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Running Your Business:
The Value Of Membership - What Have You Done For Me Lately?
By John Hendrie

J ust as our Guest/Visitors have choices for their Consumer dollars, so do we, as Hospitality businesses, when we select an organization to serve our best interests. These may be civic, cultural, fraternal, professional, personal, trade or even marketing. They are publicly funded, quasi, or private. We look to them for leadership, innovation, representation and "bang for our buck"? We anticipate our needs to be met and our expectations exceeded. After all, that is Customer Service. Have we been satisfied?

What do we find? Many organizations reflect declining membership, waning influence and products/services of questionable benefit. They are struggling for relevance and solvency.

Focusing primarily on Hospitality Trade Associations, let's take a look. Lobbying efforts tackle a myriad of issues from "soup to nuts", like tipped employee's wage, convention center hotels, "cruisin' the boulevard", gaming, liquor by the drink, and, in the private sector, as an aside, even ladies' tee times. But, is this what we believe? Were we asked?

These associations offer a variety of products/services/programs. They run the gamut from telephone and health providers, CPA's to bathroom supplies, education, training and discounts. But, is this what we want? Were we asked?

In many cases, I think all types of representative organizations have lost touch with their audience, and from their perspective, when the active, daily interactions begin to diminish and "the birds stop chirping", I would look around and surmise, "It's too quiet out there. What's up?" Other indicators of a problem are when you chase delinquent dues too long, sponsored events and programs are not well attended, and there is difficulty filling Committee positions, much less Board of Director slots. The constituency is sometimes slow to rally, but the messages are distinct.

There is no magic silver bullet here. Most of us have served these groups in some capacity. We recognize what they face: competition for the member dues, sensitive community, regional, and national issues, a tight economy, internal and external politics, restrictive policies, unenlightened management and directors, and perhaps the worst enemy - ennui. But, it all comes back to worth!

The successful organizations are not static. They continually assess their resources, realign the process, people, products and services to maximize value. Regularly, they survey their constituency, evaluating satisfaction and seeking input. This also includes their Allied members and the organization's staff. Communication is constant, reliable and germane. They are always connected, imaginative and decisive, recognizing that flexibility and adaptability make for progress. But, it all starts with knowing their stake-holders - their needs, their aspirations and their expectations. Then, they deliver like crazy.

Some Hospitality trade associations have become "member-centric". And, many times their progressive and pro-active leadership initiates programs which "raise the bar" for Hospitality. Even recognizing that their constituency may be reluctant at first to embrace new thinking, their wisdom prevails, providing a distinct and competitive posture for their market. That is the Value of Membership.

Still others challenge the trade association mentality and move towards a professional Network design. Here, there is a prescribed scope for their focus, guiding principles, agreements which shape the expectations of the network and the required participation, and accreditation procedures, thereby defining membership entry. There is no longer high risk, due to the targeted message and required activity. Profitability is the goal for all parties. Here the Value and membership requirements are clearly stated.

Hospitality trade associations, and I include Chambers of Commerce and CVB's, are very much a partner in the journey to Remarkable Hospitality, for in most cases they present the public face of our businesses to that Visitor and potential Guest. They help promote our destination, our industry segment and our business on a scale that we, as individual operators, simply cannot. We pay for that effort with our dues or through specific tax revenue. The relationship is indispensable. The leaders are often our neighbors with the best of intentions. The Charters are clear. But, has the respective constituency spoken or even been asked? There is no need for rebellion, but as a stakeholder, your opinions, needs, and expectations must be made known, and you need to participate. Get involved, for it is a two way street!

John Hendrie John Hendrie is CEO of Hospitality Performance, Inc., a full-service hospitality consulting company. With a strong background in Hospitality, Human Resources, Organizational Effectiveness, and Communications, John has devoted his career to establishing Standards of Excellence across varied businesses.

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