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Gatlinburg Wildfire Survivors Group thrown out of Courtyard by Marriott, Gatlinburg

GATLINBURG, TN — The collective members of the Gatlinburg Wildfire Survivors Group, who number more than 440 strong, have demanded a written apology from Logan Coykendall, president and chief executive officer of Hospitality Solutions, Inc., for the company’s disruption of the Group’s press conference held at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Gatlinburg on July 28th. A boycott is underway.

Following alarming news published July 28th involving the loss of all incoming and outgoing emergency calls to the Emergency Operations Center operated by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (“TEMA”), members of the Gatlinburg Wildfire Survivors Group scheduled a press conference to express their concerns. The original location planned for the press conference was Gatlinburg City Hall, but inclement weather forced the event to move indoors.

Erik Cooper, a supporter of the Group, offered to host the Group’s press conference at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel located at 315 Historic Nature Trail – Airport Road in Gatlinburg. Cooper made a reservation and paid for the room using his credit card by phone, discussed the purpose of the press conference with an employee of the hotel, and made arrangements for the room’s setup and other accommodations. Cooper and guests arrived at the hotel at about 2:15 p.m. to begin setting up for the event. Cooper spoke with hotel manager Eric Treadway about the event, and Mr. Treadway helped everyone set the room up for the press conference.

Minutes before the press conference was scheduled to begin, Davy Thomas, chief operating officer with Hospitality Solutions, Inc., and Treadway summoned Cooper to speak privately away from the media. In the hallway, Thomas, who refused to identify himself to Cooper, told Cooper that he represented “the owners” of the hotel and that “the owners” did not want the Survivors Group on hotel property. Thomas told Cooper on a wireless mic Cooper wore, “The owners don’t want your kind here.” Cooper questioned Thomas’s discriminatory statement. “My kind?” he asked. Thomas replied, “We don’t want all that negative crap here.” Cooper refused the hotel’s demands for the Survivors Group to leave. “Then we’ll call the police and have you all arrested,” Thomas replied.

Cooper returned to his guests and announced the hotel’s demands for all to leave. The Group refused and the press conference began, despite the hotel owners’ disruption. Minutes later, doors to the conference room shook violently, then opened as two Gatlinburg Police Officers entered with Thomas and Treadway. Officer Green spoke with Cooper as most of the media cameras turned from the press conference in the front of the room, to Cooper and the police officers speaking in the back of the room. Some of the content was live-streamed to local news studios and through Facebook Live online. At the hotel’s insistence and under the threat of arrest made by the hotel owners and management, Cooper abruptly interrupted the live press conference and announced the disruption, ending the press conference altogether.

Logan Coykendall, president and chief executive officer of Hospitality Solutions, Inc., later told a reporter with the Knox News-Sentinel, “Once we found out what [the press conference] would be about, we didn’t want to be part of the negative rhetoric.” Coykendall continued, “This isn’t about Gatlinburg. This is about their 15 minutes of fame. It frustrates me when a few people seem to get their voice heard over so many.” Later that day, hotel manager Treadway reportedly released a statement from the hotel to the media. WBIR-NBC Knoxville published the statement. “This was an attempt of a few to continue to bring negativity to the Gatlinburg recovery, therefore we asked them not to conduct their press conference on our property.” Several calls to other Marriott properties in east Tennessee indicated hotel management never interfere with the message or purpose of any meetings or press conferences held on their properties.

The Gatlinburg Wildfire Survivors Group issued a letter to Coykendall and Hospitality Solutions demanding a written apology. The Group also reported their concerns to J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr. and Arne M. Sorenson, president and chief executive officer for Marriott International, Inc. The Group plans to protest at other properties owned by Hospitality Solutions, Inc. The Group published a petition calling for a boycott of all properties owned or operated by Hospitality Solutions, Inc. unless and until the Group receives a written apology. The petition can be found here.

Source: Gatlinburg Wildfire Survivors Group

Published August 1, 2017

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