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Porn is Big Income for Hotels

WWW- THE HARD-CORE PORN a couple of remote clicks away in many hotels–some around Fredericksburg–represents “found money,” as the accountants say. An outside pay-per-view firm installs and maintains the system, and the hotel keeps a cut of the fee for each movie a guest watches. Entertainment-industry analyst Dennis McAlpine calculates that 80 percent of the money generated by in-room movies in “businessmen’s hotels” comes via X-rated films.

Furthermore, the Marriott and Westin chains, reports PBS’ “Frontline” series, make more selling a la carte smut than they do the fancy-priced snacks and drinks in their mini-bars. In 2000, by one estimate, Marriott–which hopes to open a Courtyard hotel in Downtown Fredericksburg–took in more than $30 million a year, free and clear but for taxes, from movies depicting group sex and similarly refined fare.

Yet some large hotel brands, uneasy about being part of a chain of exploitation that starts with a pimp and a camera and ends, often, with a family shattered by a husband’s porn addiction (see yesterday’s editorial, “X marks the Marriott”), shun in-room smut–even as hotels of all sizes are beginning to capture guest dollars by stressing that their premises are porn-free.

In 1999, Omni Hotels, which operates 38 North American properties, banned X-rated movies from its 15,000 rooms, saying adieu to about $1.8 million a year. But Omni received 50,000 letters of thanks, and in time upped its movie-rental income by showing family films, says Janet LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America.

Meanwhile, two Internet sites promote hotels that refuse to carry porn movies.

CleanHotels.com lets travelers plug in a destination and trip dates, then produces a list of lodgings that, explains the site, allows guests to “book a room for your vacation, business trip, or meeting with the expectation, first, that you and your family or associates will not be exposed to pornographic movies and, secondly, that you will be supporting a facility that cares enough about the wellbeing of its customers not to make harmful pornographic movies available.” CleanHotels chief Phil Burress says the site, whose listings are compiled by grass-roots volunteers, offers bookings at about 1300 hotels (including 14 in Greater Fredericksburg). Not bad for an effort just six months old.

More quietly, TrueHospitality.org, composed of avowedly Christian hoteliers who often own several properties, is working within the industry to “eventually have 100 million room nights per year free of pornography.” Its site lists 143 pornless hotels and resorts, many of them upscale, in 26 states. Locally, these include the Fairfield Inn-Fredericksburg. Interestingly, TrueHospitality also lists 12 Courtyards by Marriott–the same brand that local developer Tommy Mitchell and his two Northern Virginia partners hope to build downtown. If businessmen can deliver no-porn Courtyards in Savannah’s Historic District and homey Asheville, N.C., Mr. Mitchell and his associates ought to be able to do the same in Old Fredericksburg.

Indeed, that is Mr. Mitchell’s hope. He envisions marketing the Fredericksburg Courtyard as a family-welcoming establishment unblighted by pornography, and there’s no evidence that his partners are committed to turning the hotel’s guest rooms into little theaters of sexual depravity. But there may be a rub. Marriott International’s amenities requirements for franchisees (e.g., in-room flicks) and the pay-per-view firms’ unwillingness to ditch their lucrative sex movies–at least without reimbursement from a balking hotel owner–may make the path of righteousness a costly toll road. A sense-of-council resolution from the city’s governing body might fledge up the developing group’s better angels.

The City Council should do its bit for decency, because the economics of pornography have a dark macro dimension. Spurred by the Internet and the Clinton Justice Department’s refusal to prosecute porn lords as long as they didn’t touch children, pornography exploded during the ’90s. Big corporations–Marriott, AT&T, even General Motors–hearing the ringing bell of a cash cow, jumped into the action as facilitators. “Frontline” reports that between 1992 and 1999, porn’s pay-per-view revenues alone leapt from $54 million to $367 million, and smut is now so ubiquitous that, confides a priest friend, nine out of 10 young males who abruptly show up in the confessional will admit to its use with just a little prodding.

The Iron Law of Markets states that when demand for a product rises, supply will follow. What’s being supplied by the porn octopus, from its dirty warehouses to the maid-dusted suites of the best hotels, is human flesh. Fredericksburg must not join the culture of predation.

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