In the world of hospitality, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) is kind of a big deal. Its nearly 18,000 members own half of all the hotels in the United States, including properties for every single brand. And for most brands, AAHOA owners represent a majority of pipeline projects.
Where does AAHOA go from here? And what are its members looking for from hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue-management professionals? We sat down with Chip Rogers, AAHOA’s president and CEO, on the last day of the AAHOA 2018 Convention & Trade Show at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C.
What is AAHOA’s mission?
We’re to be the recognized voice of America’s hotel owners. Obviously, advocacy is, if not our single biggest function for our members, it’s right there. There are a lot of people that advocate on behalf of the hospitality and tourist industry in general and the hotel industry maybe a little more specifically, but there’s no one on a national basis and very few even at the state level that are advocating on behalf of hotel owners and owners’ interests specifically. It’s not that interests of hotel owners are at odds with interests of the industry, but there are situations where the interests of hotel owners are different than that of the industry.
The second thing we do is education. Our educational goals are — it’s somewhat cliché, but it’s accurate — to help our members make money, save money, and protect their investment? We want to make them better hotel owners. We want them to understand best practices. We want to bring to them — from the operations side, from the management side, from the development side — things that others are doing and doing well, so that they can do them well. While our owners literally compete against each other across the street, they also recognize that when everyone is a better hotelier, then the industry is better and you’re going to make more money.
Those are the two main things that we focus on. Now, how do we get there? Well, AAHOA is somewhat unique in that our model is to host a lot of face-to-face events. That would make sense on the education side, but it also makes sense on the advocacy side, because we’re bringing those people together we like to refer to as grass-roots activists in our industry.
What made AAHOA commit to face-to-face events even as the business world increasingly moves to the digital space?
It was a recognition on our part that our members really like the networking and the social aspect of many of these events. They’re going to come to an event not just to learn, not just to get engaged, not just to get motivated, but also to see their friends, right? And I think that if the day comes where we fail to recognize that, we’re going to really do a lot of damage to how successful we are.
What are some issues that your members are tracking right now?
There’s good and bad. The tax cuts [signed into law by President Trump in December] were very good for us. We had the vast majority of our members that are in fact S corps, LLCs, or pass-throughs, and so the tax reform was really, really good on a number of levels. The flip side of that is, the economy is so strong right now that labor prices have gone up significantly. Labor availability is almost nonexistent because the unemployment rate’s at a 50-year low. So, there are some challenges there.
Another good thing that has occurred is that regulations have decreased. We’re seeing that across the board. The free markets are working. But another challenge we’re seeing is that the cost of construction has certainly gone up — not just on the labor side, but the cost of materials has gone up considerably, the cost of the land has gone up considerably. Those are just macroeconomic factors that have affected our members.
How do your members see the guest experience changing?
Well, the guest experience is always going to change with guest expectations, because you won’t stay in business long if you’re not meeting guest expectations. One of the things we talk about with Airbnb is that Airbnb brought in a different model as far as pricing is concerned in many places. The second part of that is that Airbnb did bring in a new guest experience, and I think that a lot of our members and certainly the industry are recognizing this. If you’re looking at the way that hotels are being constructed now, you’re seeing a lot more focus on common areas. A lot of guests want to go to their room and then they want to come downstairs. They want to be in that common area with people. A lot of the brands are now developing that way and our owners are certainly responding to that, because market forces are going dictate that you have to respond.
Are there any issues specifically related to hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue management that are on your members’ radar?
The reality is that they have to pay attention to that every single day. We had a speaker this morning talking about the pace of change. If you didn’t become alarmed during his speech, which was the purpose of him speaking, then you just weren’t paying attention. And so in those areas, our members recognize that if they’re not changing with not just technology but guest expectations or the way that guests want to be communicated with, then they’re going to left behind.
What does that mean in terms of the skills your members are looking for from the people on their sales, marketing, and revenue teams?
One skill that’s never going to go out of style is the ability to communicate on a human basis individually. We even see that at as an association. When we’re talking to people and looking at the talent we that want to bring in, I want somebody who can speak. I want somebody that I can put in the situation where a challenge arises and they’ve got to communicate something and make that consumer go away happy. So, I think that human part is always, always going to be there.
The second part of that is, the mindset of a person that’s coming into the workforce today is not “I’m going to identify a job, I’m going to identify a career, and that’s what I’m going to do for the next 30 years.” Therefore, you’ve got to be able to challenge that person and give that person the autonomy to where they can grow and they can be a productive member of your team. If you don’t have a person that can handle that type of rapid growth and handle the challenges that come with working across a lot of different areas, then that’s not going to be a person that’s very valuable to you.