The recent annual meeting of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners Operators and Developers was a watershed event for the group. The 10th annual conference attracted nearly 400 attendees to the three-day meeting in Atlanta, the first time it's been held outside of South Florida.

More importantly, the roster of speakers at both the general sessions and panel discussions were peppered with a wide range of very successful African-American hotel owners, operators and chain executives who were able to share their successes with the scores of attendees who hope to join the ownership ranks of the lodging business.

The vibe of the event was reminiscent of early meetings of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association as the pioneers in that community offered their encouragement, advice and inspiration to those who hoped to follow in their footsteps. Members of both groups share a common legacy of discrimination and the additional hurdles to succeed in business.

“I've been underestimated my whole career, but I've used it to my advantage,” said Hank Thomas, president of Victoria Hospitality Properties, during a NABHOOD CEO Roundtable session. “I've always believed that when someone tells me ‘no’, I feel the conversation is still going on.”

James Guillory of Centerpointe Hotels and a NABHOOD officer had some practical advice for would-be hotel owners: “Don't go too fast,” he said. “Be sure to take the time to focus on building a team and, most important, on educating yourself to this business.”

According to NABHOOD President Andy Ingraham, the group is nearly half way to its goal of having 500 African-American owned and operated hotels in the U.S. by 2010.

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