As the American Hotel & Lodging Association chair in 2012, Nancy Johnson made it loud and clear that the $137 billion lodging industry, which employs more than 1.8 million workers nationwide, is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Johnson, the executive vice president of development in the Americas for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group and founder of AH&LA’s Women in Lodging (WIL) group, motivated members to get involved in the pressing legislative issues that impact the profitability of the industry. She recently spoke with Lodging Managing Editor Megan Sullivan about her accomplishments over the past year and hinted at what’s in store for new chair Ron Vlasic in 2013.
1. Lodging: What achievements are you most proud of during your term as AH&LA’s chair in 2012?
Nancy Johnson: I am most proud of the collaboration that has been achieved between the varied AH&LA members—partner states, brands, owners, and managers—to create a successful association model for the next 100 years.
I am also very proud of the focus my reign has shown to women in the lodging industry. Our Women in Lodging program has reached over 2,000 members. It was my privilege to speak at many hospitality schools and state associations, as a woman leader. The message I delivered was first that character counts no matter your gender or ethnic background. Secondly, that passionate people get noticed for advancement. Love what you are doing and be the best you can be. Third, the world needs more leaders, in politics, in our communities, and in the lodging industry. Be a manager of change. And finally, that government advocacy needs everyone to get involved.
2. Lodging: One of your goals for 2012 was to increase the level of political engagement among members. In what ways did you encourage people to make their voices heard on critical legislative issues that impact the lodging industry?
Johnson: Every time I had the opportunity to get on stage I encouraged, motivated, explained the need, and asked for involvement from everyone I spoke with. Government advocacy is more important now than ever before. Regulations, taxes, and executive rulings are diminishing the profitability of our hotels. We need to make sure the lodging industry is recognized as a strong contributor to the economy by providing jobs and more importantly careers. AH&LA is focusing on the education of vital issues that will diminish the profitability of our industry.
3. Lodging: How will the re-election of President Obama affect how the industry approaches some of these issues going forward?
Johnson: I believe the President has recognized the importance of travel and tourism in job creation, building our export dollars, and strengthening the economy. We need to make sure the importance stays front and center in the minds of the President and all legislators. We also need to make sure the decisions made take into consideration the profitability of business. This is a concern for our industry. So are the discussions around the fiscal cliff, the elimination of tax deductions, health care, and the classification of everyone making more than $250,000 as being high income. Many of our small businesses across America will be closing their doors if all of these issues become reality.
4. Lodging: You have made it a big priority to ensure the lodging industry attracts the best and brightest young people to its workforce. During your term, what steps were taken so future hoteliers receive proper training and support?
Johnson: Young hospitality students are the bright lights of our future. Our schools are currently seeing a growth in enrollment, and more than 60 percent of the incoming students are women. These students see the opportunities for great careers in the lodging industry. This is still one of the only industries that you can enter on an hourly level and be groomed and developed to be the general manager or a corporate executive. We need to make sure we provide mentoring and grow intern programs for these students. Through AH&LA we now have more than 21 student chapters. I advise incoming chair Ron Vlasic that the year goes by very fast, so take advantage of every opportunity to speak to students and at state association meetings.