October 5, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

Like the events sector, the hotels and accommodation sector is not short of peak bodies. But over the past eight months, two major such organisations have embarked upon a mission to bring together the Accommodation Association (AA) and Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA).

If achieved, the new entity this will be a mighty force and will significantly strengthen the voice of the accommodation industry. For the business events industry, this will be a real win as so many hotels rely on business events for room occupancy and food and beverage revenue.

The two entities are well down the path to realising the merger, showing what is possible where there is a clear vision for the industry.

Former Federal Energy Resources and Tourism Minister, Martin Ferguson is Chair of the TAA Board

AA and TAA have strong boards – the TAA has former Federal Energy Resources and Tourism Minister, Martin Ferguson as its Chair. He has played a key role helping to steer the merger and achieve member buy-in.

Now the Accommodation Association has a new President and it’s the first time in 54 years that a woman holds the position.

Leanne Harwood, IHG Hotels & Resorts’ SVP and Managing Director for Japan and Australasia was elected President in September. It’s a major change and heralds an important era for the peak bodies.

She has been part of the Accommodation Association’s National Council for two years and was a Board Member of Tourism Accommodation Australia for two years prior to that.

So, she is ideally placed with a depth of understanding of what goes on in both organisations and what is important to their members.

Harwood has more than 25 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, including 16 years working around the world with IHG.

She’s perfectly credentialled for the President’s role and is also a major backer of the proposed merger of the two former archrivals.

Over recent years, there’s been a sea change in these organisations as they came to the realisation that one joined-up entity would be far more effective and powerful than two competing for the ear of Governments.

“We are moving into the key stages of the proposed merger with the Australian Hotels Association/Tourism Accommodation Association and we need to ensure progress continues in the right direction to drive the best outcomes for our members,” Harwood said.

“We also have the ongoing fight for more Government support for our sector to get us through the impact of COVID and we need to make sure that we continue to build the profile of our amazing industry, along with the skills of our people and the workforce needed moving forward.”

Her appointment is a great breakthrough in the male-dominated world of peak body boards.

“I am so very proud to be the first female President of the Association. Diversity, equity and inclusion has been one of the most profound changes in the world of hospitality from when I started out more than 25 years ago,” she said.

She commended the work of the outgoing President Julian Clark, saying that he could and should be extremely proud of his impact in progressing the evolution of the association and awareness of the importance and needs of Australia’s accommodation sector.

“The Council and I will be working closely with Interim CEO Richard Munro to ensure the needs of our members continue to be met and awareness of the critical need for support for Australia’s accommodation providers continues to pick up speed.”

The Accommodation Association represents over 80 percent of all known accommodation providers from small regional parks, caravan parks, serviced apartments and resorts through to the largest hotel groups in the world including Accor, Hilton, Wyndam Destinations and IHG.

Its merger with the TAA, which sits under the umbrella of the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) has currently been put to Fair Work Australia for review of the “Articles” that will form the governance rules for the merged entity.

TAA Chief Executive, Michael Johnson, told micenet that the collaboration between the two organisations had never been stronger.

While the merger process is long, he was confident the intended outcomes would be achieved. There is strong support from both Boards and the Boards represented the major members.

“We want one voice, there’s no doubt about that,” Johnson said.

Munro, who formerly headed AA, has played a key role in preparing the organisations for the merger as a consultant. He was recently made interim CEO of AA.

“The challenges being faced by all our members simply cannot be compared to any other world shock that has been experienced in our lifetime and we will continue to lobby for the best outcomes,” Munro said.

“The amalgamation project of bringing together two strong industry bodies, the AHA (TAA) and AA, under one organisation to ensure our industry is in the strongest footing is well underway and I will keep our members posted as to progress.

“The association is very active in concert [with] the Federal Government on employment matters, finding pathways to employment as we transition out of lockdowns to improved business conditions as we have had so many employees unfortunately exit the industry over the past eighteen months,” he said.

It’s the same predicament as the events industry, only the accommodation representative bodies have been braver, more focussed and more decisive in their mission to create a single voice for their industry.

Our industry should take notice and see what is possible when the leadership is strong.