William “Chip” Rogers served as AHLA President and CEO for five years

Former President and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), William ‘Chip’ Rogers spoke to HM about the global travel landscape and challenges facing US hotels.

A recognisable figure in the US hotel landscape and a former Republican member of the Georgia State Senate, William ‘Chip’ Rogers has spent the last 15 years in key leadership roles at major US hotel industry associations.

After a decade with the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) – the largest hotel owners association in the world – Rogers most recently served as President and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) before announcing his resignation in early March.

On a recent visit to Sydney for a keynote presentation at Ted’s Tech Conference, Rogers spoke to HM about life after AHLA and key developments in the US.

Chip, you’ve just recently announced your resignation. What were your reasons for leaving AHLA and what’s next for you?

When I came into the association, for the most part, we were a federal advocacy team. We didn’t have much, or any, presence in the states and cities. I had some goals of building out our foundation – which we tripled in size – and creating what has turned into a global campaign against human trafficking in hotels. Then, building out our team so that we could effectively advocate for hotels, not just at the federal level, but at the state and local level as well. When I arrived, we had about 42 employees and today there’s, I think, 93 employees. We were able to do all that and we also created a significant events team. Last year, we held our first major hotel conference – it was the third largest first-year conference of any kind in the US in 2023. We’ve had a lot of successes, everything was firing on all cylinders, but the biggest thing for me was my travel schedule. I hit 240 nights on the road last year; the year before that, well over 200. I just got to the point where, physically, it was beginning to take a toll on me and the team. The team that I put in place is doing everything we could possibly do and so I felt like it was a good time.

Are you planning to remain in the hotels industry? Do you have any plans for what’s next?

I’ll definitely take a break. I love the fact that my first trip post-employment was to come to Australia which has been fantastic. I’ve got some opportunities already available. I’m certainly not opposed to coming back into the hotel industry – I love it, I think it’s the best industry in the world – but I’m not 100% guaranteed that I’ll come back.

[Editor note: since this interview, Rogers has commenced a role as Special Advisor at consulting and government relations firm, Ervin Graves Strategy Group.]

What are the big challenges facing the US hotel industry at the moment?

The biggest challenge continues to be labour – there’s just not enough people in the workforce. The US economy has, unfortunately for many years now, millions more job openings than there are people looking for work and so that unbalance has done two things. One, it has created a scenario where hotels don’t have enough people to operate at what you would consider 100% efficiency, like they did before the pandemic. Secondly, because there are so many job openings that has created significant wage inflation, and so especially in the hotel industry, wages have risen at a rate much faster than the rest of the economy. That wage inflation is really hurting the bottom line for a lot of hoteliers.

How is the AHLA tackling this labour shortage?

This issue has persisted for many years. Even before the pandemic, there were hundreds of thousands of job openings, so I think it’s an above-all approach, finding people that typically don’t come into the workforce. There are a lot of employers that are really focusing on recruiting non-violent offenders after they have served their time in prison. They’re looking for an opportunity to work, and oftentimes hotels – particularly back of house in hotels and restaurants – is a good starting point for them to rebuild their lives. AHLA has a programme called Opportunity Youth, targeting 18 to 24-year-olds that are out of the workforce, but have a good hospitality skillset. Then there are also efforts to urge Congress to allow more legal immigration into the US to grow the legal workforce.

What are you seeing in the US in terms of travel trends? Are hotels feeling the effects of the slow return of travellers from China and other parts of Asia?

Absolutely, especially on the West Coast of America, Asia travel is just not back to where it was. Even a place like Hawaii, that traditionally has a significant portion of its annual visitors come from Japan, that’s not back either. Everyone’s hoping it gets back there someday, but it seems to be quite a way off. The East Coast is typically dominated by European travel, but the strength of the US dollar has made it much cheaper for Americans to go to Europe as opposed to Europeans coming to America.

What is the biggest trend you’re seeing in hotel development?

The biggest development trend in the US is the explosion in extended-stay properties, which really plays into the rise of bleisure travel. Each of the major brands continues to come out with different products to the point where sometimes it’s really difficult to differentiate one from the other. Brands are getting much better at understanding what specific types of guests want and creating products tailored to those guests.

This interview was first published in the June edition of HM magazine.