Some of you may be aware that I have been working a bit (well more than a bit) behind the scenes (for the most part) for the last few months for PAII. I suspect, however, that most people don’t know that – including the many Innkeeper friends I have on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
For the most part, I have tried to be “Switzerland” following the emergence of the new association – “AIHP” which came on the scene this past January. Since then, I have been bombarded with questions about which association to join. I would simply say, “at this point, I don’t know”…and when pressed I would say, “Wait and see how this year shakes out a bit more.”
Some history: I have been posting content to PAII’s Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts for most of the past year. I was asked to do so by a very good friend who has a long association with PAII, and someone I simply can’t say no to because I absolutely adore him. As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I read about an hour+ a day every morning about what is going on in the lodging industry, and anything interesting I find I post to my own accounts. Needless to say, posting industry content that I come across on a daily basis to the PAII accounts hasn’t been much of a stretch.
Back in January of this year, another longtime PAII Supporter asked whether I would be interested in doing some more marketing for PAII. At the time I said no, as had too many irons in the fire as it was at the time.
Before I get into more, a bit more history about the interactions between PAII and myself. For many years, I was a PAII Vendor member, rationalizing that the pricey vendor fee for membership was pretty much a wash given the amount of business I received from PAII (which was not much). I do not recall ever getting much other value from my membership at the time.
Advertising was available, but for someone like me, who got business primarily from referrals, paying a lot for advertising didn’t make much sense. I spoke at several PAII conferences over the years, and did several PAII webinars for their webinar series. Nevertheless, I finally made the decision to not renew my membership because “breaking even” never held much appeal for me long term, realistically what’s the point?
Over the years, I can recall disagreeing with how the PAII leadership handled some things, thinking that they really should have stepped up and tried to make more noise when it came to things like Advocacy. For example, one big issue I felt PAII dropped the ball on was the proposed expansion of the ADA pool lift requirement. While it did not affect the majority of B&Bs, it, nevertheless, did affect quite a few including several clients of mine. One B&B had to close their hot tub for guest use, as they couldn’t afford the $10k for a pool lift, another had to take out a hefty loan to stay compliant, and I heard from quite a few friends in the industry with larger properties that they were getting hit hard with the issue.
Before I go any further, let me be clear about something. Like most Innkeepers and others in the industry, I like Jay Karen a lot. He is a great person with a terrific people personality. His strengths are numerous and well known. That said, not all was perfect under his and the former PAII board members’ stewardship. What was left to “clean up” after the “Charleston debacle” was quite a mess that was several years prior in the making (and note I said “years” plural.) While I continue to like Jay as a person, my opinion of him as a past CEO is not nearly the same as it once was.
Filling Jay’s “shoes” was going to be a daunting task. Following in the footsteps of a charismatic leader is always a very difficult thing. I got to know Jay’s first successor, interim CEO Ruth Ann Hattori fairly well. She is a smart, hardworking, lovely person who I now consider a friend.
In hindsight, however, PAII might have been better off (and this from an industry Vendor’s perspective) hiring someone with Innkeeping experience, and who was well known and liked in the Innkeeping community. Such a person might have had an easier time explaining PAII’s situation without all the rancor that ensued. It certainly would have helped put PAII on the path to recovery quicker. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing.
Ruth Ann had jumped in and was doing a great job in spite of not having the industry background. Unfortunately, she had to resign due to a family illness (as opposed to the hogwash that she quit because PAII was about to fold). What many people do not know is that she continued to work on the 2015 PAII Conference as a volunteer, and was very instrumental in making it successful. Unlike the prior years’ conferences, PAII actually made money on the 2015 conference.
Fast forward to this past March when I received a phone call from another longtime PAII supporter (I was recommended by a friend) asking if I would like to be on the “new” Board of Directors. I gave this some thought for a bit and said yes. At the time I did not know AIHP was forming (and I don’t know if it would have made that much difference at the time or not). I did, however, think that PAII, after seeing and hearing all the negative feedback from people after Jay’s departure, did need to be revitalized.
Innkeepers need a strong advocate. While there are many national organizations out there (Associations, Vendors, Consultants, etc.), and while most states have state and regional organizations, there was no organization out there that had a broader “reach” and aim to help B&Bs than PAII did.
In order to fix what was, in fact, and, perceived to be broken, PAII was going to have to change. In order to effect change, one has to create change. If something is wrong, find out the cause and correct, if it is broken, see if it is fixable and fix it!!! If it’s totally done in, then send it to the dustbin, but do not send a Ferrari to the junkyard if the trannie blows, put a new trannie in! The cost to buy a brand new Ferrari far far far exceeds the cost to put a new transmission in an otherwise perfectly good car.
Based on the knowledge I have now, it is clear that many of the people who bailed on PAII, and have become some of its most vocal critics, were the very same people who had knowledge of what was going on financially prior and had known about it for a while.
Some have said that if Jay and the Board had been successful in converting PAII to a not-for-profit we would have been better off. Logic dictates the question – “how’s that?” What would being not-for-profit have done to increase member dues or conference revenues? It was PAII’s costs that really got unbalanced. For example, overhead costs (excluding anything having to do with the Annual Conference) ran far in excess of annual membership dues. This meant that the Conference HAD to be EXTREMELY profitable in order for PAII to make ends meet, and go back up a paragraph or two to my comment about prior conferences.
PAII can – and will – go nonprofit but, in and of itself, it does nothing to help the financial position of the organization. Only good stewardship from the CEO and Board will assure that and the current leadership is doing just that.
Jay and past staff and volunteers did do much good for PAII in the past, but a lot also got majorly fowled up. (use your imagination on what I’d really like to say!!!!!!!!!!)
For those who still gripe about PAII and continue to spread rumors, half-truths, and revisionist history, I have a little advice – GET OVER IT! The “good ole days” are just that. All that matters now is the future. On that score, I am convinced of one thing – the “new” PAII is extremely well positioned to provide Innkeepers with what they want and need.
When Kris Ullmer, PAII’s Executive Director, was hired, I was overjoyed. I first met Kris several years ago at the Lake-to-Lake Michigan B&B Association conference where I was the Keynote speaker, and was very impressed by her composure, her knowledge, her background, and her experience running the Wisconsin Bed & Breakfast Association for many years. WBBA, along with CABBI, the Bed & Breakfast Association of Virginia, and Lake to Lake were some of the successful state B&B associations I have kept an eye on over the years. Seeing what the more successful B&B organizations were doing was always on my radar. To have Kris come on board (a well-known, liked, and successful association leader to boot) was the crème de the crème for me and kept me enthusiastic about being on the PAII Board.
We have had some challenges and have made some tough decisions over the past few months. A change in venue for the conference – to a better space at a better rate (perhaps worthy of a blog post by itself), tough but fair discussions with creditors, and some change in conference organizers have left us in a better position than we were just a few months ago. The Board continues working on PAII’s costs, developing a solid long-term strategy, and do what best benefits innkeepers and our important vendor network.
So, what prompted me to write this, after all this time? A recent post by another vendor I respect, calling out our current leadership: “Change is inevitable! Change never stops, but to have a handful of hungry-for-power-and-money individuals destroy what was such a vital, enthusiastic support organization is incomprehensible!” She then went on pitching a pro “AIHP” position. When pressed on why she did this, she said she was simply responding to a comment posted on her board. In my opinion, the original comment was baseless and not worthy of a response. She has since added a comment to another commentator saying she was talking about past “leadership” i.e “I think our wires are getting a bit crossed here. The “hungry-for-power” individuals that I am referencing are no longer associated with the organization – they left some time after Jay’s “resignation” (almost two years ago). We very much believe that PAII, with Kris Ullmer leading the charge, is, once again, proving itself to be a vital resource for current and prospective Innkeepers. Sorry for the miscommunication.” But unfortunately, she hasn’t clarified that on her main post and many times people do not read the comments.
And to put this out there, I am quite frankly sick to death of posts by certain former PAII members, including some past board members (who I used to respect but no longer do) jabbing at PAII in a snarky manner. Insinuating and insulting emails and posts continue – to what ends I have no idea. My suggestion to you of the snarky emails and the blog posts… Grow up, put on your man panties, and stop with the B.S. already.
What is past is past; PAII has a new Executive Director, a new board, better control on its finances than ever before. We are paying off debt that the current board, leadership, and staff did not have a hand in causing or accumulating. We are trying our best to fix broken promises, unfulfilled agreements, cut costs, and deal with and fix tired old issues that several years (and this is including issues far prior to Jay’s departure) later people still are having a hard time letting go over.
We are trying to bring back things that PAII formerly did promise to members, much of which they never actually delivered on (don’t get me started on this one), and give more value for membership. Education, Advocacy, and Communication is WHY innkeepers and vendors become members. Having PAII become an actual resource and advocate for State and Regional organizations is critical and we are working hard on making that happen.
I sincerely hope that PAII and AIHP can get along and work together in the future. There may be room in the B&B sphere for both organizations, only time will tell. Both will need to clearly articulate who they are and how they plan to effect their strategy. We all know that with threats like monopolistic OTAs, the never-ending TripAdvisor challenge, etc, Innkeepers need all the voices they can get out there to try to represent our industry.
If you are an innkeeper, or an aspiring one, a vendor, or an interim innkeeper and you left PAII because of all that transpired, (this is important) I’d ask you to let PAII know what you WANT and WHAT will help you as a business – PLEASE be specific!!!
If you are an innkeeper, a vendor, etc and promises were once made and not fulfilled, let us know. We are a new team and we don’t always know what was promised. We will do our best to honor what may not have been our promises, BUT is our responsibility to honor and fulfill, as that is what the NEW PAII is about.
Candidly, until a few months ago I had my own doubts about whether the conference would happen and whether PAII would survive. As a vendor, a board member, and a member I was honestly reluctant to put out, “Join PAII” because I didn’t know what would happen, I didn’t want to endorse something unless and until I was sure it would succeed. I no longer harbor any doubts. PAII is going to not just survive – it is thriving! HOWEVER, we need support.
Some answers to questions that I know I have had over the last couple of months:
Were you on any prior PAII board?
Last year, I was listed on the PAII website as being a member of the advisory council for PAII, one that did not meet once and never (to my knowledge) exchanged a single email or phone call.
The PAII forums are dead, what about that?
That is probably my fault. A couple of years ago I started a couple of Google+ groups (communities) as an experiment when they rolled the option out in Google+. Many of the old and current PAII members post on it, and we do have AIHP members in the group as well. I don’t think that is a bad thing, as it encourages discussion. The new website will have forums and some new and improved ones as well. Will they get used? I hope so, but I personally like the Google+ groups as it does encourage discussion amongst everyone and I will be continuing to be the owner and administrator of those groups for the near future.
**Yesterday I received an email from an AIHP board member “Dear Heather, A friendly request, as owner and moderator of the Bed and Breakfast People group, when you post comments regarding PAII and or AIHP, it would be appropriate for you to disclose that you work for PAII. You may try to stay neutral but I’m sure all would agree, for the benefit of the groups members and credibility, it would be appropriate if you were disclose your relationship with them.”
I am going to address this here, as it does coincide timing wise with my post:
- I am an independent contractor for PAII, not an employee.
- The Google+ groups were started by myself, and I am the owner of said forums.
- I have no plans for the forums to become a PAII owned or PAII driven, as I think it defeats the purpose of having an open discussion.
- Any recent discussions on the forum I have not stated I was pro PAII when asked which association one should support, but just pointed out that AIHP has not stated anything PUBLICLY (to date as of now) that they are advocating for Airbnb to be more regulated, and I did specifically ask to be shown where that information was listed. I am not an AIHP member, so if they stated this in their member emails I don’t have access to that information. (which I think was what prompted the above email). I did tell another of their board members that when they did have something posted I would be happy to share that information on my comment. **Updated my post was published at 2:09 PM, I just received a link at 2:27 PM directing me to a page on the AIHP site somewhat clarifying their position on Airbnb and I did update my G+ comment to reflect that. Just to point something out perhaps to them (I may have missed although I did look) I don’t see a link to this statement page off their main page anywhere, that would perhaps help them get the word out about it……and by the way did just pass that comment along to one of their board members.
- I have specifically stated I will try to stay neutral on Pro or Anti PAII vs AIHP discussions, and that I wouldn’t bring PAII up and promote it. (And to my knowledge, and I’d be very happy if people want to double check this, have not.)
- I personally don’t feel that I need to label the forum as being owned and moderated by a PAII “person”, there are several other moderators with just as much administrative rights as I have, and I have no idea which organization they support, and quite frankly that’s their own business and opinion, they have not stated on the forum which they do, and it is their prerogative if they would like to.
- I have in past posts stated I was a PAII board member and that I was doing work “for” PAII.
- If the majority of forum users think that I need to, or should be disclosing that a PAII “person” is the owner and one of the moderators, I will add it to the forum introduction information, or if they feel that I should put it in every single post (which kind of defeats the purpose since I stated I would not post about PAII info, LOL) I will do so. I am kind of offended actually that I actually got an email like the above, as people that do know me know I do try to be neutral. Just because others on the opposing team sadly can’t be, doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. The forum was started by me before I had anything to do with PAII.
- If forum users see me promoting PAII or being in anyway non neutral (with the exception of this blog post) I would VERY much like them to say something to me about it, and they can then dip me in waffle batter and cover me with marmite jam (which is in the rules for the forum for self, or in this case, PAII promotion).
Can you give us some examples of debt that was accrued that was not well spent?
First and foremost, overhead costs were way out of line. No organization can have overhead costs that continually exceed their membership revenues, unless they have a large endowment or another guaranteed revenue stream. PAII had neither.
A few specific examples:
- Over $2000 worth of stock photos that were not priced out for comparison from competing stock photo sites, i.e. the vast majority could have been sourced for under $300 total.
- An out of date and costly website and a terrible CMS system (FYI, PAII is currently in the middle of moving to a more effective, updated, mobile friendly website content management system specifically geared for Associations and Non-profits that is about ⅓ of the price per year).
There are many more examples. I do know that money was also not well spent on additional websites, promotions (Better Way to Stay, for example), and many other things that were not cost effective. Much of this has already been addressed (if they are ongoing expenses that PAII still has). I could run this to many pages long, if you want to see, come to the conference in January, but don’t just come for that, come for the great education sessions, and to check out Austin.
Why am I no longer on the board?
Because some months back the amount of time I spent working on PAII related work was growing, and having PAII give me a stipend to offset some of that time, I felt was a conflict of interest, so I resigned from the board. I don’t as of now, “officially” work for PAII, that may change in the future, I don’t know. Currently I am a dues paying Vendor member who is to put it mildly, sticking both feet in and trying to assist as much as I can, as I very much believe that PAII has a lot of great things in the works, and we have made a lot of positive improvements just in the past few months, and continue to do so on a daily basis.
What are we doing to improve PAII?
- We have brought back the weekly Newsletter (with the aim that it be educational and be more geared towards B&Bs then it was prior).
- We have brought back and greatly expanded the monthly Newsletter (with the aim that it be educational and be more geared towards B&Bs then it was prior).
- Brought back the Innkeeping Now Magazine (and yes we may bring back the print version if and when it becomes cost effective, as many people know, print costs and postage have been steadily rising for years, and more and more publications have been moving to digital only).
- We are having on average, weekly educational webinars (in comparison to in the past when they had on average about 10 per year).
- We are including educational webinars for associations open to all, as well as developing additional association driven education for both the benefits of our state and regional B&B associations as well as their members.
- We are working on information (that will soon be available to everyone) that will help B&Bs find information relevant to the industry as well as make it easier to find.
- We are working on instituting partnerships with other global organizations that can help advocate and educate members.
- We have a new and improved website that will be rolled out very soon.
- We are renewing our partnership with several organizations whose partnerships had lapsed, including several for educational opportunities for members that may not be cost effective to go directly through.
- We are sending out a newsletter shortly to all state and regional associations offering their members access to our weekly webinars through the end of January 2016.
- We have in the works a partnership with AHLA, and are working hard on advocacy for B&Bs, not just on the Airbnb front, but also on the TripAdvisor front.
- PAII prior had about 4+ full time staff not including the CEO, last year it went through more staff changes, and then literally running with only a very part time bookkeeper for about 5+ months, it now runs with one part time bookkeeper and two part time people, and we are doing twice what was formerly being done with just this. Next year we hope to bring on one more person and bring the part timers to full time. All I can say is “you ain’t seen nothing yet folks!” in terms of what we can do!
- We are working on bringing more value for vendor members (as a vendor member this is very important to me personally), we are highlighting vendor blog posts in our newsletters to start with, we make a point of trying to repost vendors blog posts on PAII’s social media and we are currently working on giving Vendor membership more bang for their buck and this will be inclusive of vendor members that have joined or just recently rejoined us this past few months.
“What are we doing to improve PAII?” The above are some of the things we have been working on. Now it is your turn – Tell us what you, the vendor, the innkeeper, the interim and aspiring innkeeper want, and we will do the best we can to make it happen.
This is not the old PAII; this is the new improved PAII. Think Six Million Dollar Man (but the one that is paying off formerly accrued debt not instituting new debt)
Harvey Bennett: Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.
Scuttlebutt and Rumor: (PAII, Innkeeping Association, An Association barely alive)
Oscar Goldman: We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.
(Kris Ullmer, Heather Turner, PAII BOD: We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better than it was. Better, stronger, faster.)
The result? One that we are and have been re-building….a better, stronger, more responsive, advocating and educating association. We are putting the P back in Professional Innkeeping.
Which association should you join? You decide. I support PAII wholeheartedly.
I wish AIHP the best of luck. Instead of bickering, let us find common ground in helping the Innkeeping industry succeed and find our own niches that can support themselves.
Please stop bringing up the “old” PAII, it IS dead and gone, the new PAII has arrived and is in the driver’s seat.
For those on the fence about whether PAII is a viable and strong organization? It is.