Notes from the AAHOA conference

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As usual, last week's AAHOA conference was full of energy, brotherhood and just a touch of controversy. Here are my observations after three days in Charlotte:

̢ۢ The crowd was smaller than I expected, especially given the concentration of Asian-American hoteliers in the Southeast and within a day's drive of Charlotte. I didn't hear an official headcount from the organizers (and rarely do I believe these pronouncements from any conference official), but AAHOA Chairman Mukesh Mowji noted that 400 members registered on-site on Thursday, causing a problem in feeding everyone for dinner that night. Since this meeting typically has a large walk-up attendance, I'm not sure why the organizers didn't anticipate the possibility, especially given the history and this year's conference location.

• There is still a lot of enmity among AAHOA members toward the brands, especially those that the often-paranoid Indian-American hotelier feel are unfair to them. And not to be too cynical, but it's always good politics for AAHOA leaders to set-up the franchise companies as the bogeyman. While real issues remain in the relations between franchisors and franchisees, few Asian hoteliers can say today—as perhaps once was the case—that they don't understand the franchise agreements—and the obligations and restrictions that go with them—when they sign on the dotted line. And today there are plenty of other more-franchise-friendly brands from which to do business with. Of course, while these alternative flags may not perform as well as Marriott and Hilton, often you get what you pay for.

̢ۢ While the group didn't reach its lofty membership goals for 2006 (10,000 members, including 1,000 lifetime members), it's still an impressive organization: 7,800 members who own 22,000 hotels worth a collective $60 billion.

̢ۢ As part of its renewed offensive against the chains, AAHOA conducted Performance Appraisal Reports on the major chains. As follow-up to these studies, it's been pursuing the brand companies to further comply with its 12 Points of Fair Franchising, a creed for which AAHOA defined in greater detail in the past year. At the conference, association officers announced that Accor will soon file new UFOC documents that comply nearly completely with the 12 points. La Quinta is also falling into line, and AAHOA thinks it can bring the other chains to the bargaining table.

̢ۢ The group made significant strides in the past year in the political arena. It established a liaison in Washington, DC, snared a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on immigration issues and for the first time, endorsed and gave money to political candidates. Next steps are the establishment of a full-fledged lobbyist in DC and the holding of its '09 convention in Washington. Watch out AH&LA.

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