The Year of Diversity

It's not a stretch to call 2005 the year of diversity in the U.S. lodging industry. Just as hotel companies have in the past few years used upgraded bedding and curved shower rods to differentiate themselves, today the accent shifts inward as hotel chains and properties look for an edge with their customers, suppliers, employees and the public.

Of course, while a strategy of diversity in hiring practices, vendor relationships, franchise development and philanthropy is good business, it's also the right thing to do. If you haven't already, now is the time to devise a comprehensive diversity plan for your chain, management company or even individual hotel or motel. Your organization is neither too small nor too large to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce and varied vendor relationships.

While most large chains and hotel companies have diversity strategies in place, two lodging powerhouses — Marriott and Hilton — punctuated their efforts in very public ways in the past month.

In early February, Hilton invited industry and community leaders and the media to New York City for a half-day review of its considerable diversity initiatives. The parade of nearly 25 speakers included Hilton staffers as well as a range of minority owners, franchisees, vendors and others that do business with the company. Hilton's diversity program goes beyond simple employment and supplier issues. The company's efforts involve internships, mentoring programs and community involvement processes that cut across all aspects of the company, including departments such as legal, IT, finance and design and construction.

To perhaps prove that Hilton is serious about the topic, a number of the company's senior executives — including Co-Chairman and CEO Stephen Bollenbach and President and COO Matt Hart — not only spoke at the meeting but stayed for the entire session and answered formal and informal questions at the end. Their participation proved the most important principle of an effective diversity plan: The effort must begin at the top of the organization, and company leaders must be involved daily in its implementation. Minority workers, suppliers and community leaders will judge you and your company on what you do, not what you say.

Perhaps coincidentally, just hours before the Hilton meeting Marriott International announced a sweeping commitment to diversity that, like Hilton, reaches beyond hiring practices to include supplier, investment and franchising issues. Marriott was particularly keen on quantifying its diversity goals: Over the next five years, the company says it will spend $1 billion with minority- and women-owned suppliers and double the number of minority owners and franchisees flying one of Marriott's flags.

As I said previously, Marriott and Hilton are not alone in their dedication to the fiscally and morally sound principles of diversity. Nearly every one of the major chains have programs that equal those practiced by Marriott and Hilton. But our industry won't truly be diverse until individual owners and operators see that diversity is the smart business strategy for modern times. Have you got labor problems? Recruit more heavily in immigrant and minority neighborhoods. Do you want better pricing and service from your vendors? Cast your procurement net as far as possible to include as competitive group of vendors as you can. You won't regret it.

A loss for the industry

Sam Apostle, one of the hotel industry's most dynamic leaders and a man of utmost integrity, died last month. Sam, who most recently was president of Apostle Fitzgerald brokerage firm, was the chief executive of Ramada during some of the chain's most trying times in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. With a gentle manner and shrewd business mind, Sam guided Ramada through troubled waters. He will be missed.

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