Hotel Business logo By Lauren Bovich NEW YORK— The 90th International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show kicked off today at the Jacob Javits Convention Center with 1,400 exhibiting companies and 35,000 trade attendees. Yesterday, prior to the start of the show, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) held its annual Hospitality Leadership Forum, which began with a CEO leadership panel including David Kong, president & CEO, Best Western International; Arne Sorenson, executive vp/CFO, Marriott International; Craig S. Miller, president/CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Thomas Corcoran of FelCor Lodging Trust. The panel used the session to comment on issues such as technology, industry concerns, and what lies ahead. Sorenson said his company is currently enjoying “getting back to normal after an interesting three or four years,” but also noted concern for the rising cost of labor, utilities and insurance. Corcoran echoed that sentiment and added that immigration laws and union issues, and health insurance are creating additional labor obstacles. With every brand trying to differentiate itself, Kong expressed his opinion that what really is going to make an impression on the consumer is to make an emotional connection through customer service. “I read many letters, and there are far more about customer service…it is far more important than product, it connects with you emotionally,” he said. Sorenson also took time to discuss geopolitical factors that affect the industry, noting that since 9/11, the U.S. has made it difficult for international visitors to travel here. However, the weak dollar right now is curbing that impact. “It will be interesting to see if the U.S. becomes a less attractive destination in the future,” he said. There was also some discussion about third parties such as and Once seen as a major threat, Corcoran noted now that the price points have stabilized, the third parties and the hotels themselves have reached a good balance. “The third parties are here to stay,” he said. “The hotel companies have gotten a lot smarter …people will always want to have direct contact with the hotels.” After the opening ceremony this morning, the keynote session led off IH/M&RS’ seminar and special events schedule. Titled “Winning Strategies in Selling to the Hospitality Industry,” the session was a chance for many of IH/M&RS’ exhibitors and attendees to ask a panel of hotel purchasing executives how they make their product purchasing decisions. Moderated by Matt Schwarz, vp and general manager of Courtesy Products, the session featured Jim Freeman, vp of preferred alliance services for Cendant Hotel Group; Michael Madigan, the director of the Air Force NAF Purchasing Office for the U.S. Air Force; Cynthia Milow, executive vp at Purchasing Management International; Michael Neilson, project manager for Sunstone Hotel Investors; and Sidney Rabin with InterContinental Hotels Group’s Supply Chain Management. Among the topics discussed were the importance of time versus price in terms of product delivery, what role distributors play in purchasers’ relationships with manufacturers and whether U.S.-made products are more valuable today to purchasers. That last topic was of major interest to many of the audience’s U.S.-based vendors and is part of an increasing trend in the hotel purchasing industry, according to Milow. “Our company bids out for products across North America and China and our bid analysis for our hotel owners will show them the merits of North American-made and China-made products,” she said. “Today, we’re seeing more and more clients going for North American-made products because it takes a lot less time for delivery.” A beneficial seminar entitled “E-Marketing Essentials” was led by Caylin Sanders, CEO/president of She explained the average person gives a website 5.6 seconds to load before they move on. Sanders also noted “knowing what’s going on in your industry can help you tailor your website,” and advised making seasonal adjustments. Finally she stressed being aware of your demographic can make or break a websity. “E-marketing is all about relevancy so make sure you re-examine your target market.” As seen in Hotel