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Cover Story Cover-up: Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association
 Makes Plea to Hoteliers to Remove 6,000 Copies of
  Complimentary In Room Magazine

By Michael Currie Schaffer, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Oct. 29, 2006--Living with the city's high homicide rate is tough enough for Philadelphians. But the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association is worried that simply reading about it might be too much for out-of-towners.

In a message to members this week, Hotel Association executive director Ed Grose urged hotels to think twice before providing guests with copies of November's Philadelphia Magazine, whose cover story spotlights the city's recent bloodletting.

Ordinarily, some 6,000 complimentary copies of the glossy monthly are distributed in local hotel rooms. But Grose's message argued that the magazine made the city look unsafe for the visitors who flock to those rooms. He also slammed the magazine for not mentioning on its cover that homicides were concentrated in neighborhoods far from most hotels. (Only 3 of the 295 killings through the end of September took place in Center City.)

"I recommend that you review your position on what effect this article and cover will have on your guests who are staying in your guestrooms," he wrote. "I feel that sensationalizing the murder rate in our city will have a negative effect on our customers."

Larry Platt, the magazine's editor, said the coverage was anything but sensationalistic -- and he said ignoring a problem because it might make the city look bad was a classic example of "Philadelphia insecurity."

"He says it's sensationalizing because we don't say that this is just a North Philadelphia problem," Platt said. "I strongly disagree. This is a Philadelphia problem, and great cities tackle their problems head-on."

The issue's cover design represents a significant departure from the usual cheerful celebrations of regional life. Instead, it depicts a single handgun against a spare blue-gray backdrop. The text reads: Murder. One terrifying night on the streets -- and why everything we're doing to stop the shooting won't work.

Though the headline says nothing about where the city's homicide count is rising, the 8,500-word story follows a police officer as he works a night shift in North Philadelphia. The article argues that police should focus more on confiscating illegal guns.

In an interview, Grose said he had wanted to bring it to the attention of the trade association's members so they could make up their own minds. The association represents 85 members in the Delaware Valley, including the operators of nearly all of Center City's 10,200 hotel rooms.

"It was the cover itself that I saw could be seen as a threat to visitors," he said. "It's a case of perception can be reality."

Though many hotels had yet to receive copies of the magazine -- which hit newsstands Friday and has not reached most subscribers -- at least two upscale Center City hotels have decided not to place it in rooms this month.

"It would be seriously alarming to our guests," said Valerie Ferguson, regional vice president and managing director of the 583-room Loews Hotel. "We're a very safe neighborhood, a very friendly Center City neighborhood, and we want our guests to enjoy what they currently are enjoying."

"Think of what a hotel room looks like, which is supposed to be warm and comforting," said Ruth Hirshey, director of public relations at the 364-room Four Seasons Hotel. "That on the table doesn't project what we want to project about the city."

Hirshey said the magazine would remain available for sale in the hotel's gift shop.

Meryl Levitz, president of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Commission, said she would put the magazine in rooms if she ran a hotel.

"Would I have loved a picture of a lobster or a blonde again on the cover of Philadelphia Magazine this month? Yeah," she said. "But I don't think you can just change the perception like that. Maybe if it were 15 years ago and this was the only story. But it isn't."

Contact staff writer Michael Currie Schaffer at 215-854-4565 or mcschaffer@phillynews.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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