Most hotel guests are unlikely to even know the name of the property’s owner, much less the gender or race. Yet increasing diversity among hospitality leadership has been a goal of the industry for years.
While Black employees represent almost 20% of the hospitality workforce, less than 2% of hotel owners are Black, according to the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers.
And while women saw gains last year in leadership roles, serving as CEO, president or founder in one of every 10.3 positions, the improvement was slight, up from one of every 11.2 positions in 2019, according to the nonprofit Castell Project.
Yet advocates see signs of what they hope will lead to greater progress.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts recently announced deals for 18 hotels across the United States through its Black Owners and Lodging Developers (BOLD) program, which it established to help Black entrepreneurs navigate the steps toward becoming hotel owners and developers.
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Similarly, Marriott last year introduced “Bridging the Gap,” a multi-year, $50 million development program that seeks to increase diversity among hotel development and ownership. The company intends to use its relationships with seasoned hotel developers, operators and lenders to assist eligible owners’ hotel projects, as well as providing greater access to capital.
Hyatt Hotels has a policy to ensure at least two diverse candidates are considered for every key leadership role, according to Ronisha Goodwin, the company's director of global diversity, equity and inclusion.
Speaking of the industry’s efforts to increase diversity in leadership roles in November during The Phocuswright Conference in Phoenix, Goodwin said, “I think we have deployed an extreme amount of tactics and programs and there’s a lot of effort, but we haven’t seen the results yet.”
Tracy Prigmore, founder and general partner at real estate development firm TLTSolutions, agrees. She has been a leading advocate for greater gender and minority representation through She Has a Deal and is encouraged by the progress she’s seen since creating that program in 2019 to encourage more female hoteliers. This year’s event will be April 27-28 at Marriott headquarters in Bethesda, MD.
“I think there’s more awareness and willingness to make changes, as you can see by the programs like Wyndham’s BOLD and Marriott’s Bridging the Gap,” she says.
Prigmore cites examples of progress in large hotel chains that have modified requirements for things like scale and payment structures to allow more contracts to go to minority-owned suppliers, which might otherwise be too small to qualify. She hopes more businesses will follow suit.
“Let’s recognize where there are inequities,” she says. “And let’s look at that target group, understand those barriers and then let’s make adjustments that facilitate getting those new owners into the programs.”
Innovative growth from diversity
Within its BOLD program, Wyndham seeks to leverage its scale and network to connect aspiring hoteliers to partners committed to their success. Features include franchise fee discounts and subsidized support with marketing and sales, though each deal is tailored to the individual developer or owner. Qualified participants can also gain access to operational support and financing opportunities, networking events and educational outreach.
“There's an immense gap when it comes to the representation of Black hotel owners, which is why it's crucial that players like Wyndham find and champion new opportunities to drive diversity," says Galen Barrett, vice president of strategic development at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. “With agreements for nearly 20 hotels in our pipeline, BOLD by Wyndham is proving there is opportunity in our industry for Black entrepreneurs and that our industry will be all the better for it.”
Vaughn Irons, principal of Georgia-based Stonecrest Resorts, was the inaugural member of BOLD when the program launched in 2022. His 110-room property about 20 miles east of Atlanta is expected to break ground later this year.
“Having the backing of Wyndham means having the support and resources of the world's largest hotel franchising company behind our community's desire to fuel and inspire Black excellence and wealth creation,” Irons says. “Wyndham is a true partner and their constant engagement with us is the most precious part of the experience.”
While applauding programs like BOLD and Bridging the Gap, Prigmore sees more that needs to be done, especially when it comes to increasing access to the capital needed to secure the loans that get projects done.
Signing the deal is one thing, but closing on the loan is a whole other thing. The question is: How do you get everyone across the finish line?
Tracy Prigmore - TLTSolutions
“Signing the deal is one thing, but closing on the loan is a whole other thing,” she says. “The question is: How do you get everyone across the finish line?”
She’s encouraged from her work in striving for more gender diversity that efforts are underway to do just that. In the end, she’s confident diversity will be its own reward, for the hospitality industry and travel as a whole.
“The world is yearning to experience the brilliance of women and people of color and the products and services they can bring to the marketplace,” she says. “We don’t even know all that we’re missing because it’s so homogenous among those who are [in leadership roles].
“When we have more diversity … I believe the industry will experience innovative growth because now you’re speaking to many more people who want to enjoy travel.”