View From the Top: Execs Weigh In on Industry Issues

In the View From the Top session at The Lodging Conference last week, industry executives weighed in on the broader issues facing the industry. The executives, Wyndham Hotel Group’s Geoff Ballotti, Vantage Hospitality’s Roger Bloss, AH&LA’s Katherine Lugar, Greg Marcus of the Marcus Corporation, and Joel Eisemann, IHG’s chief development officer, addressed a wide range of topics from Airbnb to Ebola.

Addressing the topic of online room sharing marketplaces like Airbnb, Lugar reiterated how the industry needed to ensure that these new companies played by the same rules as hotels. “Innovation is not an excuse to ignore the law,” she said.

Regarding the dramatic wage hike put in place by the L.A. City Council, which singles out hotels for fast-tracking the increase, Lugar said, “Let’s call it what it is. This is another ploy by labor to grow their numbers.” She added that the industry hasn’t done a good job of telling its story of career advancement. Roger Bloss picked up on this idea, saying, “Most of us up here started as dishwashers.”

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Lugar pointed to the recent study AH&LA did in partnership with WageWatch, which shows that roughly 20 percent of the lodging industry’s workforce are minimum wage employees. Of these, the study showed, the vast majority move into higher-paid positions within one year with the rest advancing within two years. “We’ve missed an opportunity to define who we are, the jobs in our industry and to tell the countless stories of individuals who start as bellman and work their way to the top.”

When asked about the benefits and potential passage of Brand USA, Lugar said efforts to support travel and tourism have attracted support from both sides of the aisle. The international travel promotion program, which was enacted as part of 2010’s Travel Promotion Act, is up for reauthorization this year in Congress. Most estimates project that Brand USA has attracted more than 1.1 million additional visitors to the United States and brought $3.4 billion in additional travel dollars to the country. “This is an area where we are optimistic,” Lugar said.

The recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board potentially holding franchise parent companies liable for the acts of its franchisees was another topic the panel discussed. “It’s serious and it will be very interesting what happens there,” said Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group. Bloss added, “I think it takes away from entrepreneurship.”

Finally, regarding Ebola, the topic du jour of the cable news networks, Lugar said, “Let’s be realistic about where we are. There have been three cases.”