Starting point. Iowa previously had a state-level hotel association, but the pandemic caused that organization to close, said Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of both the Iowa Restaurant Association and the newly formed Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association (IHLA). Without a union, hotels can’t advocate for programs to help them in the hardest-hit parts of the pandemic, or defend against a new hotel tax whose revenue won’t support the state’s hotel, tourism or hospitality industries.
“Covid has really shown that you have to have a strong, unified voice in any type of organization or industry you’re in,” Dunker said. “The hotels, at exactly the moment they needed that, their association folded. That’s why we started it.
Members of the Iowa Restaurant Association who work in hotels have been telling Dunker about the problems hotels are facing and that they are looking for help. So the restaurant group decided to start IHLA and serve as a management company. IHLA has its own board.
“The reason we looked at doing this is because members in both industries asked us to think about the need for a unified advocacy voice,” Dunker said. Although some states have hospitality associations that serve restaurants and hotels, Dunker said, “They chose to create a separate group because we should have boards dedicated to issues in a particular industry.”
Early work. IHLA’s primary goal is to educate hotels about important issues. For example, the Legislature passed a bill that provides free training for hotel workers to prevent human trafficking. The state barred workers who had not completed the training from organizing meetings or staying in hotels.
“The hotels didn’t have an advocacy organization to get that news out, so when the law went into effect in January, not even a quarter of the hotels understood that they had to do that training,” Dunker said. “One of the first things we did was get the information out to people, that’s the training. It is free. You have to make all your employees work. Go here and check your hotel on the state site.”
IHLA is still seeking to identify state outbreak recovery resources that may be available to its members.
Next steps. IHLA’s primary goals for 2022 are to grow membership and become the preferred choice for Iowa’s hotel industry.
Dunker said, “We want to be the first port of call for any issue that affects any hotel or lodging needs at the city or state level, financially or operationally.” “We want to be on the tip of the tongue of people who aren’t necessarily in the industry, but we want to be in a position to make decisions that can positively or negatively impact our business on any given day. If we could do that, we’d accomplish a lot.”
(sihuo0860371/E+/Getty Images Plus)