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New AH&LA CEO promises strong leadership
February 28 2013

Katherine Lugar says her experience at a retail industry association prepared her for the challenges she faces as an advocate for the hotel business.

  • Katherine Lugar headed public affairs at the Retail Industry Leaders Association.
  • Grassroots communications is important so policymakers understand the size of the hotel industry footprint, said Lugar.
  • Outgoing CEO Joe McInerney plans to stay active in the hotel industry.
By Ed Watkins
HNN contributor

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Katherine Lugar, the new president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, wants to be a bold advocate for the U.S. hotel industry. During a conference call Wednesday, Lugar said it’s important to build strong lines of communication between the association and its members.

“So much of what I’ve done before has prepared me for this challenge,” said Lugar, 42, who previously was executive VP of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, where she headed the group’s public affairs efforts. “There are so many similarities between retail and lodging. I’ve loved working for a consumer-facing industry, and this is a different version of the same thing.”

Katherine Lugar

She cited a number of issues both industries face: health care, immigration, labor, trade policies, taxation and more. “The AH&LA wants to build an advocacy shop for the future, and that challenge really excites me,” she said.

She stressed the importance of clear, effective communications from the association to its members, other stakeholders, elected officials and the traveling public. Her goal is for the industry to speak with one voice.

“Hoteliers have more at stake in Washington and in their state capitals than ever before. Part of it is assuring that we have a grassroots program so policymakers understand the very large footprint this industry has in every community,” she said.

Prior to joining the RILA six years ago, Lugar was VP of federal government relations for Travelers Insurance and before that VP of legislative and political affairs for the National Retail Association.

The AH&LA employed a search committee comprised of members and used search firm Korn/Ferry International to find the new CEO. Lugar said she was approached to interview for the job. She assumes her new role on 17 April, succeeding Joseph A. McInerney, who’s been at the AH&LA helm since 2001 and has been involved with the organization since 1963 when he was personnel director of the Sheraton Chicago.

Accomplishments under McInerney
During an earlier interview with Wednesday, McInerney outlined some of the association’s accomplishments during his tenure. Most of his work centered on the fiscal and organizational structure of the group.

“When I got there, we immediately saw some changes had to be made,” said McInerney. “We were losing members, the magazine was losing $1 million a year and we had 76 people on staff. We got to work reorganizing and restructuring to streamline efficiency and eliminate duplication.”

Joseph A. McInerney

Under his leadership, the association reduced expenses by $2 million in the first year, outsourced and eventually sold its magazine, and consolidated a number of departments. In addition, the association’s foundation and educational institute merged, creating more savings.

An even greater shift in the association came during the early 2000s when it evolved from a federation of 52 state and city hotel associations to a dual-membership model that allows individual hotels and hotel companies to join the group.

“And even though we were a smaller organization, that shift allowed us to provide better and more-focused services to our members,” he said. Examples include the creation of councils within the association aimed at multi-culturalism and diversity, women leaders, young hoteliers and student chapters.

Saying he “flunked retirement” when he tried it before joining the AH&LA, McInerney said he intends to stay active in the industry once he completes the transition of power to Lugar. He said he’s open to working on special projects and temporary assignments with hotel companies.

2/28/2013 10:28:00 AM
Welcome Katherine and thank you Joe. One of the greatest blessings of AH&LA is that the association is privileged to have very fine leadership. It ia s a great organisation with a global impact. It is wonderful to be part of it's mission and cause.
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