NABHOOD 12: Same Old Hit

Twelve years on, the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers conference is beginning to repeat, and that's not all bad. More than 420 people attended the 12th NABHOOD event at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center July 16-19. The usual suspects (minus R. Donahue Peebles, an early figurehead among black hotel developers) were there, including Hank Thomas, an unrepentant liberal, Vietnam veteran and former Freedom Rider from North Carolina who's assembling quite a portfolio of Marriott hotels and McDonald's fast-food franchises; St. Louis capitalist extraordinaire Mike Roberts, president of Roberts Hotels and NABHOOD chairman; James Guillory, a determined Houston hotel developer; Bill Fuller, a Norfolk, VA businessman and former pro football star still trying to develop a full-service hotel in Norfolk; and, of course, Andy Ingraham, the ubiquitous, wired, colorful, charismatic president and CEO of NABHOOD.

This year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association had a relatively high profile at NABHOOD. Marlene Colucci, executive vice president of public policy for the hotel lobby, urged NABHOOD members to fight the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would strengthen union organizing among hospitality workers.

Also prominent at this NABHOOD: talk of hard economic times. As Mit Shah, senior managing principal and CEO of Noble Investment Group, said, “Now is a very difficult time in our business.” Citing a “massive erosion in weekend business” and a less dramatic drop in group business, he said “demand will have to start coming back” in 2010. For now, however, hoteliers must be patient — and thankful that supply growth will be modest. Pick your colleagues and investors wisely, he advised, noting loyalty is critical to a hotel development partnership.

Overall, NABHOOD 12 was interesting and dynamic. Deals were still being done, according to various sources, and the vibe was positive. If it felt like Hospitality 101 — many panels were introductory and explanatory — that's OK. And even though it is marketed to African-Americans, NABHOOD presents information valuable to anyone interested in breaking into the hotel field.

At the same time, NABHOOD still feels amateurish. Audiovisual was shaky, to put it mildly, during several presentations, the trade show felt cramped and speakers often were pressed into service without warning. In addition, the conference went too long and there was quite a bit of redundancy.

Nevertheless, NABHOOD is a magnet for African-Americans; Hispanics set to make their hospitality debut at an Oct. 8-11 hotel investment development management conference in Miami sponsored by the Hispanic Hotel Owners Association; and members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), the biggest lobby in the hospitality industry.

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