Southern Innkeepers Association’s 111 Annual Gathering:
Woodland Serenity in an Active Urban Setting


SIA’s 111th gathering was hosted by The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina, and attendees were wowed by the gorgeous natural surroundings, locally sourced food, and tranquility of this urban oasis in the heart of one of the country’s fastest growing towns. President Gregg Hilker and Host Jim Beley greeted guests at a lakeside opening reception on the hotel’s terrace, where the chef’s take on local specialties was accented by offerings from a local brewery and a gelato cart! It was the perfect start to a wonderful program, five star dining, great golf and some interesting local outings.


Kicking off the program was Arch Stokes, who incorporated stories of cases at his international hospitality law practice into tales of travel, family, and the importance of sharing love, whether with family, employees, guests or friends. It’s key to our business, and to fulfillment in our lives! Tiller U Lubber!


The burgeoning importance of wellness in the hospitality industry was underscored by Corey Bennett, COO of Hawkins International Public Relations. Corey has been integral in the agency’s growth in the wellness space, including forging a partnership with the Wellness Tourism Association and working with Hawkins team on launching their inaugural ‘Well in Tell’ event, which brings together leaders in Hospitality and Wellness to discuss where the industries intersect.  Among the fascinating statistics she shared about this young (35-55), affluent, 92% female clientele is that 82% of their destinations are domestic. They are seeking more than spa and exercise programs; they are seeing an atmosphere that allows decompression, healing and a sense of well-being that will remain with them long after they leave your property. This is driving innovation in properties, with ideas like “travel without luggage” services at some top properties.


The Umstead’s gorgeous collection of art, much of it from North Carolina and the Southeast, was explained in a beautiful slide presentation by Curator Marcelle Kick. Her talk was a perfect prelude to our dinner at the beautiful Building C on the SAS Institute Campus later that night.


The news on hospitality trends shared by Veronica Andrews, Director of Digital Data Solutions for Smith Travel Research was strongly positive! Despite the devastating impact of last year’s hurricanes, RevPar growth has been positive for our industry for 109 out of the past 110 months!  Veronica reported that ADR, RevPar and occupancy are up in almost all markets, with more “heads in beds” than ever before, and that the forecast is bright for 2020, despite a slight downturn in occupancy due to strong new construction activity.


Attendees were happy to welcome Tarun Malik, President and Dean of Academics, Johnson & Wales University, Charlotte Campus back to SIA. His insights on Gen Z were invaluable take-aways for members. With a million unfilled jobs in our industry, harnessing the energy and talent of this eager, but stressed, generation is essential to success, and Dr. Malik offered tips for how to recruit, train and retain them.

Brian Crawford, Vice President of Governmental & Political Affairs at the American Hotel and Lodging Association, provided a view on issues affecting hospitality from Capitol Hill that dovetailed nicely into Dr. Malik’s talk. Key issues on which AH&LA is lobbying include ensuring that short-term rental units adhere to the same standards and taxes to which hotels are held; immigration, including H2B and JI visa workers; the prevention of human trafficking, which sometimes utilizes hotels; and the impact of tariffs on travel to the US.

Tuesday morning began with the SIA Annual Business Meeting. The highlight of the meeting was the opportunity to recognize Southern’s Employee Recognition Award winners. Thanks to sponsors Jordan Beckner of FiberBuilt Umbrellas and Matthew Lupino of FHM Insurance Company, we were able to present two $500 awards to Umstead Hotel staffers Lorri Manthei, Assistant Executive Housekeeper; and Phillip Southern, Umstead Café Cook.

Attendees then raised issues, ideas, and innovations in what has become a Southern tradition: the Cracker Barrel session


Lynn Minges, President and CEO for the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA), works to protect, educate, and promote the diverse interests of North Carolina’s hospitality industry before the state legislature, as well as lobbying against unfair governmental regulation. The industry represents more than $22 billion in sales annually and employs 13 percent of the state’s workforce.  Lynn noted the importance of our members engaging with their state associations, which are vital in impacting issues such as minimum wage, loss of tip credit legislation, scheduling legislation, and regulation of short term rentals. She shared suggestions for fighting human trafficking, noting that the industry is already offering staff training and instituting changes and is hoping to avoid additional legislation around this issue. She also emphasized the need to share the positive image of the industry with legislators, including opportunities for immigrants, availability of evening work hours, opportunity for advancement, and that the industry often offers second chances for people in need of a new career start.


Tuesday afternoon was filled with golf on the beautiful Prestonwood course and visits to Umstead State Park, Duke Gardens, the Duke Lemur Center, and the N.C. Museum of Art.

Congratulations to the two winning golf teams! Team 1: Bill Lacey, Craig Spitzer, Bill Petrella, Prem Devadas Team 2: Ralph Vick, Richard Delany, Tony Lapi, Joe McInerney.

Finally, the group was hosted for “A Southern Farewell” wine pairing dinner in the Umstead’s 5-Star Heron’s Restaurant. Highlights included raffle drawings and the announcement of a first for SIA: a tie in the Cavalier Cup Golf Tournament!


Southern wishes to thank our sponsors: Diamond Sponsors - Fiberbuilt Umbrellas & Cushions and US Foods; Gold sponsor - NextGuest; Silver Sponsors - Signature Napkins and Northern Lights Restoration; and Refreshment Sponsor - Think Reservations.


We’re already looking forward to the 2020 gathering at the Old Edwards Inn and Spa, Highlands, NC, June 7-10!