Pornographic movies now seem nearly as pervasive in America’s hotel rooms as tiny shampoo bottles, and the lodging industry shows little concern as conservative activists rev up a protest campaign aimed at triggering a federal crackdown.
A coalition of 13 conservative groups — including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America — took out full-page ads in some editions of USA Today earlier this month urging the Justice Department and FBI to investigate whether some of the pay-per-view movies widely available in hotels violate federal and state obscenity laws.
The coalition also is trying to draw attention to CleanHotels.com, a directory of hotels and motels nationwide that pledge to exclude adult offerings from their in-room entertainment service.
Though porn is now cheaply and readily accessible on the Internet, and through many other outlets, the activists chose to target the hotel industry in part because of the well-known brands of corporations that cater to family vacationers as well as business travelers.
“These are places that you take your family — these are respectable institutions,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “Anything that brings porn into the mainstream is a concern. It just desensitizes people.”
Millions of dollars generated
Precise statistics on in-room adult entertainment are hard to come by. By some estimates, adult movies are available in roughly 40 percent of the nation’s hotels, representing more than 1.5 million rooms. Industry analysts suggest that these adult offerings generate 60 to 80 percent of total in-room entertainment revenue — several hundred million dollars a year.
The recent newspaper ad mentioned no hotel companies by name because of legal concerns, but it did target the two major suppliers of in-room adult movies — South Dakota-based LodgeNet and Denver-based OnCommand, a subsidiary of Liberty Media Corp. The ad accused both companies of distributing hardcore pornography to their hotel clients, and it provided a link to a list of X-rated movie titles.
Spokesmen for OnCommand and Liberty Media declined to comment on the ad, and LodgeNet’s spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment. However, top spokespeople for two of the biggest hotel chains, Hilton and Marriott, defended the policies that make adult movies widely available at their affiliated hotels.
Both Kathy Shepard of Hilton and Roger Conner of Marriott said the bulk of their hotels are operated by franchise-holders who make their own decisions about in-room programming. They made clear, however, that their companies consider adult movies to be an acceptable option because they can be ignored or blocked out by guests not wishing to view them.
“Really ultraconservative groups try to target the hotels in their zest to eliminate porn,” Shepard said. “In their zest to have their personal morals prevail, they’re eliminating choice for others.”
Conner said none of the programming offered by Marriott is illegal, and he depicted adult movies as a standard part of today’s hotel business.
“In-room movies are a revenue stream,” he said. “This is a business matter.”
Former porn addict leading campaign
The leader of the campaign against in-room porn is Phil Burress, a self-described former porn addict who heads the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values.
Burress and his allies have had some success regionally, pressuring about 15 Ohio and Kentucky hotels to stop offering adult movies. But he says a nationwide pressure campaign would be difficult because nearly all the big hotel chains have similar policies — porn is available at some but not all of their affiliates.
Though unable to cite specific cases, Burress contended that the availability of in-room porn is making hotels more dangerous.
“As more and more of these (hardcore) titles become available, we’re going to have sexual abuse cases coming out of the hotels,” he said. “Hotels are just as dangerous as environments around strip joints and porn stores.”
Hoping for a Justice Department probe
Burress said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Justice Department officials — whom he and other anti-porn leaders confer with periodically — would seriously consider investigating hotel-based pornography.
Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said federal authorities are committed to toughening enforcement of obscenity laws, but he declined to comment on specific targets for investigations.
LodgeNet and OnCommand together provide in-room entertainment to more than 1.8 million hotel room in North America — with customers that include Sheraton, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt, Marriott and Ramada.
The standard in-room packages offered by LodgeNet and OnCommand include adult movies, but they have tried to accommodate hotels preferring a no-porn alternative, according to Shannon Sedgwick Davis, executive director of an association of hotels which don’t offer adult movies to guests.
One problem, she said, is that the big hotel chains often have negotiated bulk contracts with the video suppliers that include the adult movies and can be expensive to cancel.