A Q&A with AAHOA President & CEO Cecil P. Staton on AAHOA’s 2021-2023 Strategic Plan
by HEATHER CARNES
AAHOA’s 2021-2023 Strategic Plan, “Three Years, One Vision: AAHOA’s Strategic Vision for the Future,” took effect January 2021.
The new plan will drive the direction of AAHOA for the next three years with a focus on AAHOA serving as the foremost source for hotel industry education and information, advancing hoteliers’ business interests through advocacy, being the primary resource for connecting the industry, and attracting, retaining, and developing top talent to the association. Foundational to this plan is a new vision statement: To be the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners.
Today’s Hotelier sat down with AAHOA President & CEO Cecil P. Staton to discuss the plan, what it means for AAHOA and those the organization serves, and how it couldn’t come at a more critical time. Ultimately, the fulfillment of this plan will benefit AAHOA Members – bringing them what they need as we continue down the path toward recovery.
Heather Carnes: You have vast experience in creating and implementing strategic plans for large organizations. Can you speak about your experience and how this helped drive the direction for AAHOA’s plan?
Cecil P. Staton: When you mention strategic plans, often you’ll see a skeptical look come across someone’s face. Strategic plans are perceived to be tedious or dull. Many times, that comes from the reality that organizations will go through a strategic-planning process to only put the plan on the shelf and never refer to it until it’s time for the next plan.
I’ve always taken the opposite approach. I believe strategic plans are paramount to success. They are a roadmap for what an organization wants to achieve over a period of time and can be a dominant force for bringing every aspect of an organization together to achieve excellence and common goals.
HC: Why now? Did AAHOA create a new plan in response to COVID-19’s impact on the industry? How does it play into recovery?
CPS: As we know, the pace of change is so rapid today, with multiple factors at play disrupting “business as usual.” Things change so quickly, especially the advances in technology and their impact on the organization.
Because a lot can happen in five years, AAHOA set out to develop a shorter three-year strategic plan even before COVID-19 ravaged our industry. It’s really something of a coincidence that our five-year strategic plan was ending right about the same time COVID-19 became a serious issue. We used the significant impact of COVID-19 as a jumping-off point to develop our new plan.
We saw in the research that our industry was going to be in recovery mode for the next three years. We thought a three-year plan was the right approach for this cycle. As we like to say, the road to recovery runs through AAHOA, and we’ve reflected the plan to bring this statement to life.
HC: Tell us a bit about the strategic planning process and what it means for AAHOA.
CPS: In developing the plan, AAHOA conducted an extensive audit of where we were currently at and the ways in which we wanted to fulfill our mission. We also set about talking to all of our constituencies, looking at the industry and where AAHOA fits into it, and how we can become who we need to become based on member needs and where the industry is headed.
And in the midst of that, we had to deal with COVID-19 and the implications it had for our industry and its recovery over the next three years. It was quite a lengthy, cooperative process over many months that involved the input of many to bring a viable plan together that could be embraced by everyone.
Tell us more about AAHOA’s quest to be the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners.
Every great strategic plan begins with a vision statement about where you want to go. We wanted to think boldly in this process about AAHOA’s role. My goal is for AAHOA to be the most significant and relied upon entity within our industry. We thought about everything we do at AAHOA and how we wanted this to evolve over the next three years. I believe our new vision captures this well.
HC: Talk about AAHOA’s core values and how this will further the organization over the next three years.
CPS: We have a number of core values as a part of our new strategic plan. These are the things that will guide us and be the foundation for all we hope to achieve this cycle.
We are now almost 20,000-members strong, as the largest hotel owners association in the nation. Everything in this plan is focused upon our members, their needs, and how we can be helpful to them so that their businesses can succeed.
AAHOA has a volunteer base that is second to none, and it is their pride and passion for AAHOA that sets us apart. Over time, we have also recruited professionals to join our team full time at our offices in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. It’s vital to our success that we be one team. Not three teams or even two teams – AAHOA is one team set out on a mission together to accomplish all we’ve set out to achieve.
We are living in a time of rapid change and great disruption. That’s what COVID-19 is, a great disruptor for our industry – for hoteliers especially. We’ve got to look to the future… to ensure we acknowledge where things are headed and know where AAHOA needs to position itself to have the most positive impact upon our members’ businesses.
Integrity is a word that’s tossed around a lot, but we want to make sure in everything we do, that we embrace and embody integrity, we’re doing what is right, and we’re doing it for the right reasons.
There’s no virtue in being mediocre. We want to exhibit excellence in every aspect of our work, from our communications, educational offerings, and events to our advocacy with the brands and with state, local, and federal governments and everything in between.
The plan has four focus areas. Can you tell us more about those and how they’ll elevate AAHOA and help it focus your efforts?
Focus Area 1:
For AAHOA to serve as the foremost resource for hotel owners when it comes to the information and education they need.
We want AAHOA to be first in thought for America’s hotel owners and, frankly, for the industry at large. If you want to know about the needs of hoteliers, about the challenges they face, AAHOA will be the trusted resource.
Focus Area 2:
To advance hotelier’s collective business interests through advocacy.
AAHOA’s previous strategic plan was critical in setting the organization up for success to achieve the hallmarks of this new plan. Over the last five years, AAHOA intentionally and diligently developed relationships with members of Congress and White House administrations. Establishing AAHOA’s office and professional team in Washington, D.C., was essential to creating a lasting presence and resource for federal decision-makers.
Just in the past year, we’ve had a huge impact upon the CARES Act and the loan programs by ensuring our government officials, at all levels, understand the unique challenges and interests of America’s hoteliers. We were able to share this critical information with lawmakers quickly because they already know and trust AAHOA. We’re also very engaged in advocacy with the brands. Advocacy will continue to be a primary focus of AAHOA’s work throughout the strategic plan.
Focus Area 3:
To be the primary resource for connecting the industry.
Hosting more than 150-events each year, AAHOA is known for bringing hotel owners, vendors, and industry leaders together at town halls, regional conferences, and trade shows across the country. I can’t tell you how much I have been looking forward to my first in-person AAHOA Convention & Trade Show! While we haven’t been able to gather in person recently, we are re-envisioning AAHOA events to ensure each event connects owners to the invaluable resources, people, and tools they need to steer their businesses through recovery.
Focus Area 4:
To attract and retain top talent for the association.
We’re on a mission, and we want the best of the best to serve alongside us as we work to achieve it. We’re committed to encouraging and fostering the development of our volunteers and professionals to help them do what they do best. That means helping them better understand the industry, grow within their work, and have the tools that will help them be successful.
HC: What does the Strategic Plan mean for AAHOA Members? What does it mean for AAHOA’s Industry Partners?
CPS: I want our members and industry partners to know that this plan is ultimately about them. It’s about finding ways to ensure they are successful in their businesses. Every element of our strategic plan is designed to provide the best in class resources hoteliers need – regardless of where they are at in their business ownership journey – to help their businesses thrive. Whether that’s through events, networking, our advocacy initiatives, professional development opportunities, or keeping abreast of the latest trends in the industry, AAHOA is committed to being the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners.
In addition, AAHOA provides access to nearly 20,000 hotel owners; nobody else can boast that. And when you bring that talent and entrepreneurial skill together with our industry partners, we can do great things and drive the changes that will come for our industry.
HC: How will AAHOA’s Board of Directors and other volunteers help AAHOA achieve the goals laid out in its Strategic Plan?
CPS: The AAHOA Board of Directors, who set these goals and adopted this plan, plays a vital role in achieving what’s set forth in it. The AAHOA Board is charged with ensuring the organization has the resources needed to accomplish this plan throughout its three-year lifespan and will be closely following the organization’s progress throughout.
HC: What part of the Strategic Plan inspires you most?
CPS: I never shy away from a challenge. While this economic crisis is testing our members and the industry, I believe it has presented us with an opportunity to cement our priorities and come together to accomplish great things on behalf of our members.
I really do believe it’s AAHOA’s time to lead; it’s AAHOA’s time to unite this industry and be what that vision statement encapsulates: to be the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners. No other entity within our industry has the potential that AAHOA has. That inspires and excites me.
HC: We know that a plan is just that – a plan. How will you implement it, and what are some of the tactical things we can expect from AAHOA now and into the future?
CPS: If utilized properly, a strategic plan will help you zero in on what really matters, but it also prevents you from straying into areas that are outside the purview of what you’ve said the organization needs to achieve during the cycle. I’m having my copy bound and it will be on my desk and with me at every board meeting – serving as our single source of truth when making business decisions.
We’ll be working cooperatively, making data-based decisions, and keeping our eye on the horizon because we have many ambitious goals. We’re going to be working with our volunteer leadership, our staff, and our vendor partners to make sure we are a step ahead of where this industry is headed.
HC: How optimistic are you about the future?
CPS: We’ve just come through an extraordinarily difficult year for our industry, perhaps the most difficult in modern history, and we know our challenges are not over. Our industry may not see a full recovery to pre-COVID-19 numbers until 2023 or later. That’s a long time.
But I want all of our members and this industry to know that AAHOA is here. The road to recovery runs straight through AAHOA. This strategic plan is our commitment to that.
AAHOA’s Strategic Plan At-a-Glance
To be the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners.
To advance and protect the business interests of hotel owners through advocacy, industry leadership, professional development, member benefits, and community engagement.
Education: Serve as the foremost source for hotel industry education and information
Advocacy: Advance hoteliers’ collective business interests through advocacy
Resource: Be the primary resource for connecting the industry
Team: Attract, retain, and develop top talent to the Association
Want to Learn More? Download AAHOA’s Strategic Plan at AAHOA.com/StrategicPlan.