Choice launches alliance for Black franchise owners

Choice Hotels Owners African American Alliance delegates [top row from left]: Robert Nesbitt, president; Frederic Washington, VP; Chanel Grant; Zane Major; [bottom row from left] Michael Ringwood; Larry Tripplett; Andrea Williams; Reggie Winfield. Photo credit: Choice Hotels International (Choice Hotels Owners African American Alliance)

In an effort to improve diversity, Choice Hotels International has created the Choice Hotels Owners African American Alliance. The CHOAAA, which according to Choice is the hotel industry's only franchisee-focused group dedicated to Black and African American hoteliers, aims to provide ongoing representation, support and advocacy for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

"The racial and social inequality challenges facing our nation and industry have moved us as a company to do more, building on the work we've been committed to for decades," said Patrick Pacious, the company's president and CEO. "As part of our pledge to cultivate a culture of diversity, equity and belonging, we have taken steps to decisively move us forward — including creating a franchise owner's council supporting Black and African American hoteliers. It is our goal to provide a platform for owners to express their voices and unique experiences directly with us, and we look forward to working together with this dynamic group of leaders to advance diversity across the hospitality industry."

Growing Need

The initiative comes almost exactly a year and a half after the NAACP released a report analyzing the workplace diversity of Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corp., Marriott International and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. That 2019 report concluded little progress has been made since the organization's 2005 evaluation, noting that racial and ethnic minorities remained overrepresented in lower-level roles and underrepresented in higher-wage positions. According to data cited from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites in top management positions rose from 71 percent in 2007 to 81 percent in 2015.

“As the hotel and lodging industry continues to build a strong base within urban communities, we recognize the overwhelming need for residents of color to have a seat at the table in any and all decision making,” said Derrick Johnson, the NAACP's president and CEO at the time. “Decisions made in regards to location, personnel and supplier diversity will have a substantial impact on the longevity and continued inclusiveness of urban areas.”

In June, officials of the nonprofit Castell Project, an organization dedicated to accelerating the careers of women professionals in the hospitality industry, released the “Black Representation in Hospitality Leadership 2020” report, examining the role of Black leaders across the sector. The report found that of the 630 hotel company websites reviewed, 84 percent do not show any Black executives on their websites, while only 102, or 16 percent, showed a Black employee at the director level or above. Black executives represent 1.5 percent of hospitality industry executives at the director level or above on company websites, which is 12.5 times below their proportionate share of hospitality industry employment.

Taking Action

CHOAAA's mission is to provide a forum for Black and African American hotel owners of Choice-brand hotels to engage directly with the company's leadership and emerging markets team in the development and execution of key initiatives. This dialogue is intended to help enhance the diversity of Choice Hotels' ownership base by increasing representation of the Black and African American community. 

CHOAAA has launched with the following objectives:

  1. Ensuring that Black and African American owners are fully engaged in all the benefits associated with owning Choice-brand hotels.
  2. Incorporating Black and African American owners, hotel employees and vendors fully into the Choice Hotels system.
  3. Collaborating and recognizing the importance of Blacks and African Americans in the overall success of the company.
  4. Advising Choice leadership on areas such as communication, innovation, ideation, creativity and decision making.

"As the only lodging company with a team dedicated exclusively to growing a diverse franchisee base, we take great pride in our history of inclusion. However, we recognize there is always room to do more. The creation of CHOAAA is a vital step towards achieving our vision," said John Lancaster, regional VP, emerging markets, franchise development and owner relationships. "CHOAAA will help us grow an even more diverse owner base so we can further extend the well-deserving opportunity of hotel ownership to those who have historically been less represented in the hospitality industry."

Choice Hotels recently held its inaugural CHOAAA meeting, which included eight delegates as part of its initial membership:

  • Robert Nesbitt: Nesbitt, who serves as president of CHOAAA, has a background in banking and commercial real estate, and owns a Comfort Inn & Suites in Birmingham, Ala. The hotel is part of the Five Points West development, which is anchored by the Birmingham CrossPlex, where hundreds of events are widely attended by spectators each year. Nesbitt led the development of the entire area.
  • Frederic Washington: Washington is VP of CHOAAA as well as managing partner of Southern Accommodations. He previously served as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lead in Florida under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and recently signed the largest minority multiunit franchise agreement in the history of Choice's emerging markets franchise development program to develop six hotels across Florida.
  • Chanel Grant: Part of a mother-daughter ownership group that owns multiple Tropical Smoothie Cafes as well as Hand & Stone Massage franchises, Grant, Toya Evans and Lauren Williamson of TLC Hospitality Group are developing a MainStay Suites and Sleep Inn dual-brand location in North Carolina.
  • Zane Major: Major is director of operations for the Russell Hospitality Campus, a subsidiary of the HJ Russell Co., which is an Atlanta-based construction management, program management and development company that has been in business for more than 40 years. The HJ Russell Co. has helped develop the Olympic Village and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, as well as the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The company owns a Clarion hotel in Atlanta.
  • Michael Ringwood: Ringwood is the designated representative for the Church of God and Saints of Christ that oversees the development team for the mixed-use BelleHarbour community, which includes a Comfort Suites. Located in Suffolk, Va., BelleHarbour is a historically significant, 40-acre area purchased in 1903 by William Saunders Crowdy, a formerly enslaved person. In subsequent years, the initial 40 acres were expanded to comprise nearly 400 acres of this mixed-use development.
  • Larry Tripplett: A former NFL player for the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks, Tripplett owns a Comfort Suites in Glendale, Ariz. Part of an entrepreneurial-minded family, Tripplett's father, Larry Tripplett Sr., is chairman of the Black McDonalds Owner Association.
  • Andrea Williams: A board-certified otolaryngologist, Williams signed an agreement to develop a MainStay Suites and Sleep Inn dual-brand location in Rock Hill, S.C., as well as a Comfort Suites in Charlotte, N.C. She owns multiple ear, nose and throat practices as well as the Jerk Joint restaurant in Charlotte.
  • Reggie Winfield: Founder of Winfield Properties, Winfield has more than 20 years of commercial real estate and hotel management experience. He owns a Clarion Pointe in Lafayette, La., and a Quality Inn in Laurel, Miss.

"Our hats are off to Choice for initiating the Choice Hotels Owners African American Alliance. I believe Choice is the only major hotel company focused on this area and it is an honor to head this group of inaugural delegates," said Nesbitt. "I expect to determine, directly from fellow African American owners, what the barriers to growth are and to lead the group in collaborating with Choice leadership to dissolve those barriers and develop solutions. We, as owners, must capitalize on this unique opportunity."

For nearly 15 years, Choice's emerging markets team has been dedicated to making small business ownership a reality for underrepresented minority entrepreneurs. Since the program began, the company has awarded and financially supported over 250 franchise agreements, including 34 deals in 2019. This year, the company has awarded 22 contracts to Black, Hispanic and Native American entrepreneurs so far, despite the pandemic. In addition, Choice is introducing a hospitality internship program for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which will debut in 2021.