The role of hotels as political backdrops
The role of hotels as political backdrops
16 AUGUST 2018 7:24 AM

A new “unapologetically” liberal hotel opening in Washington, D.C., got me thinking about how hotels can best function in today’s politically divisive USA.

Hotels are no strangers to politics. Look back in U.S. history and you’ll find countless examples where hotels are the backdrop for major political events, whether scandalous, secretive or spontaneous.

There’s the 1972 Watergate scandal, which took place in the famous Washington, D.C., complex’s office building, yes, but also in the adjacent hotels. There’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. And for the latest in the “if these walls could talk” series, you can’t overlook Washington, D.C.’s iconic Mayflower Hotel, which has hosted every other political scandal you can think of, from alleged secret meetings with Russian diplomats to clandestine politically motivated affairs.

This list could go on and on, and that’s never going to change. Hotels are perfectly suited for this kind of thing: Where else can you have an open door and also retain an air of anonymity?

And the political activity that takes place in hotels isn’t always bad or salacious, of course. There are fundraisers and rallies and meetings that happen in hotels that foster positive conversation and movement—but we rarely hear about those.

I bring all of this up because recently I’ve seen a lot of press surrounding the opening of Eaton Workshop, a hotel in development in Washington, D.C., that’s described by The New York Times as “a hotel, social club and co-working space” by a “hospitality company that leans firmly, and unapologetically, to the left.”

This is the second Eaton to open, following the first that opened in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The money behind the growing chain (additional properties are in the works) is Hong Kong real estate holding firm Great Eagle Holdings, which also owns the Langham Hotels & Resorts brand.

When I first read that New York Times article, I was annoyed and I’ll admit it.

We live in politically polarizing times here in the U.S., and I have come to loathe any form of broad-brushstroke painting of people into political corners: Oh, you’re a Republican? You must only want to stay in Trump Hotels. You’re a Democrat? Then you and only you—not your Republican friends--will appreciate the rooftop garden and acupuncture classes at Eaton Workshop.

I think that sort of stereotyping is absurd and I always will.

But as I’ve read more about not only this new brand in particular, but about the long history of politics in hotels, the more I’ve come to appreciate the value of hotels as meeting and gathering spaces in political climates. It’s not about the F&B or amenities, and it’s not even about singular historic events, whether good or bad—I think it’s about creating spaces where people can come together around anything they want.

Maybe you’re meeting your family in the lobby before that Broadway show. Or your baseball team gathers in the breakfast room before the big tournament.

Or maybe you’re meeting a group of friends or colleagues to talk about a volunteer opportunity, or a new book you’re all reading or how you’re supporting a candidate running for local office.

Hotels are and always have been that gathering place. So regardless of a political bent, I think we as an industry must continue to support that.

King’s assassination may have happened at the Lorraine, but that motel also was a site for many conversations surrounding various civil rights activities, and now it’s part of the National Civil Rights Museum. The events at the Watergate may have led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, but through the years the complex has housed and hosted countless people on the leading edge of political change in the U.S.

Positive doesn’t outweigh negative, but the point I’d like to make is that the F&B doesn’t matter, the art on the walls doesn’t matter and even the beds don’t really matter—what matters is that people can find spaces to gather to talk about what matters to them.

Want to talk politics? Haha, just kidding. Comment below, email me at or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph

Also, don’t forget that our campaign to gather your best practices for all sorts of tasks in the hotel world is still open. We’re going to publish these in a special report this fall, and the process of submitting a best practice is super easy. Check it out and tell us your tip!

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