Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: NABHOOD Promotes African American Hotel Ownership by Glenn Haussman

With only a handful of hotels, African American hotel owners are sorely underrepresented in the lodging industry. Itís a problem the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers (NABHOOD) has been grappling with for years.

But itís a dicey situation. Hotels are extremely capital intensive to buy or build and most people simply donít have the cash on hand to jump into the business. According to NABHOOD President & CEO Andy Ingraham, there are only about 250 hotels owned by African Americans. And those properties are really owned by just a handful of individuals, such as Robert Johnson, whose RJ Development owns approximately half of them.

Itís a complex problem thatís taking some time to work out, but one way in which NABHOOD is trying to encourage African American owned hotel development is through its annual conference. Held last week at an African American owned property Ė the Marriott Century Plaza in Atlanta -- NABHOODís annual event served a dual purpose: Foster a sense of community and initiate potential hotel owners into the business.

The event was a clear homerun for both attendees and organizers as about 500 people from both the U.S. and Caribbean were registered. With so many individuals getting involved, Ingraham stressed the need for partnerships as a way to swell the ranks of African-American hotel owners.

"It is important for us to grow, we have a lot of work to do," said Ingraham. "We have got to do a better job, I have to do a better job so we can increase the number of [African American owned] hotels. We need to invest in each other because it is much easier to do business with friends. If we are to grow this brand, we have to be committed to our young people and our partners. So find ways to partner with each other. That is what works.

"It is going to be a better day for NABHOOD and we are going to have more hotels

We are on the right track," said Ingraham, noting the organization is well on its way to reaching its goal of seeing 500 African American owned hotels by 2010.

One success story in the making is Integrated Capital. Managing Partner Kenneth Fearn said his company has already more than $1 billion of property, implemented over $2.0 billion in financing and raised over $500 million of private equity related to hotel and resort assets.

"I grew up in South Central L.A. to folks that grew up in the Jim Crow south in Tennessee," said Fearn, who gave attendees his secret to success. "Our company is about being persistent. We can never half-step; we have to be the best at what we can do."

Hank Thomas, President, Victoria Hospitality Properties said he recalled a day when people of color were not allowed to even stay in hotels. Now, he and his peers own them. "I remember when I could not stay in [some] hotels. We have made tremendous progress. This is our first time to own a piece of the American dream. Think about the bad old days and think about Dr. Martin Luther King saying ĎI have been to the mountain top.í I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get to the promised land and I want you to fulfill his commitment," said Thomas.

When the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) was formed in 1989, Dilipkumar "Danny" Patel, the groupís current Chairman said his community experienced many of the same problems African Americans are currently facing.

"When we started we faced discrimination. Itís why we founded this association. The steps you are gong through today is what AAHOA went through, this is nothing new," said Patel, who noted the organization now has 8,300 members who now own 24,000 of the United Statesí 47,000 hotels. "We need to work together to move ahead in the lodging industry. There are many obstacles and trouble to overcome. Noting is going to come and knock on your door; you have to do it yourself."

Editor's Note: Glenn Haussman is Editor in Chief of Hotel Interactive where this article first appeared (http://www.hotelinteractive.com/index.asp)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007