Joe McInerney, CEO/President of American Hotel and Lodging Association, recently returned back home after attending a week-long summer summit at downtown Oklahoma City’s Skirvin Hilton. Here’s his thoughts of the visit posted on his blog:
All’s OK in good old OKC
I’m feeling lucky despite the calendar telling me that today is Friday the 13th. This is certainly in part because I’m back in Washington after a very successful week in Oklahoma City attending AH&LA’s Summer Summit. This was a great opportunity for our new and veteran members to make new connections across the industry and make its mark on this emerging tourist destination – even the local paper took notice we were in town.
I touched down in Oklahoma City last Saturday. While I’ve been here many times, I was surprised at the positive transformation of city from a tourist perspective – the Bricktown area was more bustling than I’d seen before, and a variety of restaurants are new on the scene. I was also thrilled to check into The Skirvin Hilton hotel, a historic property first opened in 1911. Though closed for 19 years, its recent acquisition by Marcus Hotels, the Milwaukee-based owners, and the hard work of general manager John Williams have turned the property into a magnificent jewel of a hotel, which undoubtedly contributed not only to the overall success of the conference, but to the total resurgence of downtown Oklahoma City.
One of my first stops before the events of the summit kicked into gear was to the particularly moving Oklahoma City bombing memorial which I visited Sunday morning before church. I encourage everyone who travels to this city to stop by this memorial, which does a spectacular job representing what happened that terrible day more than a decade ago and honoring its victims.
Sunday evening, after the Membership Sales & Marketing committee meeting many members of our staff came into Bricktown for dinner, and I was persuaded from enjoying a plate of my favorite Italian flavor to treating several staff members to fried okra and ribs at Earl’s. With barbeque all the rage here, we joked that you can’t get more than five feet in Oklahoma City without finding a Grade A steak. I again tested this theory on Monday after a day of meetings with a delicious dinner in the hotel with my cousin’s son, who is a police sergeant in town.
Tuesday really kicked off the summit. At our board meeting in the afternoon, 70 out of 83 board members were there, which I believe is not only a testament to our members’ active involvement in the association, but also the draw of the thriving hotel community that is Oklahoma City. We were even lucky enough to have the president of the local CVB provide insight into the city’s expanding tourism product at this meeting.
That night, we headed to Toby Keith’s “I love this Bar & Grill” for our opening reception, where two BMI songwriters Rob Crosby and Billy Montana performed their renditions of many #1 country hits they’ve written for various singers. The night was young, so we continued with the Hotel PAC Mix & Bowl event. I cheered on Tom Corcoran, other AH&LA execs, and industry CEOs from the sidelines. Congratulations to the allied team led by Fiberbuilt, which won first place, and of course the New York team whose matching “I Love NY” t-shirts earned them the honor of Best Dressed.
The rest of the summit was filled with more committee meetings and educational sessions. On Wednesday morning, Oklahoma state’s Lt. Governor Jari Askins expanded on the great tourism initiatives throughout the state. The Lodging Industry Summit gave members a realistic outlook on where the industry is headed, and the green panel left them with actionable ideas for green implementation at their properties. As always, the annual Stars of the Industry program was an especially moving tribute to those employees and properties who have truly epitomized spirit of hospitality, going above and beyond in their careers and communities. Closing the summit, chairs of our more than 30 committees give updates on their current projects, keeping all in the know about dedicated efforts and leading the way to possible collaborations among committees in the future.
Thursday, after all was said and done, I was able to sit down for coffee with my old friend Jay Aggarwal. A colleague from my days at Sheraton, Jay was the GM of the first Sheraton Oklahoma City property, and now works for the Petroleum Club. Then I hopped a plane back to Washington where I’m speaking today with Choice Hotels employees via Webinar on the importance of diversity in the lodging industry, and how AH&LA is addressing the issues.