Stung by the denial of visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to address its annual convention and the consequent withdrawal of sponsorships, the Asian American Hotel Owners association said on Thursday the imbroglio has only made the institution stronger.
The American Express Corporation withdrew its sponsorship for the AAHOA's annual convention on March 24 in Florida. The other major sponsors who withdrew their support were Intercontinental, Hilton, Best Western, Cendant, Choice Hotels, Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, Home Depot, and USFS -- a leading franchising group to many hotels owned by AAHOA.
All the sponsors including the American Express had earlier expressed concerns over AAHOA's invitation to Modi and even opposed to their decision to listen to Modi over a satellite video-link up. Modi was refused entry into the US on the basis of the Gujarat government's suspect communal record.
"Some of the franchise companies have asked us to respect their decision and we asked them to respect our decision," AAHOA chairman Naresh 'Nash' Patel told rediff.com.
"However, I don't think the relationship is severed forever," he said, adding, "Some sponsors unfortunately, have taken the position. They should have at least given us an opportunity to listen to their concerns and let us be a part of the discussions that led to their withdrawal."
Patel, however, said, "To me it's not a major blow. To me it makes us stronger, it makes us so powerful, it gives our members an opportunity to realise where we stand today."
American Express, which has over the years pumped in more than half a million dollars for each convention, decided to withdraw their sponsorship in the wake of AAHOA's defiant declaration not to withdraw their invitation.
American Express spokeswoman Christine Elliot said, "A conference that was intended to help promote travel and tourism has become the object of partisan political contention. Therefore, we have chosen to withdraw from the conference."
Meanwhile, Modi in his satellite address did not talk about his visa denial but talked about business and investment opportunities for AAHOA members in Gujarat.
Patel has refused to acknowledge that the invitation to Modi was not such a great idea after all.
"Modi was supposed to come here and talk to AAHOA on business and investment opportunities in Gujarat. It is disheartening that these sponsors had based their decision to withdraw support on the political decision by the US," he said.
Patel, in a particularly stinging rebuke of USFS and Lewin, in his welcoming remarks to the nearly 4,000 delegates attending the convention, said, "USFS, the one we expected to show support to our culture, to us as Indian Americans in this country withdrew support."
He reiterated that these sponsors 'who have challenged us by declining to participate in our event, and thereby not acknowledging and respecting our heritage, you have made us much stronger.'
And at the end of Modi's speech, Patel in a review of the remarks, noted, "Like I said earlier, no politics, no religion, just opportunities in our home country."