by Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA
I get sad and angry when I think about the number of hotels, motels, inns and resorts (all of which I’ll refer to as hotels in this article), regardless of size, which are not members of the industry’s associations. Let’s not be confused either, it’s not hotels that join and get active its people!
I am sad because I know that as a result of not joining, a lot of people, owners, management and staff are not receiving all the advantages of membership. I am angry both because I feed taken advantage of and I know how much more could be accomplished if the membership was larger and more active. I feel taken advantage of in the sense that non-members are getting some of the benefits of my fellow members’ and my time and money.
In my mind there are three primary reasons for joining the industry’s associations:
- A. At the state level, to join voices with the owners and employees associated with the tens of thousands of hotel rooms represented to affect legislation that impacts our industry financially. B. As a member of the Minnesota Hotel and Lodging Association, a hotel is also a member of the A.H.& M.A. which also has a very aggressive lobbying program that effectively looks after the industry’s interests at the national level.
- The industry associations, through their committees, educational and certification programs, have a tremendous impact on the hotel industry. There are committees which address such bread and butter issues as development, increasing travel in the United States and quality assurance. The educational programs at the state and national level are so extensive that a person could take courses, watch training videos and attend seminars full time for years before completing them! Combined, these are things that impact levels of employment, staff quality and profitability.
- Finally, there is members helping members. There are numerous formal programs ranging from the Minnesota Resort Association’s members volunteering their expertise in 20 categories to the A.H.& M.A.’s Information Center and Referral Service. Equally, if not more, important are the relationships one develops and the resources associated with them.
At the state level the associations’ lobbyist, Tom Newcome, with the active support of a grass roots effort by many members, has been able to impact a number of important legislative issues to the benefit of hotels in Minnesota. For instance, we helped draft and lobbied in support of the recent HealthRight Health Care bill which will benefit so many uninsured. Significantly, the bill does not ask business to directly shoulder the burden.
In conjunction with other businesses we were able to make in roads in Workers’ Compensation reform which will result in a 16% cut in employers’ costs. We were a member of a coalition that defeated a proposal to move school opening to a date prior to Labor Day. This would have seriously impacted summer vacation travel by cutting at least one week and a long weekend out of the summer. Another bill which could have impacted us all would have been one requiring us to rent rooms to anyone over 18 years old! Thankfully, it never got a hearing.
Nationally, the Governmental Affairs Department saved each of us many thousands of dollars. Here is the short list:
- removed a provision from a federal bill which would have required hoteliers to install costly telephone equipment to promote equal access, saving an estimated $15,000 per property;
- removed a harmful anti-billboard provisions from the new federal highway program, preserving the industry’s ability to attract guests via outdoor advertising;
- secured an exemption for properties with three or fewer stories from costly sprinkler systems retrofitting, resulting in a conservative per room savings of $1,500;
- and finally, helped secure a phenomenal 25% increase in funding for the U.S. Travel & Tourism Administration (USTTA) during a time when most agencies have had their budgets reduced.
If a hotel isn’t a member, they have benefited financially from these legislative efforts at no cost. The benefits were not exclusive to the members that paid dues and contributed time and/or money to the legislative committees. Why should I pay for the non-members’ free ride? It isn’t fair, but I guess I’ll keep doing it so I’ll keep benefiting!
The associations’ committees are groups of individuals volunteering their valuable time to work towards many common goals. One of the most exciting committee accomplishments at the national level was one that resulted in getting President Bush to do a wonderful television advertisement with scenes from all over the U.S. inviting people to visit us from abroad. This advertisement was funded by contributions from member companies and is playing on television in Europe. The same coalition raised $8 million to promote travel for a six week national campaign during the Gulf War to ease fears and get travelers back on the road. In Minnesota, the associations work actively with the Department of Tourism to publish over 100,000 copies of the Explore Minnesota Travel Guides. The national equivalent is the OAG Lodging Travel Planner & Red Book which is published quarterly.
The associations’ executives, committees and staff coordinate a number of other activities:
- A free annual review of laws and regulations affecting the industry.
- Negotiating volume discounts with credit card issuers which benefit smaller properties.
- Training seminars and educational programs which are done both locally and nationally. The Educational Institute in East Lansing, MI is also an integral part of the A.H.& M.A. and it produces excellent correspondence courses, videos and other programs which are available at a 25% discount to mem bers.
- In Minnesota, the associations sponsor the Upper Midwest Restaurant and Lodging Show which is free to members.
- Nationally, in addition to two excellent national meetings, there are several specialized meetings such as the Quality Assurance Conference, and the National Marketing Conference. A myriad of committee meetings occur in conjunction with the national meetings addressing more specific issues affecting the industry, its members and employees.
- One of the state’s committees goes out to high schools and promotes the industry as a career alternative and addresses other issues regarding the scarcity of labor.
One of the important things to me is the issue of members helping members and the relationships that have come to me over the years. On several occasions I have picked up the phone and called Dr. Tony Marshall, the dean of Florida International University’s hotel school who is a noted columnist and legal expert in the hotel industry, to ask questions. As the president of a more modest size management company, I have called the president of the biggest management company, MHM, to get advice on running my business. Based on contacts I have developed, my company gets referrals from a large number of sources and the hotels we manage are among the first to get overflow referrals from competitors. Many of these contacts have evolved into close friendships.
While I obviously feel the benefits of membership in the Minnesota Hotel and Lodging Association are innumerable, there are costs. The first and most obvious is financial. Depending on the size and level of service of the property it can be as little as $119 a year to a maximum of $7.05 per room for a full service hotel with more than 76 rooms. That amount includes membership at both the state and national level. Many hoteliers don’t take the time to understand the bottom line value of participating and the utilization of the many resources of the associations more than pay for their dues investment in the first month or so of membership. The direct economic benefits easily outweigh the direct financial cost. It’s a good deal!
The way to maximize the benefits of membership is to be active in those areas of interest to people at a member property. Have a problem with the Health Department? Work on the Joint Health and Safety Committee which includes Restaurant Association members and also tell your new acquaintances on the Joint Legislative Committee what you think of the law and administrative regulations. Have a problem with employee turnover and performance? Get involved with the Joint Human Resources Committee, use the educational programs that are available for you and your staff.
The hospitality industry is probably the world’s second oldest profession and is one of the most diverse. It includes everyone from the all-important room attendant to the inconsequential Leona Helmsley at the human level and the smallest Mom and Pop independent motel to the Waldorf Astoria at the property level. All of us are in the same boat and generally have the same goals. We have a better chance of achieving them if we work together to improve the industry and the people that work in it.
I invite you to join with your peers in the industry and support it with your membership dues and time. We’ll get more done with your help and I won’t feel ripped off. If you mention this article when you join I’ll take you as my guest to the Minnesota Hotel and Lodging Association’s Annual Meeting and Christmas party.