Nationwide Franchise Assistance for Hotel Owners
Camelot not yet attained by Asian American Hoteliers
By Steve Belmonte
Attending the annual national convention of the Asian American Hotel Owners Assn. as something other than the leader of a hotel franchise company is an eye-opening experience.
And that is not so much for what is different as it is for what is the same: Regardless of who you are, whether a hotel company executive, a former professional basketball player, a member of the media, a vendor, a property owner attending for the first time, or even a worker assigned to clear the tables after a lavish dinner, you are certain to be treated with kindness, respect and deference for the role you are playing in making the convention a complete event.
The secret to hospitality as AAHOA's members appear to innately know is an ability to warmly and sincerely treat everyone as though they are members of the family.
No longer leading Ramada Franchise Systems, and now undertaking a new career in helping hotel franchisees/licensees obtain the best possible terms and conditions in their relations with hotel companies, I traveled to Long Beach eager to see the event from a totally different point of view. What I found is as clear to me today as it was in the past when I was observing from the stage along with other hotel company executives. AAHOA is a group of people who have an intense desire to work hard and to make the American dream a reality, not only for themselves and their families, but for their employees as well.
At the very beginning of my days as an AAHOA attendee (which was sometime around 1991), I was amazed at the overall graciousness of everyone connected to the organization. As a part of the president's panel, I fielded a question from the audience. An attendee wanted to know about my experiences dealing with hoteliers of Asian-Indian descent.
I said then that as I looked into the audience I did not see 5,000 Asian Indians, but that I saw 5,000 licensees. With licensees, it does not matter whether they are Jewish, Italian or whatever, they are people who are in a symbiotic relationship with a hotel franchisor, and it's a relationship that needs nurturing from both sides.
Now, that is not to say that I don't recognize the unique aspects that the Asian American community faces in being a part of the hotel industry. I definitely do. They have faced a more difficult task in becoming successful hotel owners because of bigotry and/or poor treatment on the parts of insurance companies, governmental bodies, franchise companies and the traveling public to name just a few.
But because of their perseverance and because of the creation of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, many of those problems have been overcome.
Don't get the impression I am saying that the hotel industry has become Camelot. There are still plenty of problems to overcome, and not the least of these are in the relationships Asian Americans have with franchise companies. Has AAHOA made great strides in its journey to improve conditions for its members with franchise companies? Yes. Is the trek complete? Far from it.
Acknowledging that I was once the franchisor in the relationship between hotel owners and the companies that fly their flags on properties, it is not difficult for me to say that changes were needed in the approach some franchisors took toward franchisees, and not only those of Asian descent.
However, it would be disingenuous for me to attempt to claim that special problems did not exist for Asians, and it would also be so for me to say that some of those problems were not created by certain franchise companies.
I think that there were/are some franchisors who automatically assume that the Asian American franchisee is less savvy, and, that being the case, unscrupulous salespeople for such organizations would naturally attempt to take advantage of that situation if it were true.
There has been an evolution though in the way franchise companies view the Asian American community and that is due in no small part to the work of AAHOA as well as more enlightened thinking on the part of hotel company executives. That said, let us here admit that there are still puddles of bigotry that exist among some hotel executives and members of the traveling public.
The very best franchise companies with the very best intentions though, are still very interested in having franchise agreements that are in the best interests of their owners and shareholders, and why should that not be the case. Those who have been in the business for a long time recognize that fact, but also understand that there is room for compromise in the negotiation of franchise agreements, their re-negotiations or even their terminations.
If a hotelier cannot honestly say that he or she totally understands the legalities of a franchise agreement, or the flexibility and options that are inherent in the negotiations leading to the signing of a contract, then that is a clear signal to seek help.
Talk to other members of AAHOA and current franchisees from the same flag in order to learn as much as possible about how a particular franchise company does business. And don't sign an agreement without seeking advice from every possible informed source.
Informed franchisees will be the ones who lead the way for the U.S. hotel industry to finally discover the future path to a long history of really fair franchising.
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