The fledgling Hispanic Hotels Owners Association is making great strides. The Washington, DC-based group, formed just a year ago with the intent of grooming high-net-worth individuals in the Hispanic community for hotel ownership and development, last week closed its first Hotel Investment Summit–this on the heels of a major strategy discussion to plot the course and goals of the organization for the next few years. Spearheading the effort is founder and president Angela Gonzales-Rowe, who sat down with for an exclusive interview just prior to the summit to outline the association’s challenges and the plans. This all began with conversations you had with Hilton Hotels?

Gonzales-Rowe: We started communicating with Hilton Hotels in December of 2005. Hilton was very much involved in the development of this association and was the first to sign on as a corporate founding partner with a $100,000 grant. And what other hotel companies have joined since?

Gonzales-Rowe: Marriott has also come in as a corporate founding partner. Intercontinental, Wyndham Hotels, Choice, Carlson and Hyatt are all sponsors. What’s the mission?

Gonzales-Rowe: We were organized to offer educational programs and business networks that are designed to build an awareness of the employment, procurement and development opportunities that exist in the lodging industry. We provide our members with the resources, support and information to assist them as a hotel owner, operator or developer. Talk to me a little about the opportunities for the Hispanic community, and the stereotypes–the prejudice and the discrimination. What would necessitate the formation of the organization?

Gonzales-Rowe: That’s a very interesting question. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Hispanic community has faced discrimination per say in becoming hotel owners. We can all agree that getting into the business of hotel ownership is a high-barrier-to-entry investment. It wasn’t so much that we were being excluded, but it was more a process of identifying the individuals or groups of individuals who could execute those deals. There was a lack of education about the opportunities that exist. When I became a consultant to Hilton Hotels and I was helping them identify high net-worth individuals who could execute hotel deals, the majority of Hispanic investors said they didn’t feel comfortable with that kind of investment because they didn’t know about the hotel business. So it’s mostly an educational function?

Gonzales-Rowe: Yes, it’s the whole reason we organized–to provide the educational resources for high net-worth investors to educate themselves on the opportunities and the process of becoming hotel owners. Have you been able to track your progress?

Gonzales-Rowe: In the past we partnered with hotel companies in one-day hotel-development seminars. We invited high net-worth individuals to come and listen in on the process of becoming an owner. Depending on the brand, the number of people who would come varied. The Hispanic community is very brand-loyal. Whenever we did an event with Hilton, Marriott or Intercon, we would get higher numbers. Hilton did in fact receive a lot of interest–somewhere between three and six did actually enter into the process of getting a franchise agreement. Does that work better in certain geographic areas than others–the Sunbelt as opposed to the Northwest?

Gonzales-Rowe: Our Hilton events all took place in Cabo San Lucas. We invited investors to come down for a couple of days, and they came from all over. I would imagine they would come from all over, but would they expect to go to a particular area where there is a higher proportion of Hispanic people?

Gonzales-Rowe: That’s part of the reason we chose Miami as the destination for our first hotel investment series. So where do you want to be in two, three or four years?

Gonzales-Rowe: It’s funny you ask that, because we just finished our strategic planning in April. We had our board come together for a session out of which came some interesting goals. One goal is to double the amount of Hispanic owned, operated and developed hotels within four years. I was expecting you to say double your membership. You cut right to the chase.

Gonzales-Rowe: There isn’t a lack of people who can execute the deals, it’s just getting them in the process. There are over 30,000 Hispanics in this country who have the financial means to execute a hotel deal. So if you double the number of Hispanic-owned, operated or developed hotels . . .

Gonzales-Rowe: Currently our membership represents 115 properties, so our goal is to increase that number to 230. What other goals have you set for yourself?

Gonzales-Rowe: First is to live up to the educational component of our mission. Then we need to help members with the rest of it–the financing, and when there might be one or two people who might not have the means to execute a deal, we can partner them with another person to get them through that process. You must have looked with special interest at what has been happening on Capitol Hill the past few weeks.

Gonzales-Rowe: Immigration reform is definitely a hot topic and we have debated how we’re going to move through the development of our association. A legislative agenda is one of the things we determined we would not focus on for now. We are definitely going to watch it and work with the American Hotel & Lodging Association, but at this time we aren’t going to take a stand on any piece of legislation until we have our own governmental affairs department. But personally, and recognizing that these aren’t necessarily the association’s views, what are your feelings?

Gonzales-Rowe: Personal service is the lifeblood of the lodging industry, and it’s not something that can be automated or outsourced. You have to hire workers who embody those qualities. I think it was the US Bureau of Labor statistics that said by 2014, the hotel industry is going to need something like 300,000 employees. That’s a significant amount of people. You have to ask this–where will we get the workforce? If you have people coming into this country who want to work, we should have an immigration reform policy that works.

Our mission is threefold. As I said, the first goal is to increase the number of Hispanic owned, operated and developed hotels. Two is to increase the number of Hispanic business owners who service this industry. And most important is career development in the form of education. That starts with high school programs and goes up through post-graduate work. Those are items we are working on and developing. We hope to partner with some of our existing nonprofit associations to get them implemented very quickly. When do you see forming a lobbying group?

Gonzales-Rowe: Within the next two to three years. It helps when we increase the number of hotels and our membership base, so that we have a unified voice to take to Capitol Hill.

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