Hotel conferences are great. But something’s missing.

LinkedIn is a heckuva barometer. Sometimes you post things to it that garner no attention; other times, something sticks. 

In January, I attended, like I do most years, the Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS) in Los Angeles. The gathering brings together the glitterati of the hotel industry, as they hobnob and schmooze along the corridors of the JW Marriott LA Live. Tinseltown is a fitting venue for the conclave. 

Not unlike other of the large hotel conferences, most of the panel sessions aren’t what one would typically call diverse — read older white men. And they know it. Consider one panel focused on accountability and DEI matters at ALIS: four white CEOs. Finally, Geoff Ballotti, CEO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, spoke up about the inanity of no women or no other racial identities on the panel. “How is that possible?” he asked. It’s a question he should likely have been asking himself, too.  

Thing is, though still vastly outnumbered, there are black and Asian and Latino hotel executives at industry events; there are women executives, also — the conferences just need to do a better job of incorporating them into the content program. 

What prompted me to post on LinkedIn had nothing to do with that, however. I wrote: “I have been going to hotel conferences for well over a decade now. We discuss things like the labor gap, but not one panel is filled with, wait for it, ACTUAL HOTEL WORKERS! They, the lifeblood of the industry, are eerily unrepresented at every hotel conference. I think any operational panel would benefit with front-line hotel workers on it rather than just the CEO.” 

I received an outpouring of likes from the hotel community and even from conference producers. There is no greater benefit than to hear from the actual people who deliver the service and run the quotidian tasks of a hotel. This voice is repeatedly absent from hotel conferences. Listen, on the investment side, I get it, but you can’t — shouldn’t — have an operational-focused panel without a front-line workers discussion. 

Part of the problem is money. It’s a little like politics: those with most of the money usually win. Conferences are built on sponsorship dollars, which are raised from the likes of the lodging C-corps and private equity shops. And when they put up those big bucks, they usually get speaking slots and, invariably, put forward the C-suite to represent them (see white men).  

How about this: If companies have the ability to elect who should speak on their behalf, these companies should make it a priority to diversify their representation. Instead of a third-party management company COO, why not hear from a front-desk manager? Better yet, why not a panel of hourly workers sharing their experiences and giving an on-the-ground perspective? 

Hearing from the top is important, if not insipid. Hearing from the boots on the ground is real, if not necessary.