Meetings & Conventions: Diversity Initiatives - May
How major hotel chains are responding to NAACP
BY DAN NIGROS
ometimes 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
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
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
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
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."
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
Holiday has joined the NMSDC to identify minority suppliers that
the chain will recommend to franchises, although their use is not
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
Marriott International/The Ritz-Carlton Hotel
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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