Southern Innkeepers at the Gasparilla Inn & Club: Classic Elegance with a Nod to the Future

Startling skies and serene seas set the backdrop for our 109th Southern Innkeepers Association Annual Meeting at the beautiful “old Florida” style Gasparilla Inn & Club, as breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, clear blue seas (with dolphins!) and even a surprise fireworks display created an amazing ambiance.

The talents of Chef Seth Shipley and his team were evident throughout the meeting, starting with our opening reception on June 18 at the Beach Club and carrying through to our amazing final banquet on June 20. Chef Shipley shared his thoughts on Creativity in the Kitchen with the entire group during an informative presentation, and offered those who participated in a food and wine demo and pairing an even more intimate look at Gasparilla dining.

Monday’s program opened with a thought-provoking talk by the always-entertaining attorney Arch Stokes, who reminded us that the industry is really about love, despite the prevalence of unreality in many of our dealings with employees and guests.

Katherine Lugar, CEO of AH&LA, spoke of the association’s advocacy victories and the strength of the industry, which provides 8 million jobs in hotels, three out of five of which are small businesses. She said that AH&LA’s PAC is currently at $1.5 million, and is hoping to reach the $2 million level shortly, and that an $8 million capital campaign is aimed at development of future talent for the industry. She also discussed challenges posed by the president’s travel restrictions, including travel bans, laptop restrictions, visa fees and extreme vetting. She said that AH&LA is offering a menu of regulatory options to cities that are seeking to manage Air B&B properties, 40% of which have three or more rooms available on a full-time basis. She talked about OTAs and said that Expedia and Priceline have 90% of the market share in online travel.

Smith Travel’s Jan Freitag told the group what keeps him up at night: fatherhood and RevPAR! His slides are available here. He noted that hotels are enjoying record occupancy at 62.6%, but that occupancy growth is declining while room supply is increasing. RevPAR growth, however, still looks positive.

Matt Baio, VP of IT for the East Region of Marriott Hotels, offered an informative update on trends in the digital world. He noted that GPON (gigabit passive optical networking) has virtually unlimited capacity and is very high speed; definitely a trend for the future.

Don Farr, Director at the Debman School of Hospitality at FSU, offered a snapshot of the class of 2017 and shared his thoughts on how schools are ensuring that graduates are truly ready to join hotel staffs as potential leaders. He also offered tips on how to get the best interns and hires by respecting individuality and offering pathways to success.

Monday was capped off by dinner on the hotel’s croquet lawn, followed by those amazing fireworks!

On Tuesday, the program was dominated by another vibrant Cracker Barrel session. Notes of the discussion are available HERE. Chef Shipley rounded out Tuesday’s program.

Golfers headed to the resort’s Pete Dye Signature course, which is on its own private island, to vie for the Cavalier Cup. Jim Beley, Tony Lapi, John Beaudrie and Robert Lazorik claimed this year’s bragging rights.

Those not golfing enjoyed gourmet food and wine pairings or opted for a boat cruise to Cabbage Key. Dolphins entertained guests on the ride to this under-developed island, where Jimmy Buffet is reputed to have written “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

A very successful raffle, which raised over $1900, was included in the elegant “Southern Farewell” dinner in the hotel’s gorgeous historic dining room.

Many thanks to Jon Reecher at the Gasparilla Inn for his amazing hospitality; to Jim Beley at The Umstead Hotel for his outstanding leadership as president this past year.

Many thanks to our sponsors: 
Diamond Sponsors: S&D Coffee and Tea and Signature Napkins

Gold Sponsor: Pinterest Pro Solutions 

Refreshment Break Sponsor: Resort Hotel Association

Program Insert Sponsor:  Benefit Strategies, LLC