Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Restaurants and Hotels Stronger Together

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Restaurants and Hotels Stronger Together https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/merger0916.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

Ben Franklin got it right.

Back in the 1700s, as the American colonies were rebelling against Britain, the great statesman and diplomat wrote, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

In other words, Franklin was saying there was strength in numbers and organizational unity. No matter how good their intentions may have been, unless the American colonies came together and coordinated their rebellion against Britain, they would never be able to win their fight for independence, and would have paid with dire consequences for their failure.

Today, in 2016, the Washington Restaurant Association (WRA) and Washington Lodging Association (WLA) have realized they, too, as a united hospitality association, will be much stronger together than apart.

The big day is now only one month away. On the first week of October, the two associations will unveil a new name and identity, and a new era will have begun for Washington’s hospitality industry. The new, unified hospitality association will have more than 6,000 members and advocate on behalf of an industry that employs more than 250,000 Washingtonians and generates $17.7 billion in revenue each year. It will also serve as the primary source of hospitality information for the state’s restaurants and hotels.

It was a long time in coming.

Both associations have proud and lengthy histories.

Founded in 1920, WLA has been the trade and professional association for Washington’s lodging industry. It has served 500 lodging members representing 40,000 guestrooms, as well as more than 125 allied members who serve the lodging industry. WLA is also known for its efforts to promote Washington as a tourism destination by publishing the Washington State Visitors’ Guide and its online companion, StayInWashington.com.

Founded in 1929, the WRA has been the leading business association representing Washington’s restaurant industry, including more than 5,700 member companies. Washington restaurants – the state’s largest private employment sector – are the cornerstone of its economy, vital to communities and fundamental to careers.

The idea for a merger of the two associations first emerged in the fall of 2011, when Jan Simon, CEO of WLA, and Anthony Anton, WRA’s president and CEO began discussing how their two associations could do great things if they worked closer together. Although no conclusions were reached, the seed was planted.

In the spring of 2012, the executive committees of both organizations met for the first time in recent memory to get to know each other. The meeting was very positive. There was recognition that they had much more in common than not and that they should be exploring ways of working more closely together, be more efficient in resources and better protect the hospitality industry.

After much study and consideration, in April 2013, the WRA Board voted to approve directed the executive committees to engage in a due diligence process focused on the steps needed to complete a merger of the WRA and WLA. Then, in July 2013, WRA’s Board approved a motion that the best option was a merger with the WRA.

On Oct. 1, 2015, the WRA and WLA began operations under a joint operating agreement, combining staff and operational functions in the WRA’s Olympia office. On July 26, 2016, the two associations signed final contracts and created cornerstone plans for a united hospitality association in Washington. Anton is spearheading the joint association as it moves forward.

“This is an exciting time for our membership and the businesses they represent across Washington. Combined leadership capabilities and viewpoints also creates more opportunities for innovation,” said Anton. “By joining forces, we now have an expanded government affairs team that is increasing our influence and effectively addressing the challenges facing our industry at both the state and local level.”

And the enthusiasm is just as high on the hotel side of the equation.

“This alliance delivers even more value to members, and we are excited to be joining forces with the Washington Restaurant Association,” said Matt Van Der Peet, general manager of the Westin Bellevue Hotel and former WLA chair. “By coming together, we are better able to leverage the strength and resources of both associations, benefiting our members, their employees and, ultimately, the state as a whole.”