THERE IS ALWAYS A NEED FOR INDUSTRY DIALOGUE AND I BELIEVE THAT THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY HAS STOPPED COMMUNICATING BETWEEN THEMSELVES.
The need for interaction between Operators, Owners, Financiers, Developers, Academics and the Specialists & Technicians amongst all of them has never been easier but is, virtually non-existent.
They have stopped communicating effectively but it was not a conscious decision.
Simply put, we have replaced monthly debate amongst multiple experts identifying issues and forming industry positions with annual get-togethers at conferences and summits where the real global issues are discussed in regional conclaves.
At a time in my career, I was given the opportunity to lead the International Hotel & Restaurant Association, the voice of the industry as recognised by the UN and all major global hotel and restaurant chains and national associations. It was supported by only a few loyal chains and was being ignored by many. My job was to reinvigorate the association, increase the membership and develop an awareness of the international issues.
The strategy that we developped to accomplish this goal was to increase the dialogue amongst experts in the various fields that exist in our industry and to focus on the issues that they considered as 'top-of-mind'. The experts that we focused on were the Hotel chain Vice Presidents and the disciplines that surfaced with issues at that time included,
- E-Marketing- Trademark infringement
- Human Resources- Worldwide labour shortages, Education, Flexibility of working conditions
- Security - Terrorism and Natural Disasters
- Food & Beverage- Food Safety, Labeling
- Legal- Hotel Classification, Copyright licensing, Taxation, International Standards
- ......etc, etc
In each area of discipline, we identified 12-15 Vice Presidents that were willing to sacrifice one hour every month or so, or as needed to teleconference and compare notes on the subjects raised. Each group was identified as a Global Council and I, as the CEO of the Association, acted as Chairman, avoiding whenever relevant any suggestion of collusion. We were in fact solidifying the industry's position on the issues at hand and taking whatever action that was deemed appropriate.
With about 10-12 Global Councils of 12 to 15 members, we had about 150-200 senior industry executives from all continents actively involved in a dialogue on major global industry issues.
Strategically, we included Vice Presidents in these Global Councils from member chains as well as those that were not members with the objective of demonstrating value before asking for the sale. Minutes were posted on-line with comments edited by a member and reviewed at the next meeting.
Particularly interesting was that many members who were totally committed to membership having realised the great value offered by participating in this dialogue were unable to pursuade Presidents of the need for membership.
Positions were formed, refined, improved and sculpted until they fully reflected the views of the whole group with careful legal review done by competent, experienced hotel attorneys.
What were the obstacles that the non-members faced with their superiors? Here are some of the major reasons,
- "My president refuses to acknowledge that our company has this problem."
- "Most of our hotels are in the USA. We do not have many properties in International."
- "We do not have the budget."
- "My president is not from the industry and does not understand the intricacy of this issue."
Some of my readers might point to the numerous Annual Conferences & Summits that are organised around the world that bring together panellists and speakers to address the issues and topics of the day. These are indeed excellent platforms for these specialists to interact in 45 minute timeslots but they are not designed to develop industry positions or solutions. That requires more intense study over a longer period, more open debate and, more importantly, no audience.
A teleconference between 12-15 VPs of Human Resources is not in any way used as a commercial, but put two of them on a panel on stage and they will be very quick to promote their companies and totally avoid touching on the issues that are the subject of their sleepless nights.
Imagine the power that our association had as we sat down with International Organisations with a strong, clear position developed by the world's largest hotel chains, backed by every National Hotel & Restaurant Association in the world. No other organisation has this mandate or the authority.
This dialogue is now non-existent. The issues are growing and being resolved in favour of special interest groups. Major issues are being dropped. There is a vacuum and so very few people know it, except for the 150-200 former members of these Global Councils..........some of whom still tell me of their frustration.
Here are some of the International Organisations with which we had constructive dialogue on behalf of the industry.
- International Labour Organisation
- International Standards Association
- UN World Tourism Association
- UN Central Product Classification
- United Nations
- World Health Organisation
- World Trade Organisation
- International Employers Organisation.
- International Federation of Trade Unions.
- European Union.
- General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade
- Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development
- United Nations Environment Program.
- International Air Transport Association.
- International Association of Airports
- .....etc etc
Some of the issues that were discussed or were addressed had huge financial implications to the industry. To those of us in the know, we were perplexed by the apparent ignorance of our industry players and of many major developed nations of the powers and the dangers of special interest groups acting in their interest to develop standards that our industry would be forced to adopt and by which international courts would rule.
It was extremely rewarding to observe the Global Council Security split into three specialty areas. The Council dealing with the issue of Terrorism decided to share their best practices in a controlled environment simply because this was a 'non-competitive' area that was important to the industry as a whole. The evolution of that council's work was fast and very relevant ultimately ending in an agreement to unify the best practices into a manual through and with the assistance of a major academic institution. Whether this came to pass or not would have been an outcome of whether the industry continued to support real global industry dialogue........ or not.
Dialogue is critical to the sustainability of this global industry.
- We can learn from our mistakes and those of others.
- We can share good practices with our neighbours and our competitors.
- We must invest time and effort in this dialogue.
- We must make use of the technology that facilitates these communications.
- We must commit to making contributions to our industry's society.