The experience generation


by Geoff Ballotti
President and CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
Chair, American Hotel & Lodging Association

Today, consumers want to spend their money on experiences rather than material things, experiences which occupy a spot on our social media pages forever. According to McKinsey, over the past several years, consumption on experiences such as day-tripping to amusement parks, visiting museums, and eating at unique restaurants has grown nearly four times faster than consumption of goods.

That’s good news for us in the hotel industry because travel is the most coveted experience of our generation.

This generation’s affinity for experiences is resulting in an entirely new “traveling class” – the 1.3 billion people around the world who choose to spend their expendable income on travel. This is an emerging category of society that is crossing borders for the first time, trekking to new continents, and most important, staying in our hotels.

As hoteliers, we are the lucky ones. We are members of an industry that continues to grow and, as it does, we contribute to the growth of entire generations of travelers.

Our growing industry puts $600 billion into the U.S. economy each year, contributes 10 percent of the global GDP, and supports nine million American jobs. This industry opens up opportunities and launches careers. A career in hospitality is the ultimate experience and the lifeblood for so many of us who started our first job as a bellhop, a housekeeper or a dishwasher – as I did years ago – and launched into a lifelong calling owning or operating hotels.

In my opinion, there is no better career path; those of us who own, operate or work in hotels are the ones empowering the world to have those coveted travel experiences. That notion is so important to our business that it’s reflected in the new mission statement for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, which we established after our spinoff into an independent company last year: We make hotel travel possible for all.

Yet, for an industry that supports nine million jobs in the U.S. alone, there remain 900,000 vacancies.

It’s one of the most pervasive issues for hoteliers today. A report from the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation shows that over 50 percent of the Gen Z demographic – the largest generation in the U.S. – is interested in pursuing a career in hospitality. Nevertheless, our industry faces a workforce shortage, leaving hoteliers struggling to find both skilled labor to build hotels and the right talent to staff them.

I’m reminded every day of the incredible people this industry attracts, and it is due in large part to AAHOA and its members, who have played a significant role in opening up opportunities for new demographics over the past 30 years of its history.

For an entire generation of hoteliers who came up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, this industry represents the American Dream. In 1984, Michael Leven and Henry Silverman of Days Inn realized some of their most successful franchisees in the U.S. all had roots in Gujarat, India. Though they were achieving success with their hotels, they were battling discrimination and cultural challenges to do so. Leven and Silverman got their Days Inn franchisees together – with the support of leaders like H.P. Rama and Ravi Patel – to voice those challenges and needs for advocacy to form what would, in 1989, become one of the most influential forces in hospitality: the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.

Members of that generation are often referred to as “accidental hoteliers” – men and women whose roots and training were in other industries, but who found a place in hospitality and made a name for themselves here.

That first generation of AAHOA Members created a transformational shift in the industry, and their presence in hospitality is no accident. They overcame hardship and discrimination, and together created a new avenue for advocacy and sponsorship. Who better to welcome travelers through their doors than those with a culture rooted in hospitality, family values, and hard work?

Not only has this generation built the foundation for hospitality today, but they have created a lasting legacy for the next generation. Those first American Dreamers paved a well-worn path for their children and grandchildren, and today, they are passing the baton to the next generations to continue their lasting legacy.

As we approach the close of Wyndham’s first full year as an independent hotel company, I often reflect about the journey of those hoteliers, many of whom helped build our company’s foundation as they were building their own. Those first Days Inn owners who launched AAHOA, and later expanded their business to own multiple hotels across a number of recognized brands, represent a turning point for this industry.

Take Champ Patel, who opened his first independent hotel in 1979 – and later his first Days Inn in 1989 – and has continued growing his portfolio with diverse investments across multiple segments and hotel brands. Today, his company, Champion Hotels, is the largest privately held hotel operator in the United States, with more than 150 franchised locations.

Champ’s son, Harshil Patel, is a trailblazer in his own right. Harshil’s needs and expectations as a hotelier are different than those of his father, a situation many second-generation hoteliers in the U.S. are experiencing as they advance their family’s business. This next generation of hoteliers expects more options, seamless technology, and brands they can believe in, recognizing the impact of the experience economy and the demand for authentic travel experiences – and they are innovating at a faster pace than ever before to deliver them.

At Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, we’re thinking differently about how we can offer this generation support as its brand partner, including how we can attract new owners to our family of brands. We’ve designed a new journey for the franchisees entering into a partnership with our brands, empowering smart investment among a generation of entrepreneurs that is savvier than ever.

As one of the only hotel companies to support first-time hoteliers, we remain inclusive for entrepreneurs at all levels and create possibilities for growth through our brand portfolio. This new ownership experience creates a dynamic of partnership starting with the first handshake. Our team – newly bolstered by category-killers in construction and design from La Quinta by Wyndham – supports the investment process through research and development expertise, prioritizing quality and endurance to create lasting legacies for our brands and our owners.

That legacy is our lasting impact. AAHOA’s mission to promote and protect its members has shaped hospitality in the U.S. today, and its member base has grown such that AAHOA Members own half of the hotels in the U.S. That tremendous growth is a direct result of the opportunity the organization created for the beginning generations of Asian American hoteliers in the U.S.

Think about how much has changed over the course of one generation. Since AAHOA was founded 30 years ago, we’ve survived changes such as the dawn of the internet. We’ve evolved through disruptors like TripAdvisor, the OTAs, home sharing, and others. But with all of that change comes progress, and together, we’ve learned and evolved over the past 30 years. In 2019, as we welcome AAHOA’s first female Chair, Jagruti Panwala, we can celebrate how much we’ve achieved while recognizing how far we still have to go.

As this industry continues to grow and our hotels welcome the 1.3 billion travelers visiting new places around the world, we must remember the generation that paved the way and consider our impact on the generations to come.

We can empower the next generation to become tomorrow’s hotel industry leaders. But first, we have to get them in the door. We’re working actively with both AAHOA and the American Hotel & Lodging Association and our peers in the industry to develop leading career development programs to help provide funding, training, apprenticeships, and new opportunities for our industry’s employees.

Together, we have a tremendous opportunity to not only impact the experiences of our guests – the traveling class – but to fuel entrepreneurship around the globe for generations to come.


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