Choice focuses on underrepresented groups at convention

At its 68th annual convention, held at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Choice Hotels International put the spotlight on its efforts to bring underrepresented groups into the industry with several events and the reintroduction and renaming of one of its programs.

“Choice is paving the way to extend opportunities for hotel ownership to those who haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to participate,” said John Lancaster, VP, emerging markets, franchise development and owner relations, Choice Hotels International. “Some of our barriers to hotel ownership are disproportionately affected racial and ethnic groups, female and veteran entrepreneurs.”

Prior to the official start of the three-day event, the company hosted a SOAR (Supporting Ownership Access & Representation) development seminar to reintroduce its program—formerly known as Emerging Markets—dedicated to creating those opportunities.

“Choice has a long-standing history of bringing more diverse hotel franchisees into the system, and we are enhancing this commitment with our announcement of SOAR,” said Lancaster. “For more than 21 years, Choice has awarded and financially supported more than 370 executed franchise agreements. Choice is the first hotel company to have dedicated a development team to this initiative.”

Vaughn Irons, principal, Stonecrest Resorts, which is working with Choice to bring one of its brands to Privi, an adaptive-reuse of a 144,000-sq.ft. former Sears building in Stonecrest, GA, said the time was right for the program to be reintroduced.

“One of the things I talk about all the time is that you can’t use 20th-century solutions on 21st-century problems,” he said. “The minority and women programs of 20 years ago were trying to solve the problems from the ’90s. What John and his team are working on now is solving the problems of today by offering solutions that are compatible with this generation of entrepreneurs that are moving forward today.”

The full-day seminar, attended by prospective and current owners and operators, featured a Q&A with former NFL player and Comfort Inn and Mainstay Suites owner Chinedum Ndukwe; discussions about breaking barriers to entry within the industry; and an evening networking reception.

Vaughn said that it is programs like this that help the underrepresented community looking to thrive in the industry. “What it means to me is it is all based on relationships. The Choice strategy is more relationship based. We have a personal relationship with the SOAR team.”

In addition to the development seminar, the SOAR program hosted its second annual HERtels by Choice Hotels luncheon and seminar on the first day of the convention, bringing together women owners and potential owners for networking, mentorship and conversations around the barriers to entry for women owners in hospitality.

In 2023, Choice’s Emerging Markets program, now SOAR, awarded nine Black and African-American franchise deals and 17 deals through the HERtels program, and since the HERtels program launched in 2021, 80 women have participated in the program, leading to 59 new female-owned hotels.

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