SULLIVAN: Hotel’s lavish anniversary party is nothing to celebrate

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the tragedy of homelessness on the North Shore.

And now we hear from the other end of the spectrum.

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The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, that venerable pile on Georgia and Burrard, celebrated its 80th birthday on May 25, and one of the highlights was the 80th Anniversary Iconic Moment Package, which included a “bespoke” professional photo shoot including wardrobe, hair and make-up, a bauble from De Beers Jewellery and two nights in the Royal Suite, for only $80,000.

Get it? 80th anniversary, $80,000 hotel spree?

I don’t really know where to begin.

How about the fact that the Fairmont, hardly ashamed of its wretched excess, actually sent out a press release proudly promoting the $80,000 price tag for the wonder weekend.

This leads me to conclude that indeed the rich are different than you and me. Some of them, at least, have no shame.

After listening to stories of people trying to live in the bush, and stay dry, warm and fed – and not succeeding – I’m trying to process wasting money so conspicuously. There’s a good possibility anyone checking into the Royal Suite would literally have to step over a homeless person.

There were lots of other things the hotel could celebrate — such as the time Hollywood cowboy Roy Rogers managed to smuggle his horse Trigger into the Panorama Room – but instead chose to blunder ahead with the tone-deaf celebration of disposable income.

A government welfare room costs $375 a month, so $80K could mean a month of warm dry nights for more than 200 homeless people. Of course, those rooms are nothing like the Royal Suite. If the hotel wanted to do something really innovative, it could have opened its lodging to Vancouver’s homeless, maybe holding a draw for the Royal Suite.

Might have a hard time convincing them to go back to living on the street, but I’d guarantee global coverage.

For those who were concerned that the Vancouver luxury market is getting as old as last year’s Lamborghini, not to worry. Apparently, there’s a still a market segment of well-heeled idiots willing to spend $80,000 on two nights in a hotel.

What are these people thinking? Or is “thinking” the wrong word?

Here’s something to think about: How long will this vast gulf between the richest and everyone else be allowed to exist? Especially when it would be relatively easy to do a little judicious redistribution. According to Oxfam, a global wealth tax could raise US$418 billion, which would be enough to educate every child not in school and provide health care that could prevent three million deaths.

Oxfam is responsible for that famous headline about the world’s 26 richest people owning as much as the poorest 50 per cent; 3.8 billion folks who will never get to spend a couple of nights in the Royal Suite at the Hotel Vancouver.

Before his divorce, world’s richest man Jeff Bezos was worth US$112 billion. According to Oxfam, just one per cent of that wealth is equal to the entire health budget of Ethiopia, which has 105 million people.

Bezos gave up a lot more than that in his recent well-publicized divorce settlement. Not to worry, he still has enough for two nights in the Royal Suite. In fact, he could buy the Royal Suite, the hotel, a good portion of downtown Vancouver, and still have enough to underwrite the health budget of Ethiopia.

I know I’m sounding like some self-righteous street corner prophet declaring that the End is Near, but really — even after the moves against money laundering and absentee owners, the average price of a home is a wildly unaffordable $1,210,015. So when most people are struggling to keep their heads above water, it’s hard to watch the party barge float by, those on board waving and laughing.

Hopefully, when (if) the Hotel Vancouver hits the next big milestone: 100? 125? the celebration will reflect the Fairmont’s compassion, not just its quest for cash.

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna. p.sullivan@breakthroughpr.com

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