My initial reaction to the formal merger of the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Restaurant Association to HospitalityMaine announced on Thursday was characterized by immense frustration. The frustration stemmed from my belief that Innkeepers might be lost when combined with the larger association or might be overlooked for their lower tax number– in 2017, restaurants brought in double the number of tax dollars than lodgings did. I felt that the unique concerns of innkeepers and micro lodging owners might go unheard in the context of a larger association. There is also the possibility of a conflict of interest between innkeepers and restaurant owners. Because of the changing rental climate, innkeepers are looking for new avenues of revenue and sometimes that means adding food services. Restaurant owners may not appreciate inns becoming restaurants, or they may simply not be concerned with B&B issues at all. While these issues may still need to be addressed in the future, my overall sentiment towards the merger has changed. It has the potential to be beneficial to all parties involved.
This association is not about the individual components of industries, but rather about what commonalities they share. The idea of nurturing the hospitality industry demonstrates an incredible amount of foresight. When there are more people who understand the industry, the more opportunities there are for it to prosper. If the group follows through on its mission to educate youth to come and stay here, Maine could become a hub that trains the hospitality leaders of tomorrow.
This being said, there are still foreseeable challenges to this merger. The hospitality business has low retention and high burn out. The new board members and staff of the association will not only have to lobby the government for support but also have to be leaders in the guidance of solid business practices and quality education. The hospitality jobs in Maine’s current economy are mostly low paying, seasonal jobs. This is because Maine’s location proposes unique challenges to business owners of all trades. Can Maine attract hospitality companies and youth to a state that has poor transportation and internet infrastructure and a very harsh climate? How does an association create a better overall business climate and extend revenue seasons? These are questions in desperate need of answers going forward in the discussion about hospitality in Maine.
When you take on a title of hospitality association, you are taking on more than political agendas and labor issues. You are taking on a culture. The culture of hospitality is harsh but changing. There has been an improvement in the industry in the last decade due to the rise of celebrity chefs and Innkeepers. Working in the kitchen has more prestige than it did 10 years ago. But, there are many issues in need of solutions like the extremes pecking order that could cause burnout or the long history of drug abuse. If the Association not only looks to increase job growth and youth retention but also looks to clean up the culture, Maine could greatly benefit.
I look forward to seeing how this new association moves forward. The intentions of the merger seem benevolent, but only time will tell if it is too much too soon.
For further reading on hospitality culture:
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly – Anthony Bourdain