May 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Diversity Initiatives - May 1998 Current Issue
May 1998
Diversity Initiatives

How major hotel chains are responding to NAACP ratings


Sometimes it takes a failing grade to shock a student into studying harder. Likewise for the major hotel chains, which intensified their attention to diversity initiatives after the NAACP gave poor ratings to the entire class.

Last year, the civil rights organization evaluated 15 hotel chains on their overall commitment to diversity - everything from hiring practices to advertising efforts to their use of minority-owned businesses as suppliers. The highest grade earned was a C+.

Whether or not the hotel companies agreed with the NAACP's rating methodology, most agreed to work with the organization to address the issues raised by the survey. "It certainly indicated a lapse" in the industry's diversity practices, says Valerie Ferguson, chairperson of the American Hotel & Motel Association and general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta.

What have the 15 hotel companies done to burnish their images in anticipation of the release of the second NAACP ratings this summer? Following is a chain-by-chain summary.

Adam's Mark Hotels
The brand's owner, HBE Corporation, said it will soon be launching diversity initiatives, perhaps as early as this month. One program could involve creating minority scholarships, but the company was not ready to provide further details at press time.

Best Western International
Of the 15 chains first rated by the NAACP, Best Western is the only one still not participating in the survey. "We are a membership organization," explains Gillian Silver, director of public relations. "We have no information about on-site hiring or placement of people at the property level. We can't answer questions on behalf of our management; our bylaws prohibit us from doing that."

But the chain says it is interested in workplace diversity issues. Silver points to Best Western's involvement with the Hospitality Industry Diversity Institute at the University of Houston's Conrad N. Hilton College. The institute, along with AH&MA, launched an annual "Best Practices Diversity Conference." Best Western sponsors the conference, is a member of the institute's board and participates in seminars and programs.

The company also works with the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality and donates to its scholarship fund. Finally, this year, Best Western is bringing a speaker on diversity to its own business meetings to help members better understand the multicultural business environment.

Cendant Corporation (formerly HFS)
The hotel division - which franchises eight brands, including Ramada - unveiled a comprehensive diversity initiative last November and appointed a manager of diversity development to head it. Components include identifying potential African-American franchisees and suppliers; establishing a mentor program for high school, vocational and college students; making philanthropic contributions to minority causes, and allocating 12 percent of its advertising budget to minority firms.

So far, Cendant has been a sponsor of this year's 29th annual NAACP Image Awards and has selected an agency to handle placement of $2.5 million in advertising in African-American media outlets. The company also has committed $20 million to its existing lease/purchase financing program, "Opportunity of a Lifetime," to assist African Americans with hotel investment. To locate possible franchisees and suppliers, Cendant has participated in meetings of African-American business organizations and joined the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), which works to open up business opportunities to minority-owned companies.

Choice Hotels International
The franchisor of seven brands, including Clarion, formed a minority advisory council that held its first meeting in early March. The council of seven Choice franchisees includes African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics and women.

While the council will set its own agenda, among the topics under consideration are a franchise agreement that addresses minorities' concerns; ways to help minorities develop new hotels; strategies for combatting prejudice, and how to encourage minorities to enter the hospitality industry.

Attempts to attract minority-owned developers and vendors are in place: Choice is advertising in Black Enterprise, sponsoring the magazine's annual Entrepreneurs Conference this year, conducting a direct-mail campaign and attending trade shows. On the recruiting and philanthropy end, Choice recently sponsored the NAACP Image Awards and is sponsoring scholarships through the NMSDC.

Hilton Hotels Corporation
At press time, the chain was heavily in merger talks with Circus Circus. Hilton's corporate communications department released this statement in response to M&C's query about diversity initiatives: "Hilton Hotels, for almost 80 years, has been a good corporate citizen and continues to hire the best people for the job and work with vendors who provide the best in product, service and creativity for the right price."

Holiday Hospitality
The owner of the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands formed a diversity council to review the company's hiring practices, employee relations, new product development and supplier network. Holiday, one of the last chains to agree to work with the NAACP, expected to present an action plan to the civil rights group by the end of this month.

"It's easier to do things internally [at the corporate level, rather than in the hotels], since we are overwhelmingly a franchise organization," says Craig Smith, vice president of corporate affairs. For example, Holiday Hospitality is stepping up efforts to recruit corporate employees from a more diverse pool of candidates.

Holiday has joined the NMSDC to identify minority suppliers that the chain will recommend to franchises, although their use is not mandated.

Hyatt Hotels Corporation
The chain has two programs in place and will soon launch a third under the guidance of Salvador Mendoza, director of diversity. This year, Hyatt debuted "Workplace Values," an ongoing diversity and sensitivity training program.

The second program is an expanded partnership with the Historically and Predominately Black Colleges and Universities Management Consortium; the partnership is now in its third year. Working with schools that have hospitality programs, Hyatt sends selected students to the annual International Hotel/Motel and Restaurant Show in New York City, where Hyatt general managers and divisional vice presidents host workshops on networking, mentoring and career progression. The students are encouraged to apply for summer internships at Hyatt; after graduation, many enter the management trainee program. This year, Hyatt wants to increase the number of students it hosts (up from 15 last year).

Third, starting with the soon-to-be-opened Hyatt Regency McCormick in Chicago, "We will be seeking minority and women vendors" by working with the Chicago Minority Business Development Council, the Chicago Office of Purchases and other groups and agencies, says Mendoza. Hyatt will then extend the effort nationwide.

Marriott International/The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
In the first NAACP rankings, Marriott came out on top with a grade of C+. (Ritz-Carlton was rated separately, but the brand is now included in Marriott's diversity programs.) "We had already been working on these things," says Priscilla Johnson, Marriott's vice president of diversity relations. "I think the reason we got the highest grade is that we were already [addressing] minority franchising and diversity in employment." Since last year's survey, Marriott is seeking to increase its supplier diversity and has hired a vice president for diversity initiatives to oversee the effort.

Currently eight African Americans are developing franchises with Marriott brands. To find potential candidates, the company worked with groups such as the Urban League, the National Black MBA Association and the International Franchise Association.

To handle internal issues, Marriott Lodging has a dedicated diversity department. Diversity awareness training is offered to everyone, from managers to hourly workers. In addition, a small cadre of minority managers founded the Network Group about six years ago for their own professional development. The group held its third national convention in April, drawing about 500 attendees and many of Marriott's senior management team as speakers. "It's a valuable resource for getting to know people and building a strong base of support," says Johnson. "Mr. Marriott shows up every year."

In addition to recruiting employees by advertising in minority publications, Marriott's "Pathways to Independence" welfare-to-work program, launched in 1991, provides life skills and occupational training, followed by full-time employment.

As further proof of its commitment to diversity, Johnson points to numerous accolades. Among them: Marriott was listed in Hispanic Magazine's 1998 annual roundup of the 100 companies that provide the most opportunities for Hispanics, and the Hispanic College Fund named Marriott the 1997 corporate partner of the year.

Omni Hotels
After the company relocated from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Dallas last year, minority new hires at its corporate office increased 7 percent. But "that had nothing to do with the [NAACP] grading," says communications manager Michelle Bennett; it was the result of nearly half of the headquarters jobs having to be refilled.

Last year, after the NAACP rating, Omni advertised in two minority travel trade magazines (the only trade advertising the chain did in 1997), offered to work with NAACP-preferred vendors and invited the NAACP to refer qualified job candidates.

Promus Hotels Corporation/Doubletree
The merger of the two firms, and the relocation of Doubletree to Memphis, Tenn., has provided new opportunities to increase diversity as the company refills positions at headquarters and evaluates its marketing efforts.

Before the NAACP announced its survey results, the company had elected an African-American woman to its board of directors and had set recruiting goals specific to each hotel's local minority population. Ann Rhoades, executive vice president of team services, says, "You need senior players that have made it," because they serve as "internal role models" for others.

Since 58 percent of its employees are minorities, the company has been producing its benefit plans and staff opinion surveys in 14 languages, as well as conducting interviews in languages other than English. "We were trying to do a lot of this long before," says Rhoades. "The NAACP initiative made us be more public about it."

New efforts include hiring a consultant on minority recruiting, hiring an organization to compile a national list of minority-owned vendors, working with a minority-owned ad agency and attending conferences of minority meeting planners.

Last year, Doubletree started a school-to-work program in 20 inner-city high schools to talk about careers in hospitality, and with Doubletree in particular. The company may soon expand the program to colleges.

Radisson Hospitality Worldwide
The company has created a task force and hired a human resources staff member to address issues of diversity in employees, customers, hotel developers and suppliers. "This is not a quick fix, but an initiative that will fall into place over a period of time," says Peter Blyth, president of Radisson development. Future activities were to be discussed at an April meeting. (Results were not available at press time.)

Radisson is now running consumer ads of true-to-life situations at its hotels; the photos depict minorities as guests, rather than as servers. And last fall, Radisson ran an ad in Black Enterprise's franchise edition for the first time. The company continues to look for minority-owned suppliers, in part through the NMSDC, and is searching for a minority-owned ad agency. And Radisson is working with the University of Minnesota to recruit minority management trainees for its corporate office.

ITT Sheraton Corporation
In probably the most radical move among the hotel companies, Sheraton is tying 25 percent of hotel executives' annual bonuses directly to achieving diversity goals. The policy applies to general managers and executive committee members at corporate-owned and -managed hotels in North America. Each hotel must create a plan approved by its division president and Sheraton's 18-member Diversity Management Task Force, originally formed in 1992.

The hotel goals must address all points in Sheraton's updated Diversity Management Plan: employment, vendor relationships, property ownership and franchises, advertising and marketing, and philanthropy. (Another point concerns communications, including a "Best Practices" booklet to be distributed within the chain.)

To date, the chain has been working with a minority recruitment firm, participated in job fairs targeting minorities and joined the NMSDC. Diversity training is part of Sheraton's Executive Education program, and last year the company created the Sheraton Ambassador Relations (ShARe) Initiative, requiring all hotel and corporate executives to be active in two community organizations.

Westin Hotels & Resorts
Working with a diversity consultant, the chain is developing a five-part plan that addresses all employees. Among the topics are "how to set up a mentoring program and a social network so employees get to know people at all levels and in all parts of the organization who can help them to grow," explains Sue Brush, vice president of advertising and public relations. "A lot of it centers around relationship building - once you recruit a diverse population, how do you incorporate them into your corporate culture?"

On the hiring side, Westin has engaged another consultant "to direct us to a more diverse population pool," says Brush. And to increase its network of minority-owned suppliers, the chain has joined the Multicultural Alliance for Foodservice and Hospitality Employers.

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