Professional certifications benefit the hotel industry
Professional certifications benefit the hotel industry
08 JULY 2016 7:17 AM

The Certified Hotel Asset Manager designation sets high standards for hoteliers and requires them to stay up to date on their knowledge and skills.

A career in the hospitality industry has always offered an environment in which a person could enter a chosen path in a variety of different ways.

Many industry leaders today started at the bottom, possibly carrying luggage as a bellhop, waiting tables or working the midnight shift as a front-desk clerk. Others might have chosen to shore up their education with under- or post-graduate degrees first.

It is not unusual to be with a group of peers who have any number of years of experience that fit one, both or a hybrid of those different entry points into our business.

The beauty of the hospitality industry is that here in the United States, and in fact around the world, wherever there are guests being served, there’s a good chance that the person orchestrating that experience and leading the team has an ongoing hunger for learning and service. That hunger for constantly updating (and upgrading) one’s knowledge base is critical in keeping up with a dynamic industry that requires a very diverse set of skills in our personal tool box.

That is why professional certifications and a mindset and eagerness for learning and networking with our peers are critical.

The American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute began at Mississippi State University in 1953. Even back then, it was clear there would need to be dynamic development and training resources available to fulfill the needs for qualified individuals to run the complex business of hospitality. Today there are 20 certifications, and the AHLEI has a presence both domestically and internationally, educating and testing hospitality professionals for various positions and qualifications.

These resources not only benefit career-minded individuals who entered hospitality for the ongoing opportunities to advance, but they also provide a pool of qualified staff and managers the ability to achieve management and ownerships objectives.

In 2012, the Hospitality Asset Managers Association—in conjunction with esteemed members of academia and senior industry professionals—created the Certified Hotel Asset Manager designation. This marked the first such certification of its kind for this critically important profession.

The CHAM designation was a natural progression of professional certification in the hospitality industry. As the relationship between owners and managers—as well as the proliferation of real estate investment trusts and other ownership structures—becomes more ubiquitous, the role of the professional asset manager becomes more critical. CHAM designees have a minimum of seven years of lead asset-management experience. Most current designees have significantly more than that coupled with very diverse investment, operational and financial experience after previously operating, purchasing, developing or selling hotels.

Filling an open position for a senior asset manager that has been rigorously tested and has earned the Certified Hotel Asset Manager designation is not only prudent, but will prove to be good business in the long term. This need will continue to grow as the industry continues to become more complex, and experienced professionals with well-rounded skill sets become more valuable.

The CHAM exam includes four hours of multiple-choice questions and a case study, challenging the candidate’s mastery of six key areas: the asset-management process; hotel operations; real estate and the physical asset; contracts and legal; financial analysis and benchmarking; and, ultimately, the investment decision. With the recent release of the third edition of “Hotel Asset Management Principles and Practices,” current and future exams will also incorporate some of the very important subject matter included in this updated volume. The separate sections of the exam target the myriad skills and knowledge base that most professional asset managers need to be successful. It is not unusual for an active asset manager to be involved in development, investment, capital expenditure, planning and design, as well as contract negotiations and financial benchmarking, often simultaneously.

Not unlike professional designations in other industries—CPA in accounting, for example—there are ongoing requirements to keep up with the dynamic changes that are a constant in the hospitality industry. Therefore, the designation period lasts five years with a list of criteria to retain CHAM certification. Again, this is not any different than other professions—from medicine to flying jets—that require a person to ensure their skills are honed continually.

I obtained my CHAM designation in July 2012, immediately after it became available. I always have been a strong believer in professional designations. As such, when I was a general manager, I earned my CHA designation, which was an extremely proud moment for me. It demonstrated that I had a deep knowledge of all areas of the hotels which I was responsible for managing. I feel the same about the CHAM designation, as should my colleagues in asset management.

Most of the major brands are at some point in completing their “asset light” strategies. That strategy, which has been taking place for several years now, is the fuel behind the proliferation of public REITs that actively mold their hotel portfolios with a certain investment strategy or “look.” The real estate risk has certainly shifted to owners, which is the reason for the large growth in asset management as a professional career.

As our industry becomes more complex, the role of asset management will continue to evolve. When an experienced asset manager sets goals for, and collaborates with, the management company of the hotel they are representing, it is extremely helpful if that person understands the intricacies of the hotel and what it takes to operate effectively. It is vital that an asset manager is capable of developing the relationships with the teams in the field that are interfacing directly with guests, vendors and other constituencies that can all have either a positive or negative effect on overall investment returns of the asset.

As the CHAM designation becomes the “industry standard,” ownership groups of every type will target this select group of professionals to fulfill their asset-management needs.

Joseph S. Bello is SVP of asset management with Xenia Hotels and Resorts. He has held this position with Xenia or its affiliated entities since 2007. From 2003 to 2007, Bello was director of asset management with CNL Hotels & Resorts, where he had responsibility for a diverse portfolio of hotels. Prior to his roles in asset management, from 1977 to 2003, Bello held regional manager, GM and property-level management positions in upscale branded hotels. He holds an associate of arts degree in business administration from Miami-Dade College. Bello has earned the CHA (Certified Hotel Administrator), and the CHAM (Certified Hotel Asset Manager) certifications.

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