly environment, not a hostile or at the very least dismissive environment.

Therefore, on behalf of the Group, and specifically by my client, JAMES DOBBS, we asked for the contract to be broken without recourse. Additionally, we ask that any rooms booked by CHI-Fi guests be, at the guest’s option, released as well.

I look forward to a quick and mutually beneficial resolution of this matter.

This was followed the same day by Ms. Menozzi’s response from the hotel:

12/5/13
Thank you for sending over this letter of cancellation. I see a few inaccuracies in the letter, including but not limited to the reference of assurances to allow advertising o the hotel’s website.  This was never agreed to or approved. The hotel offered to create a StarGroups website for the group to advertising the room block on the Groups website. Additionally, when we first met, there was no mention of parties in suites. The only requested suite for a social function was the Presidential Suite, which was contracted to the Group. It is unfortunate that the cancellation letter misrepresents the discussions of the initial planning process that took place prior to contract signing. Regardless, the Hotel will accept your option to cancel this legally binding agreement. The full cancellation penalty that is due for cancelling within 112 days of arrival is $84,570.75

The Hotel is willing to honor the request to mitigate the cancellation damages for this agreement. The Hotel will accept and finalize cancellation of this agreement upon receipt of a check in the amount of $30,000.  This check must be received no later than December 27th, 2014. In the event that the check is ussued and/or received after December 27, 2013, the full cancellation amount for cancelling within 89 days of the event will be due.  That amount is $101,484.90.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions you may have.

Warmest Regards,

Also included was another email from the Hotel, dated one month later than the preceding:

Jan. 6 (8 days ago)

Happy New Year!

I wanted to let you know that the Westin River North is pleased to accept your cancellation (requested on December 5th, 2013). We will not be seeking any cancellation damages, and we wish you the best of luck with your program. Please let me know if you wish for me to reach out to my counterpart at the Westin Lombard or the Westin O’Hare to see if they have availability the last weekend in March.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions you may have.  I am not in the office today, but will be back in the office tomorrow and I would be happy to set up a time to talk.

Warmest Regards,

(Amazing Stories was asked by James Dobbs to redact the name of their attorney.)

Finally, in response to Amazing’s query about the documents, Ms. Menozzi wrote the following:

1/16/14

I can confirm that these are all accurate documents.  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.  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.  We let them cancel, so we could pursue other business in that time period and they could search for another venue.  We waived cancelation penalties because pursuing the group for payment did not make sense.  We are a hospitality company and do all we can to maintain positive relations with our guests and clients.  We were disappointed that we were not able to make this work.  I know you had a lot of questions, but please understand that we have decided not to get into further details or discussion about this in respect of the client.  Thank you for understanding that.

A couple of things should be noted at this juncture.

First, James Dobbs, Chairman of Ch-Fi, during a phone conversation with Amazing Stories identified the three above emails as being the same documentation that he used “to get on Fox”.  His implication was that the email exchange verified Chi-Fi’s claims about the hotels’ issues and non-cooperation and that it was this ‘proof’ that caused FoxNews 32 (Chicago) to put him on air.

Here is that video:

In particular, note that James says the following:

“We booked through Starwood Corporation” (parent/owner of the Westin)

and

“Sometime around June, we realized that we were having a lot of trouble getting in touch with our local rep” (at the Westin River North).”…and finally on November 25th (2013) two, three days before Thanksgiving, we got a meeting with a local event planner at the local hotel.”

then, at approximately 1:50 into the video, James says:

“As we began speaking – and I was present at this meeting – the event planner referred to us as ‘freaks’ and this is something that we actually wrote up in a letter we sent to the Westin and they did not dispute it.” (emphasis added.)

Note that in the response from the Westin, dated 12/5/13, the Westin does dispute several of the claims made by Chi-Fi.  The ‘freaks’ commentary is not addressed.  On air, Dobb’s chose to characterize this as meaning the claim was not disputed by the hotel.  However, choosing not to address that particular issue does not constitute acceptance of the claim by the hotel.

James also notes the following: “It would be too much to plan and change in two months’ time.”

The Fox News host then reads a statement from the hotel and James responds with the following: “This is a change in policy (the on air statement) from the letter I’ve actually shared with you guys coming from the Westin where they acknowledged and accepted our claims that they had done this.” (emphasis added.)

This is most assuredly not the case.  The Westin communication did dispute those claims they chose to address and their failure to directly address every single individual claim is no admission.

It’s no surprise that the convention is trying to push their own version of events, and Chi-Fi has been doing that successfully for the past several days.  It appears, however, that they are doing so in a manner that is not entirely consistent with the facts.

(A second video on Fox News 32, taking place during their evening broadcast on the same day as the original appearance, features a “woman in the street” who laments the cancellation of the convention.  It is interesting in light of everything else related here that the sole person in the street interviewed is also the publisher of a blog that has been supporting Chi-Fi’s story throughout its history. The video can be found on the blogger’s site.)

If the cancellation of the event is not due (or not entirely due) to “problems with the hotel”, there must be another explanation.  That other explanation has been suggested by many experienced convention runners and is that the convention did not have enough registrations and hotel bookings, in sufficient time before the event, to host a successful event.

That would be entirely speculative if not for a communication with a source at the hotel that provided Amazing Stories with information regarding the size of Chi-Fi’s contracted room block and the number of hotel room registrations obtained by Chi-Fi up until the point that Chi-Fi requested the cancellation.

The hotel source has stated that Chi-Fi’s room block was “approximately 500 room nights” and that the convention had booked “about two dozen room nights”.  (Room nights are hotel speak for 1 room for 1 night.  Someone staying at the con from Friday thru Monday would book three room nights.)

This information was provided to James Dobbs in several emails with a request to confirm or dispute them: despite repeated promises to provide additional information since 1/16/14,   On 1/17 Amazing Stories received the following: “You will be the first person I reply to this morning after work, no later than 10:30 AM my time (central) thank you so much for your patience and understand.”

One item related to the emails provided by Chi-Fi was puzzling:  a month transpired between the Westin’s first email response and their second email response, and yet no intervening communications were provided that might explain why the Westin had moved from requesting penalty payments and waiving those fees entirely.

When asked about this, James responded with off the record commentary that suggests that Chi-Fi took various actions that forced the hotel to agree to the cancellation without penalty.

An alternate explanation is provided in Ms. Menozzi’s follow-up email: “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.  We let them cancel, so we could pursue other business in that time period and they could search for another venue.  We waived cancelation penalties because pursuing the group for payment did not make sense.”

(Our source has also stated that there is a November 26th email that does cover the events that took place at the meeting; Chi-Fi has been asked to supply a copy of this email and have so far failed to respond.)

Hotels in contract with conventions are in business to make money.  A convention that can not fill its room block will cost the hotel lost revenue.  Hotel’s frequently request milestones to check performance of bookings and registrations to gauge whether or not the event will be successful (at least in their terms);  sometimes those milestones are built into the hotel contract (not having a copy of the contract – understandably – we can not verify this).

What is clear is that the Hotel is essentially claiming that Chi-Fi did not have enough bookings to warrant moving ahead with the event, while Chi-Fi claims that this was not the primary issue.

This particular dispute would seem to be subject to a relatively straight-forward resolution:  all Chi-Fi needs to do is provide their numbers:  how many convention registrations they had, how many hotel rooms were booked.

Other than a quick note claiming “1k” for registrations, Chi-Fi has refused to provide numbers.  They have claimed that non-disclosures signed with the hotel prevent them from doing so.  This claim is disputed by those familiar with hotel contracts.  (To be clear, certain aspects of the contract – such as room rates – may be under non-disclosure, but attendance numbers are typically used for promotional purposes and it would be unusual for any convention to agree to not be able to use those numbers.)

But there’s another twist here.  In discussing the numbers (or lack thereof) James has stated that:

As to the hotel registration issue, you will find if you go back on our Facebook page, as I am suspect at this point you have, you will see posts from people not being able to book the hotel and then people have all sorts of issues when the booking finally got up. We began telling everyone to hold of on booking hotel rooms. It was at this time that we began contacting the local hotel in order to resolve these issues. These posts are from a long time ago.

As I have previously indicated we had a great deal of difficulty getting a meeting scheduled. Over the summer of 2013, our hotel liaison and guest of honor liaison finally went on site for a, shockingly difficult to schedule face to face meeting with a rep rep from the local hotel. They had what they thought was a very productive meeting where the explained our event to a local rep, who from their perspective did not seem to understand our event at all and seemed to have been given no background on us.

After their departure I received a call from our rep with Starwood corporate she was alarmed and stated that our GoH liaison and hotel liaison had asked for all kinds of things the hotel was unable to accommodate. I went through the list of things Starwood had heard from the hotel we wanted with our hotel liaison and GoH liaison, and their was a lot of discrepancy, and none of us could figure out what had happened.

It is important to note at this point that we told Starwood before booking, that our event would be very simillar to Windy and CAP, and Starwood said that they actually called the local properties and made sure they understood our needs from the hotels perspective. We of course also laid out our needs in addition to that.

So we chalked it up to a massive miscommunication, and tried to schedule another meeting. We were then informed that the person from the hotel that had worked with us had been suddenly separated. So we spent all summer, and in fact all autumn, until November 25th, trying to get another meeting with a local rep on site. The whole time telling people not to book rooms.  During that time we got many different stories for why they could not meet.

So yes, our room pickup was probably very low, but not due to lack of registration, or from lack of people who would book the moment we gave the green light. We have people from the U.K. and Germany coming, who are in fact still registered, and who we told not to book a room until we say to. This is just one example. It was painful, but we had to have people hold off until we figured out what was wrong and fix it. (emphasis added)

twitter feed

(Note the image of Chi-Fi’s Twitter feed announcement regarding the opening of hotel bookings, above.  No subsequent message between then and now mentioning a change in status or recommendation not to book with the hotel has been seen.  Additionally, the entirety of the Chi-Fi Facebook page timeline was searched for comments regarding issues with bookings and recommendations to not book;  not a single such comment was found.)

Some convention runners have suggested that telling attendees not to register with the contracted hotel is tantamount to fraud.

Finally (at least as it regards this aspect of the situation) Amazing’s hotel source has stated that at the time of the November meeting between Chi-Fi and Westin staff, there were zero bookings for the hotel.  Zero.  Our source also states that the convention was contractually obligated to have 80 percent of the rooms in the convention’s room block booked by 30 days prior to the event.   That would be by the last week of February, just shy of six weeks from today.

There is, unfortunately, no smoking gun when it comes to determining exactly why Chi-Fi cancelled their event: it could be because of Chi-Fi’s stated reasons, or it could be because, as the Westin suggests, the event was not going to live up to their contractual obligations and wanted to avoid what would come next: having their facility space reduced, being moved off to another, smaller Westin facility or having to pay cash for a large number of un-used hotel rooms..

The preponderance of the evidence does seem to largely support the Westin’s claims however – especially in light of Chi-Fi’s continued refusal/inability to provide verifiable information that would say otherwise.

There’s still more though.  Another thread of evidence that snakes through the explanations that lends further credence to the Hotel’s narrative, one that speaks to the convention’s inexperience and one that may certainly have contributed to their need to cancel the event.

What we know is this:

The contract with the hotel was signed in February of 2013.

Chi-Fi’s chairman stated on air that “we went through Starwood Corporation” (to book the hotel).

Chi-Fi did not meet with Westin River North staff until November of 2013 (for whatever reason).

This timeline of events suggests several things:

(1) The convention waited nine months to raise their concerns about the hotel.  They essentially did nothing for nine months as the convention date got closer.  Chi-Fi should have met with the local hotel staff they would be working with BEFORE signing the contract. At the very least, a meeting with hotel staff should have taken place within a few weeks of making the arrangements with Starwood; failure to obtain such a meeting should not have been allowed to persist for more than a month – without drastic action being taken by Chi-Fi.

Furthermore, failure to have such a meeting – characterized as various stalling activities by the hotel – should have been an immediate warning to the convention that something was not right and that would have engendered immediate action on the part of an experienced convention committee.  (Chi-Fi claims that the hotel was an unwelcoming environment:  the only way to find something like that out is to visit with the hotel staff.  Again, inexperience is to blame here.)  Experienced con runners have all manner of horror stories regarding the differences between what they were told about a facility remotely and what they actually found when going on site.  I have personal experience with this – including discovering that the ballroom that had been designated for the art show at a major international convention had water dripping from the ceiling and mildew all over the walls.  You can look at a floor plan and decide that a function space is adequate for your needs, but the floor plan didn’t show the leaky ceiling….

Liaison with the hotel and the staff responsible for helping a convention run an event is critical to the success of the event.  No one with any experience of running a convention of this kind waits until three months before the convention to get into the detail with the hotel staff (catering, amenities, scheduling, signage, etc, etc)

(2) The convention signed the  contract without having all of their requirements included in the contract:  otherwise, there would be no dispute about the room parties.  Chi-Fi may have gotten assurances from Starwood regarding all manner of things, but if it wasn’t in the contract, it wasn’t in the contract.  If you want those things to happen and they aren’t in the contract – you don’t sign the contract.

The most problematic aspect here is that regarding room parties.  Westin has stated categorically that they do not allow parties in their rooms. Westin also states that they made the Presidential Suite available for parties in order to accommodate Chi-Fi.  Room parties are an essential core activity of conventions of this type.  Use of the Presidential Suite for parties would have had to have been in the contract as such use contravenes the hotel’s stated policy.  That being the case, Chi-Fi had to be aware that the other rooms could NOT be used for parties.  Regardless, room parties are frequently the subject of much negotiation for conventions:  permission, whether or not outside food and beverage can be brought in, special rates to hotel-supplied food and beverage, specific floors where parties will or will not be allowed.

Which suggests that Chi-Fi knew all along they would not be able to host parties in guest rooms – or they believed that a single suite devoted to parties would be adequate (not), or that they failed to get their contract changed to include them.

As to the claims regarding the hotels problems with the conventions anti-harassment policy.  Note Ms. Menozzi’s email to the contrary.  Amazing’s hotel source has confirmed that statement:  the hotel did not have a problem with the convention having and enforcing such a policy.  What the hotel did have questions about were the reasons behind needing such a policy.

It’s no surprise that a hotel corporation is not at all familiar with fandom’s need for such a policy or the relatively recent high-profile harassment issues that led to the demand for and creation of such policies.  When asked to adhere to the policy, the Westin’s first concern was that the convention needed such a policy because it anticipated problems with its guests – the hotel did not understand its preventative nature, nor the history requiring conventions to have one.  Once they learned the nature of the policy, the hotel stated categorically that they do not have a problem with the it.

And what about the “freaks” comment?  Unconfirmed information has suggested that the hotel staff member supposedly responsible for the statement has previously worked with other “geek” conventions and did not have any problems.  This is certainly not definitive, but on the other hand, there’s only one person’s word behind the original claim.  Maybe the staff member did say it.  Maybe the staff member said something like “I’m a freak too”.  Maybe the staff member was talking about the television show of the same name.  We’ll probably never know.

What is certain is that Chi-Fi chose to push two of the hottest buttons in fandom to make their case.  The convention’s claims were designed to gain sympathy from the fannish community – and it certainly received it.

Those claims also seem to have been designed to obscure what is – based on the information that has been obtained so far – the more likely scenario:  that Chi-Fi was very unlikely to book their contractual obligation with the hotel by the specified time and that cancellation of the event was inevitable.

As of right now, Chi-Fi has scheduled a one-day party to take place on the same weekend as the convention was originally scheduled. Information is available on their site.

###

Amazing Stories primary concern regarding this particular kerfuffle is a desire to see good relations maintained between con-running fandom and the hospitality industry. Like Fandom, the hospitality industry speaks among itself, trades stories and information regarding its business.  I have personally witnessed another group go through years of bad relations with hotels that seriously impacted its ability to host events.  I am not suggesting that conventions should remain silent when and if they have problems with hotels or hotel staff, particularly when those problems are related to the manner in which the fannish community is perceived and treated.

When such claims are made, they need to be made in a professional, ultimately verifiable manner, precisely because they represent issues that are so very important to the fan community.

For the record, Amazing Stories completely supports the use of anti-harassment policies at conventions – both as a way to deter bad, unacceptable behavior and as a way to demonstrate to fans that they are welcome and that their concerns are being met.

The claims regarding the Westin Hotel’s questioning of Chi-Fi’s policy does suggest that fandom may still have a bit of work to do in regards to such policies and I’ll suggest now that those who have been authoring sample policies and the conventions that utilize them put their heads together and create a standardized version of that policy (one that can have codicils and attachments  for dealing with situations unique to individual conventions) and share it with organizations representing the hospitality industry in order to craft a document that is useful to conventions and understandable and familiar to hotels. Part of that program ought to be language that allows the hotel to substitute their own internal corporate policies – for their own personnel – for the convention’s policy while still remaining in compliance with the overall intent of the convention’s policy (provided of course the hotel has sufficient language in their operating guidelines – and no convention should book with a hotel that does not have at least the minimally mandated anti-discrimination and anti-sexual harassment policies in place).


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8 Comments

  1. February 4, 2014, 1:33 pm   / 

    […] not the “freak” comment actually occurred have come under question, and are beside the point. The larger takeaway from the Chi-Fi fracas is that fandom does not suffer insults […]

  2. January 25, 2014, 5:05 pm   / 

    […] Contrarily, Chi-Fi appeared concerned with its attendees' safety and happiness.  At that point, "what really happened" doesn't […]

  3. January 24, 2014, 10:00 am   / 

    […] Pushing Fannish Buttons: Chi Fi vs The Westin River North Hotel of Chicago […]

  4. January 21, 2014, 2:47 pm   / 

    […] 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, […]

  5. Avatar of K. Ceres Wright
    January 20, 2014, 8:21 pm   / 

    A great expose, Steve! Thanks so much for researching and posting. I jumped the gun in the interest of timeliness for my post, but it’s nice to be able to read more from both sides.

  6. January 20, 2014, 7:22 pm   / 

    […] Amazing Stories – Pushing Fannish Buttons: Chi Fi vs The Westin River North Hotel of Chicago […]

  7. January 20, 2014, 10:47 am   / 

    […] have ever run and rookie mistakes aren’t uncommon or unexpected. Steve Davidson’s recent piece on Amazing Stories highlights several of the issues that raised red flags for some who have been […]

  8. January 18, 2014, 8:25 pm   / 

    […] Rest Of The Story: http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/01…hotel-chicago/ tl;dr: Few tickets sold. The convention organizers are […]

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