Southern Innkeepers 2021 Annual Meeting
Montage Palmetto Bluff
Bluffton, South Carolina

June 20-23

Fluttering Spanish Moss, gorgeous sunsets and friendly dolphins provided a restorative backdrop to the annual meeting of Southern Innkeepers at the Montage Palmetto Bluff, as members gathered to learn from a stellar array of speakers, focus on the association’s strategic future, and enjoy, for the first time in a long time, one another’s company and meeting our many new members in attendance.

A windy and rainy forecast moved our opening event inside, but did nothing to dampen the spirits of members who delighted in greeting friends and colleagues in the gorgeous ballroom that the hotel staff transformed into a floral garden in record time. The evening set the tone for the next two days of laughter, learning and camaraderie.  

Renie Cavallari, CEO of Aspire, opened the program with her insights on “head trash,” the way our thoughts and fears can limit our potential and that of those around us. It was a perfect lead in to a discussion of SIA’s vision and purpose, led by President Russ Cronberg and President Elect Casey Lavin. A new vision statement and value proposition, which the board created at a Saturday session led by Renie Cavallari, were shared with members and will be prominently positioned on the association’s website. SIA’s new mission: “Building a community that leverages experience, focuses on innovative solutions, and tackles meaningful issues.”

Dr. Mary Socci, a historian and archeologist with the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, shared artifacts and fascinating facts about the beautiful area in which we were meeting.

Afternoon sessions were kicked off by SIA’s beloved attorney, Arch Stokes, who reminded us that leading with love is the best way to handle the “Ship Show” that was not only brought on by COVID 19, but that is something hoteliers navigate constantly throughout their careers.

Susan Strayer LaMotte, Founder & CEO of exaqueo, LLC, shared tips on attracting and retaining talent of any age. She reminded us of the importance of understanding the values of employees and finding common ground with them, both during and after the hiring process. And Dr. Bertice Berry offered her insightful, and often humorous, views on diversity, reminding us that diversity is NOT “kumbaya”; it is critical thinking, and that as in all things, love is key.

Monday ended with SIA’s Signature Event, an elegant evening in the River House Pavilion, surrounded by the ethereal beauty of the bluff. The always-popular raffle drawings punctuated stellar service and delicious food.

Tuesday morning began with the SIA Annual Business Meeting, followed by an industry update by Smith Travel Research’s digital data guru Veronica Andrews. Both Veronica and the next speaker, Brian Crawford, AHLA’s Executive Vice President of Government Affairs, shared trends and actions necessitated by the pandemic and the ensuing roller coaster ride in both revenue and legislative action.

Amanda Frasier, Executive Vice President of Standards and Ratings for Forbes Travel Guide, rounded out the day’s program with a reminder that service is much more important than physical plant when it comes to rating time for properties, and that stellar service is really about tailoring offerings to guest preferences.

The sun broke through in time for everyone to enjoy the plethora of activities the property has to offer, including a golf course that our four foursomes enjoyed immensely. Cavalier Cup bragging rights went to Gerry Gabrys, Brent Cross, and the father/son team of Kevin and Jack Carter.

Our final evening included a “Southern Farewell” Oyster Roast and Lowcountry Boil held at the property’s beautiful riverside setting, Moreland Landing followed by an Afterglow at Cole's. The finale was a real highlight of three wonderful days together, with lovely southern fare in an unapparelled setting on the May River. Playful dolphins led the way for our transfer boats to this lovely spot where nature did most of the decorating.

We hope you will join us next year in beautiful Highlands, North Carolina, when Richard Delany hosts the group at Old Edwards Inn & Spa set atop the beautiful southwest plateau of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains!