COVID-19’s devastating effect on hoteliers cannot be overstated, and the hotel industry is in a much different place at the start of 2021 than it was this time last year. However, recovery is finally on the horizon. As of publication, two COVID-19 vaccines had been approved for emergency use—a light at the end of this very long and very dark tunnel. Among the hoteliers developing their 2021 business strategy is president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation and 2021 chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) board, Mark Hoplamazian. Hoplamazian took some time to speak to LODGING about his long history with AHLA, his plans for 2021, and how he intends to help hoteliers through this difficult time in hospitality history.
How did you first get involved with AHLA? Why were you drawn to the organization?
Hyatt has long served an important role in the AHLA governance bodies, including the Board of Directors and Executive Committee, and many of the organization’s initiatives are closely aligned with Hyatt’s areas of focus. Since joining the industry, I’ve always admired AHLA’s strong leadership, collaborative approach, and forward-thinking. AHLA represents the interests of the entire hotel industry and drives meaningful change on issues that are bigger than any one brand or property, such as combating human trafficking. It’s when we speak with one united voice that we can make an impact and elevate the hospitality industry.
When did you first get involved with the Board?
I joined AHLA’s Executive Committee in 2017 and became an officer in 2020. Hyatt has been a long-standing member of AHLA, engaging in multiple committees and supporting the AHLA Foundation, its programs, and overall mission.
“I am confident in the industry’s long-term recovery. The human desire for connection will drive people to experience the joy of travel again.”
What is it like becoming AHLA board chair during a global pandemic?
The appointment to board chair is both a tremendous responsibility and an opportunity. While COVID-19 remains a challenge for our deeply impacted industry, we are at an inflection point with recovery becoming increasingly clear over the coming year. I’m honored to be part of the team at AHLA as we turn to rebuilding and strengthening the industry. I am confident in the industry’s long-term recovery. The human desire for connection will drive people to experience the joy of travel again.
What are the biggest issues you’re looking to tackle as chair?
While I have 100 percent confidence that hospitality will get past this and make a full recovery, COVID-19 remains a serious challenge for our deeply impacted industry. Our immediate focus is getting additional government support through relief programs so that hotels can stay open and employees can get back to work. This will require bipartisan action in Washington, D.C., and across every jurisdiction that our industry touches. Another critical issue will be continuing to further our commitment to No Room for Trafficking, our industry’s campaign to end human trafficking. I am proud to have been involved in impactful initiatives like The Five Star Promise and I look forward to working directly with AHLA on more ways to combat human trafficking.
What is the value of an organization like AHLA in today’s lodging industry?
For years, AHLA has united our industry around common goals, and the organization’s role is more important than ever. Right now, we need collaboration among industry leaders to achieve a full recovery, and we can’t do that without AHLA. AHLA has been integral to leading the industry through this pandemic, from lobbying for government relief programs to providing resources to members to setting health and safety guidelines—the list goes on. Speaking on behalf of the entire hospitality industry, we are beyond grateful to have such a strong advocate in our corner. In addition to advocacy, AHLA creates a community to recognize the hospitality industry’s most valuable asset—its people. I applaud AHLA and the AHLA Foundation’s continued dedication to their annual Stars of the Hospitality Industry awards. This is an exceptional platform to celebrate the hotel employees who truly embody the meaning of hospitality and remind us all why we pursued a path in this truly rewarding industry. The work the AHLA Foundation is doing to advance and empower current employees and attract new talent is critical to our industry’s recovery.
Years in the hotel industry
First hospitality job
Night auditor at a hotel on Edgware Road in London
What he doesn’t leave the house without
Favorite travel destination
“Nature where I can truly unplug, preferably with some fly fishing.”
Best advice he’s ever received
“You have two ears and one mouth—use them in that proportion.”
How has COVID impacted Hyatt’s 2021 initiatives?
At Hyatt, we will continue to be guided by our purpose—to care for people so they can be their best. Every business decision is made through the lens of our purpose. As a company, we have observed certain behaviors that have helped us through this crisis. None of these are new to Hyatt, but as we look toward recovery, we want to sharpen our focus on leading with empathy, prioritizing wellbeing, practicing inclusion, and experimenting.
We remain committed to our strategy, our stakeholders, and advancing care. We are always listening to our key constituents—and have learned that we need to go beyond providing a safe and clean environment and truly reimagine our business. Reimagining the meetings has been a key area of focus and will continue to be a priority through 2021. We also launched Work from Hyatt, an extended-stay package that gives guests a change of scenery with resort amenities that allow them to maintain their professional and educational commitments.
What have you found most inspiring about the hotel industry during this extremely difficult time?
This pandemic has tested us as individual companies, as an industry, and as a global community. In all that, I have been impressed and inspired by our colleagues, who remain resilient and continue to find new ways to advance care for our guests, communities, and each other. I am also proud to see every hospitality leader linking arms to speak in a united voice.
Across our industry, we have seen both hotel employees and owners support local causes and provide resources to help local businesses, which includes helping restaurants that have been negatively impacted and providing hotel rooms for frontline workers. Many of these efforts are coordinated through or inspired by AHLA, and they are initiatives that we can all be proud of. There is a real sense of caring for the community at large which will forever inspire me.