|By Phil Parker, Albuquerque Journal,
N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 3, 2009 - --SANTA FE -- The Taos Chamber of Commerce says the national attention focused on a racially charged dispute over a local hotel's personnel policies will hurt the tourist town.
"We feel that the current media focus on the conflict between the Whitten Inn and its employees is damaging to both the reputation of our community as a tourism destination and a community with a historical commitment to 'fair employment,' " the chamber said in a position paper obtained by the Journal.
The chamber is offering funding and facilities for mediation of the dispute between the hotel and the League of United Latin American Citizens by "experienced professionals," according to an e-mail version of the chamber statement distributed last week.
But hotelier Larry Whitten says the protests and the news coverage -- CNN, for example, broadcast two extended segments featuring Whitten and his critics last week -- have actually been good for business.
"That worldwide attention has gotten me tons of reservations," Whitten said by phone Monday from his hometown of Abilene, Texas. "I definitely couldn't have bought that kind of advertising, and sooner or later the truth will prevail."
His hotel has been the site of regular protests since he fired some employees after first requiring some of them to use Anglo versions of their Spanish names and telling employees not to speak Spanish in his presence.
Pablo Martinez, New Mexico director of LULAC, said Monday that wrongful terminations lawsuits will be filed against Whitten on behalf of the fired employees, and because of that he's not sure what good mediation by the chamber would do.
LULAC has been calling for a boycott of Whitten's Taos hotel and dozens of other hotels he runs around the country. The organization is planning another news conference in front of the Whitten Inn on Nov. 14, and Martinez said he doesn't think there can be a meeting between parties until after that event.
What had been New Mexico news went national last week when The Associated Press distributed an article on the Whitten Inn fight. Dozens of newspapers picked up the story, as did news Web sites and television outlets.
The Taos Chamber, in its statement distributed to members, said, "The public escalation of this dispute will inevitably affect all Taos tourism-related business" and could ultimately reduce tax revenue.
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