Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) President and CEO Mike Dominguez is bullish about the demand for group bookings and the path for building up the capacity to service meeting professionals sending RFPs in a compressed market with shrinking booking windows. His company is filling the gaps in specialty areas to support hospitality clients by hiring specialists.

“The frustration we hear is that meeting professionals are having trouble reaching hotels,” he said in a phone call from Europe, where he sees hotel partners having the same conversations about the rush to return to meeting he heard in the United States three months ago. They opened their borders a little later, so are just a few steps behind on the path. “We need to support hotels while they get staffed up,” he said.

Filling the Gap

One of the places where Dominguez sees gaps is in specialty markets, such as sports verticals, including golf markets and coaches’ meetings and the like. “There is great opportunity to expand here,” he said.

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He also sees opportunities to grow in the niches of religious and fraternal groups. “These markets are relationship-driven and we can help meet those needs,” he said.

ALHI recently announced the arrival of two new global sales directors. Dan Meisler will be based in Dallas-Ft. Worth and will manage sports, Texas universities and medical systems verticals. He shares an MGM Resorts pedigree with Dominguez and sold sponsorships for Chicago Bandits professional softball team in Illinois.

Delray Beach, Florida-based Barbara Rodriguez will focus on expanding the company’s relationships in South Florida, the Caribbean, and Latin, Central and South America. She brings over 20 years of hospitality experience in Latin America, an area Dominguez sees as an opportunity for growth. Most recently, Rodriquez worked extensively in her native Puerto Rico, representing Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve and the five-star, five-diamond Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa.

With these hires, Dominguez reported that ALHI is now above 2019 staffing levels in response to an increase in RFPS that are up 150% from pre-pandemic levels.

Fast Ramp Up

At the hotel level, in particular, Dominguez advocates for fast-track onboarding. “We don’t have the luxury of training the way we used to train,” he said. He suggested outlining the basics of how to get someone in a room, change rooms and get around the hotel. For anything beyond that, a SWAT team of specialists can be available to step in.

In his view, full-service hospitality will continue to be largely a people business for the foreseeable future. “Hotels are so high-touch, we may not be able to automate as easily as at hotels where everything is designed the same,” he said.

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The key to attracting people to the events industry, Dominguez suggested, is to show a career track, just as many of the leaders in the industry, including Dominguez, started in entry-level roles and worked their way up decades ago.

Because hospitality jobs range from service and finance to marketing and operations, he advocated recruiting from other industries to bring fresh ideas to the meeting space.