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Hotel porn: the amenity that draws enmity

In thousands of hotel rooms across the country, a world of explicit sex is just a click down the TV menu from the PG-13- rated realm of Baby Mama and What Happens in Vegas.

Pay-per-view pornography has become a standard amenity at lodging that caters to business travelers. Hotels operated under the industry's biggest names rake in millions from sex films identified discreetly as "movie'' on customer bills.

Now, the practice has attracted unwanted attention to one of the world's premier chains, Marriott International. A coalition of 47 conservative Christian groups is pressuring Marriott to drop in-room porn that members say runs counter to its commitment to the well-being of children and families.

"It's corporate greed,'' said Phil Burress, president of Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values. "This is their ugly sister in the closet.''

Marriott executives met in May with officials of two high-profile groups, the American Family Association and Focus on the Family. But the chain can't simply pull the plug on porn, said company spokesman Roger Conner.

Like most hotel groups, Marriott owns only a handful of the 3,000 properties operating under its various brands. Individual hotels contract with the chain's video provider, LodgeNet Interactive Corp., which typically installs equipment for free and gives the hotel 10 percent of movie fees.

Hotel operators in the Tampa Bay area are hardly of one mind on the issue.

Half of the six Florida hotels owned by BayStar Hotel Group in Tampa sell sex movies. President George Glover considers the films just another product, like overpriced drinks from the mini bar or dry cleaning.

"We've always maintained it's a matter of personal choice,'' he said. "We only hear about it in election years when the religious right gets revved up.''

Tampa-based McKibbon Hotel Management doesn't allow porn in its properties. If McKibbon picks up a client whose hotel sells sex movies, the company negotiates with the entertainment vendor to remove them. For CEO John McKibbon, it's about right and wrong.

"If I had a daughter working the front desk, I wouldn't want to subject her to selling that,'' said McKibbon, a church deacon whose Web site's welcome message cites a New Testament passage. "We may lose some business, but we don't market that kind of product.''

So far, Marriott has agreed only to talk with LodgeNet and hotel owners about one issue: adding safeguards to keep children from seeing sex movies. Now, parents can block adult programs with the remote control or call the front desk to do it.

One option promoted by the coalition: make guests ask for access to porn movies instead of requiring them to opt out.

A coalition leader, the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, said his group will consider taking action if Marriott doesn't agree to curtail pay-per-view porn by Aug. 15.

His group called for a boycott of McDonald's last Tuesday for joining the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and allowing use of its logo on the chamber's Web site. The fast-food giant said the boycott hasn't hurt sales.

The campaign against Marriott is another attempt by the Christian right to dictate morality, said Paul Cambria, general counsel for the Adult Freedom Foundation in Los Angeles. Too much money is at stake for the chain to stop sales of sex movies at its hotels, he said.

"It's hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people going to hotels and watching this,'' said Cambria, who represents porn movie studios and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.

Just how much money isn't clear. Pay-per-view porn in hotels and private homes — on cable TV, satellite and closed-circuit systems — rang up $1.7-billion in sales in 2006, according to the newsletter Adult Entertainment News.

Hotels say they don't break out revenues for adult movies. Neither does LodgeNet, which is in 9,900 properties with 1.9-million rooms. That represents nearly 40 percent of all rooms in North America and 54 percent of those in midsize and large hotels.

The public company's latest earnings report suggests annual revenues of roughly $370-million from mainstream Hollywood films and porn. Company officials say only 1 percent of revenues comes from adult fare. Industry observers estimate that porn sales in hotels are much higher.

"If you go to a businessman's hotel, you'll see a very high percentage of adult programming,'' said entertainment analyst Dennis McAlpine in a 2002 story on the porn business by the PBS program Frontline. "It probably generates 80 percent of the profits of that system.''

At the Courtyard by Marriott near Tampa's West Shore district, guests can choose from 53 "adult only'' titles, including Xtreme Sex/Shameless Climax and Elegant Hardcore. Prices run from $12.99 to $16.99.

Previews promise lesbian sex, amateur first-timer sex, interracial sex, sex with fat women, Latina women, older women and women barely over 18. One brags about "lots of dirty sex without the clutter of a plot.''

These aren't 1980s-era skin flicks with body parts obscured by carefully placed lamps and vases. Today, it's explicit sex acts with everything in clear, tight focus.

Hotels can take LodgeNet's programming without the hard stuff. Marriott's new chain of kid-friendly Nickelodeon Resorts will be free of adult movies when the first opens in San Diego in 2010.

Omni Hotels, a chain of 40 hotels, cited support for "pro-family issues'' when it decided to drop sex movies in 1999. President Jim Caldwell told the New York Times that the move would cost the chain, based near Dallas, more than $1.8-million a year.

But since then, Omni hasn't noticed a big drop in movie revenue, said spokeswoman Caryn Kboudi. "Generally speaking, people just shifted to something else,'' she said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report, which also contains information from the Washington Post. Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Hotel porn: the amenity that draws enmity 07/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 2:19pm]
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