In the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, hotels along the coast suffered great losses due to a lack of tourism during the busiest season of the year. Hotel owners from Florida to Texas hoped for compensation promised by BP in order to rebuild their businesses and start over.
But a recent amendment to the Deepwater Horizon Court-Supervised Settlement Program that was granted preliminary approval on May 10 has some members of the lodging and hospitality industry concerned that they will not receive the compensation they need.
Last week, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) organized a protest outside of the BP Headquarters in Houston, Texas. The protest was meant to send a message to BP that the lodging industry, specifically properties in Texas that are excluded from the settlement, will not rest until all affected hotels and hotel owners reach a mutual agreement with the global oil and gas company.
"Traditionally, our hospitality industry doesn't really ask for much. We're not one of those industries that asks for rebates, and kickbacks, and bailouts," says Pratik Patel, treasurer and South Central Regional Director for AAHOA. "The effect that we've seen with the lodging industry, not just on the Texas Gulf line, but all the hotels that surround the Gulf Coast is tremendous."
Patel, who also acts as the president of JMP Hospitality Inc., explains that the amended settlement excludes several counties in Texas that are along the Gulf Coast—many of which suffered as a direct result of the BP oil spill. Patel claims that 90 percent of the hotels affected in Texas will not receive compensation from the settlement.
"You have businesses in Louisiana that are 300 miles from the coast that get paid," he says. "But you have businesses in Texas that are on the coastline, or within 20 miles of the coastline, that don't get paid. It is unacceptable."
On Thursday, AAHOA board members, including AAHOA Director at Large Bharat Patel, organized a group of 500 members to stage the protest at the BP offices where participants held up handmade signs and spent hours picketing to try to call attention to what they see as an inequity within the settlement.
"We've tried to set up meetings with BP and we've tried to give them calls with no luck," says Patel. "BP has shut us out and has had no communication with the lodging industry."
The amended Deepwater Horizon Court-Supervised Settlement includes most Gulf-Coast counties in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, but according to the Gulf Coast Area Map provided by the Settlement, the only shoreline counties included in Texas are Gavelston, Chambers, Jefferson, and Orange. Patel explains that hoteliers in other Texas counties such as Brazoria, Matagorda, Calhoun, and others suffered and lost business as a direct result of the oil spill and deserve to be compensated for their losses.
"When you look at the smaller to mid-scale hotels, they're still trying to dig themselves out of this capital hole that they've created—these lines of credit they've pulled and the extra loans that they've taken to survive," he says. "They've depleted their own capital, their own investment, and their own cash that they've saved up and worked hard for. Monetary relief would help hotels get back on their feet—help them start employing people again, start creating jobs again, and begin moving forward."
Patel says that BP executives did address the participants during the protest and agreed to meet with AAHOA officers within a two-week period to listen to their claims.
When contacted about the protest, BP released the following statement to Lodging:
"From the outset, BP has said it would pay all legitimate claims. To date, claimants in the hotel, restaurant, and bar trade in the Gulf have already received payments totaling $1.7 billion. In addition, under the settlements BP has reached with the PSC (Plaintiff's Steering Committee), BP has agreed to resolve legitimate economic loss, property damage and medical claims. The company estimates that the settlements with the PSC will cost $7.8 billion. All claimants, including hotel owners who believe they are entitled to compensation, may continue to pursue their claims. The PSC settlements do not extinguish the right of anyone falling outside the relevant classes from otherwise pursuing claims related to the Deepwater Horizon accident.”
Pratik Patel believes the protest was the first step in increasing awareness about what AAHOA considers an important issue in the lodging industry. He hopes that BP will follow through with their agreement to meet with AAHOA officers so they can work towards reaching an agreement that will help gulf-area hotels, especially those in Texas, receive proper compensation. Patel explains that this is an ongoing cause that AAHOA will continue to support.
"We expect BP to hold up their promise of meeting with us in two weeks. And if they don't meet with us, then we'll be back again," he says. "This time we were there with 500 people, next time we'll be back with 1,500 people. Our industry is not going to sit down and take this over and over again. BP needs to address the fact that there has been damage and that we are owed monies."
Tuesday, August 28, 2012 by Ann
Keep protesting! It's going to take more than one. BP are criminals and should be held accountable by the gov and then asked to leave the country. Who else is allowed to come in and break laws like they did?