What the Senior Living Industry Can Learn From The Evolution of The Hotel Industry

What the Senior Living Industry Can Learn From The Evolution of The Hotel Industry

There was a time when the hotel-motel industry was in a similar developmental stage as the current state of the Senior Living Industry. It was fragmented and primarily comprised of “Mom & Pop” operators with single site ownership of small motels that dotted our main streets and back roads. That all changed with the building of the interstate highway system that took travelers off the rural routes and contributed to the demise of many of the “Mom & Pop” properties and the creation of “chains.” Perhaps this is interesting, but what does that have to do with the Senior Living Industry of today?

Who Is The Largest Provider of Senior Living in the Country?

Senior Living today is young, fragmented, and primarily dominated by independent owner-operators. A few years ago while working as a VP for Emeritus, I was stunned to hear Granger Cobb state that close to 50% of the market was represented by operators with two or fewer communities. While there has been some absorption since then, there is still a huge market share of independent operators. The reality is that even with the Brookdale-Emeritus merger, the largest provider of senior living is the independent operator cohort.

External Change Agent

The external change agent for the hotel-motel industry was the creation of the national interstate highway system. Motels were out and hotels were in and opening at every exit and interchange – conveniently located right off the highway. As national brands were born and began looking for ways to expand quickly to gain market share, they settled on franchising to aggregate the Mom’s & Pops under their brand. The chains wanted increased market share, revenue, and operating radius to capture more customers while the independent operators wanted to leverage the brand recognition & “packaging” (signs, uniforms, linens, etc.) and most importantly the reservation system to boost “occupancy.”

The National Association To The Rescue!

The problem was no consistent standards for independent operators existed and most did not have operational training. The chains needed to ensure that there was a consistent guest experience that favorably represented their brand, but each operator set their own standards – some good, some not. The White Knight in this story was the American Hotel & Motel Association.

The Association created an independent operator track within their national conference. This track was focused on training & development, offered a specialized curriculum for both integrated and private social events. This was good for everyone – the Association grew their membership because they offered something of value to independent operators who had previously been resistant to join; the independent operators were provided the information needed to qualify for a franchise opportunity and the chains had consistent standards needed to scale and grow. Later, a CHA (Certified Hotel Administrator) certification was created based on standards and training.

Who Will Step Up in Our Industry?

In our industry, the Associations seem to be dividing the operators rather than unifying them – not-for-profit, faith-based, CCRC, for-profit, in the pocket of the largest chains, etc. Many of the independent operators I speak with only join their state associations (mostly for CEUs) because they do not see value in the national associations. Unfortunately, the “One Voice” initiative that would have joined complimentary industry associations failed. However, ALFA has announced a rebranding and repositioning initiative, and this gives them an opportunity to follow the example of the AH&MA and become more inclusive of independent owner-operators. With a dedicated agenda designed for smaller operators and a certification exam, they have the opportunity to transform the industry.

So, the question is, who is going to step up?


What type of associations are you finding the most value in?



  1. Debbie is absolutely right about AHMA now AHLA in their strategy to provide value to their members took steps to unify its industry. By doing that the national and state associations had great relevance. Here are some examples:

    The first stop was to develop the Hotel Uniform Systems of Accounts. This was sold to the industry so that the industry could talk to each other in the same financial language. Doing that led to a common means of valuating operations which led to a common valuation method of the physical asset. With that surety in place investors, mostly large institutional lenders, started to take interest. The Association still,to this day, publishes that book which was originally penned by one of its affiliate’s the New York City Hotel Association.

    An off shoot of these financial standards was a travelers card that provided people with discounts and credit when staying at a hotel. The only way to get one of these cards was from an AHMA member organization. This also bolstered the association’s value. Today that card is known as American Express.

    Next the national association focused on common operating standards and decided the best way to do that was to create a subsidiary that could get consensus on these standards, document them and distribute them to the industry through an educational affiliate known as the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Motel Association. The industry jumped on this as a way to show the public that an individual hotel adhered to these standards thus giving the public comfort about where they were sleeping. To this day most hotels adhere to these standards and the Educational subsidiary publishes scores of College textbooks along with Industry training programs showing future and present hotel managers how to do things correctly.

    Finally AHMA focused heavily on Government relations and saw to it that several tax strategies complementary to the industry were passed so that investors saw the industry as a good place to invest in for the favorable tax treatment. That strategy led to tremendous growth especially in the early to middle 1980’s.

    Many other strategies came out of AHMA that made the Hotel industry strong but the driver behind most of their strategies was to get concurrence and then distribute that concurrence through its Educational arm. AHMA learned that through education comes acceptance and through that acceptance the association led the way on making the industry solid. AHMA is 101 years old this year and that is what is known as sustainability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *