Zero to thirty in six years

The byline does not refer to painfully low performance in a car but a phenomenally successful hotel company that in the short span of six years has an eclectic collection of high-performance hotels. The Washington Post reports on a hotel empire seeded and nurtured by Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and headed by former Hilton executive, Thomas J. Baltimore Jr.

By any measure, Baltimore’s stewardship, backed not only by Johnson’s wealth but also his acumen, sets a standard in the hotel industry. More importantly, it could be the very model that addresses a long unfilled vacuum in the hospitality industry – ownership of hotels and development of managerial talent among African-Americans. RLJ Development LLC, the ownership entity could also spur greater participation of blacks in the hospitality work force which has witnessed a steady decline over the years.

While there have been attempts in the past to increase black participation in hotel ownership, with the earliest going back to the fifties when black owned hotels were operated exclusively for blacks in response to the discrimination they faced, they have been sporadic and have not resulted in any noticeable results. In 2002, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association was one of the first to embark on a meaningful effort with African-American business leaders from the rather inelegantly named NABHOOD (National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers, Inc.). with a view to imparting knowledge and skills to aspiring owners.

However, it is clear that far more needs to be done on an industry wide basis. Both as role models and employment opportunities, the industry has the most to offer to black (and other) youth – far more than the pernicious outcomes (and pipe dreams) that result from inner-city kids chasing the mega millions in sports such as basketball.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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