Hilton shark fin soup action: Yes, you can make a difference

Posted on December 1, 2010
Written by: Shark Savers

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Every year, dive industry professionals from around the world gather to participate in the world's largest dive industry trade show -- DEMA (Dive Equipment Manufacturers Assn). This year's DEMA show - Nov. 17- 20 was held in Las Vegas and hosted by the Las Vegas Hilton. Most exhibitors and attendees, including Shark Savers, stayed at the LV Hilton and many industry meetings, parties and awards ceremonies were held there.

Then to our horror, we learned that one of the restaurants in our host hotel was offering shark fin soup and three other shark fin dishes on their menu. Several outraged divers came by the Shark Savers booth to inform us about this. While we are painfully aware that shark fin soup is legal just about everywhere and is not uncommon in Chinese restaurants, its proximity to one of the great gatherings of ocean lovers was more than we could ignore.

One day during the show, a member of the Shark Savers team had an idea. He made a reservation at the restaurant for 25 people for 6:30 the next evening, Friday. We spent the rest of that night spreading the word to recruit people to join us. The DEMA schedule is hectic and by 6 PM the next day, we still had no idea who or how many people would show up.

Luckily, though, everything fell into place perfectly and our group of 25 filed in to the Garden of the Dragon restaurant right on time. Among us were Jim Abernethy, Lawrence Groth, Adam Hanlon of Wetpixel (http://wetpixel.com/), reporters from Scuba Radio (http://www.scubaradio.com/) and the NY Times, and several Shark Savers Board members (including Stan Waterman!) and volunteers.

When everyone was seated, Jim Abernethy stood up and announced to everyone that we would have to leave, because "We're all here to celebrate the oceans, and how can we do that at a restaurant that is contributing to the destruction of our oceans by serving shark fin soup!". We all then filed out as other DEMA goers present, who were not aware that shark fin soup was on the menu, proceeded to get up and walk out as well. Outside the restaurant, Jim Abernethy and Stan Waterman gave impromptu live interviews for Scuba Radio.

Next Team Wetpixel, led by Adam Hanlon, sprang into action. Adam posted a story on Wetpixel (http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=38758) encouraging more walkouts for the following night. Adam also prepared an excellent sample letter to the LV Hilton management and encouraged readers who were not at DEMA to write. Throughout the day we at the Shark Savers booth encouraged more people to join in on the Wetpixel plan.

The dive community rallied, and on Saturday night, Adam reported that approximately 250 people went to the restaurant and then walked out after seeing the menu, informing the staff that they would not eat at an establishment that serves shark fin soup!

As a result of the walkouts and letters, and thanks to a concerted group effort by divers who care about the oceans and are taking action to make a difference, the LV Hilton management agreed to remove shark fin soup from the menu in their Chinese restaurant.

Letter from the Las Vegas Hilton:

From: "LVH Publicity" 
Date: December 1, 2010 14:27:42 AST
Subject: RE: Are you really condoning shark finning?

The management at the Las Vegas Hilton places tremendous value in the feedback that is received from our guests. Our resort has a rich history and has built a strong reputation on creating a positive experience for all our guests. After careful consideration, the Las Vegas Hilton is in the process of removing shark鈥檚 fin soup from the menu in our Chinese Restaurant.

We appreciate your comments and opinions and look forward to another opportunity to serve you.

Thank you,
Katrina Nabong
Executive Assistant
Las Vegas Hilton

This action worked, showing that, together, we can make a difference! Thank you to Adam Hanlon and Team Wetpixel and all who participated to make this happen.

Our colleague, Stan Waterman, even had this to say about it: "It was the most rewarding experience I have had in years". And this from a man who clearly has had his share of rewarding experiences.

For those of us who have tried to get shark fin soup off menus before, we all know this can often be difficult or seemingly impossible. Could we have uncovered a very effective approach?

Conversely, we can also imagine scenarios where a restaurant walkout, performed very differently, could backfire by hardening resistance. The desired result, after all, is to change behavior and get shark fin soup off the menu. Not to merely express our outrage and indignation.

So, what are the elements that may have made this action effective? Here are some thoughts:

  • We were representative of the actual customers: guests of the hotel and convention goers. We represented real lost business--not a contrivance. If we were perceived as non-customers, activists trying to enforce our viewpoint on others, or one culture making demands on another culture, we may have provoked a different reaction.
  • The numbers of walk outs grew from one day to the next, demonstrating that there were a lot of people who really cared about the issue. And, that the problem could get worse, over time.
  • We were respectful and polite.
  • We explained to the management the reasons why we could no longer patronize their restaurant.
  • We followed up with letters that further explained our concerns.

One could well imagine what might happen if real consumer power manifested itself in this way in the hotbeds of shark fin soup consumption. We hope it does.