Over the next 10 years, the Hispanic population in the United States is projected to increase 34 percent to 66 million. And, you can look far beyond cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, and San Antonio to see an emerging population of potential travelers. What’s more, the Hispanic population represents a largely untapped pool of business owners, especially in the hotel industry.
“There are about 1,400 firms that are owners of hotels and/or accommodations. That can be anything from hotels to motels to bed and breakfasts,” says Angela Gonzalez-Rowe, president of the Latino Hotel & Restaurant Association (LHRA). That’s a small number when one considers that there are more than 50,000 hotels alone in the United States. “The real issue comes from education as to what opportunities are available in lodging and how do these potential entrepreneurs gain access to capital.”
Gonzalez-Rowe will be one of the featured panelists at The HR & Diversity Summit presented by Lodging in cooperation with Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration, to be held Sept. 5-7 at Omni Parker House in Boston, Mass.
For Hispanics and other minority entrepreneurs breaking into the hotel business is no easy task. Gonzalez-Rowe points out that many lending institutions won’t even talk to entrepreneurs wishing to invest in hotels unless they already have two or three properties already under their belts. That leaves the hotel industry in a predicament. The future owners and leaders of the industry will come from non-traditional investors in the hotel industry, but without programs and education to peak their interest and to advise them on ways to break into the business, the pool of future owners and developers could potentially diminish.
“Our organization is about education and identifying sources of capital for those entrepreneurs looking to invest in this industry,” Gonzalez-Rowe says. Often, that path to ownership is paved by the brands through programs and efforts to not only help entrepreneurs enter the business, but also to turn current employees into budding entrepreneurs.
According to Gonzalez-Rowe, Hispanics are one group primed for success in the hospitality industry. “Latinos have found ways to entrepreneurship, and they’ve entered the restaurant industry,” she says, pointing out that there are approximately 62,000 Latino-owned firms in the country. “Latino’s have a natural tendency to gravitate toward hospitality and service industries. That’s because we excel at it.
“There just needs to be a certain level of education that takes place within the community that says, ‘You’ve been working in a hotel and you’ve been working your way up into general management. The next step is hotel ownership. With you’re experience working in hotels operationally, you’re more likely to get access to capital,’ “ she continues.
The goal is to get hotel companies to get behind the effort so that they are creating incentive for minorities to enter into hotel ownership. And there is incentive for hotels in return.
“Probably one of the biggest success stories in this is McDonald’s. What they did was found a core group of Latinos who could successfully navigate their system and become franchise owners,” Gonzalez-Rowe says. (Patricia Harris, chief diversity officer of McDonald’s, is also a featured speaker at the The HR & Diversity Summit, and will tell the story of McDonald’s success in building diversity ownership.) “With that concept, they’ve built more Latinos into their system. The same can be true of the hotel industry, but it needs to be willing to get behind the effort, educate, and to create incentives for people to move into this direction.”