From MGM to ALHI: Michael Dominguez Celebrates Independent Hotels

The longtime hospitality industry leader talks about his new job and the industry he loves.

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Michael Dominguez becomes the new CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International on July 8.

On the eve of Independence Day, Michael Dominguez is diligently wrapping up his responsibilities as chief sales officer for MGM Resorts and preparing to step into his new role as CEO for Associated Luxury Hotels International on July 8. While lamenting, "I've got so much work to do in 48 hours," he made time to talk with Northstar about his transition, the independent-hotel market and how the meetings business has the power to change the world.

What appeals to you about working for ALHI?
ALHI is an organization I've been associated with for over 14 years. My last 14 years in the hotel industry have been with Loews and MGM, and they're both partners with ALHI, which is the global sales organization for independent hotels and brands. They really do help drive the business within those independent entities.
 
Probably the most exciting part for me is that MGM is ALHI's largest partner in terms of the company's footprint, and they are an exclusive in the gaming world and in Las Vegas specifically. So, I'll still be selling MGM, I'm just going to be selling with a different hat on.
 
MGM has its own sales force, so where does ALHI fit in?
The way I've always described the relationship is that we're cousins. We're not brothers and sisters, because brothers and sisters come to all family events; the cousins only get invited to a few.
 
My president at MGM, Bill Hornbuckle, said it very eloquently when he sent out a note about my move. He said that although my day-to-day responsibility for overseeing hotel sales will be changing, my commitment to sell MGM and the rest of our portfolio within ALHI isn't changing.
 
You have been deeply involved in broader efforts to support meetings and hospitality. Will that continue?
You're going to still see me aggressively trying to fight for this industry. That passion is not going to go away. And I'm excited to say that ALHI will quickly become a member of the U.S. Travel Association and the Meetings Means Business Coalition. The things that I've been committed to, I will continue to commit to. At ALHI, I will just take a bigger role in getting all those independent properties to have a voice in making sure the industry grows stronger.
 
In light of consolidation, and the move by big chains to reduce third-party commissions, is now the time for independent properties to shine?
The strength in the independent market has kind of been under the radar. Now, with all the consolidation we've seen over the last few years, when you're down to the big three or big four, you start to realize there are a ton of independent hotels, and they're unique.
 
ALHI also represents some "soft brands" with a number of properties. Loews and MGM are great examples. These brands are not on every street corner; what makes them special is that their properties tend to be as unique as the destinations they're in.
 
Providing a unique experience has become a higher priority for meetings. Does that better position independent hotels?
I think that is phenomenally important in today's world. We talk about the importance of providing experiences that can't be replicated. Take a property like Pebble Beach; that piece of real estate will never be matched again. And a resort like The Broadmoor -- where it was built and the time it was built -- has special meaning. We're seeing that even with some of the new hotels that are coming into the ALHI family -- unique locations in unique destinations.
 
A lot of the growth is happening internationally, which is very exciting for me. Kempinski is one of our larger brands as well. What they bring to the market in Europe is luxury, unique and experiential. I think you're going to see more and more of that.
 
Independent properties also can make decisions about their commission rates. Is this a competitive advantage?
Yes, to your point, because they're independent, they don't have the cost associated with being a branded facility. So that's where you see them take a bit of a different approach to the market. They certainly don't want to deter any business.
 
What are you looking forward to most about your new job?
One of the most exciting parts of this role for me is I'll be even more actively engaged with our customers and our member hotels, and I'll have the time to do it. I'm going to get to be knee-deep in it.
 
People always ask me, should I call the office or should I call your cell phone? It doesn't matter, because my office phone is forwarded to my cell phone. I only have one number. I think that is an important piece of our industry that sometimes gets lost. Hospitality used to be very personal. Within ALHI and specifically the independent hotels, it's still very personal. That makes sense; it's the reason I got into hospitality to begin with.
 
That's why you got into it, but why have you stayed?
It's hard to explain, but after 30 years I'm still excited about this industry, and that's where the passion comes from. I think our industry is unique; it touches all facets of life. Our industry has the ability to not only be good for business and good for jobs, it has an ability to be an important voice on important social issues in the world. That's exciting for me because I see the potential there.
 
You've heard me say it often: We're stronger together than we ever will be apart. If we can unite as an industry, we can tackle so many of the issues that have plagued the world. We're an example for people, including those in our legislature who have trouble finding common ground. We tend to do that in our industry because that's the only way we move forward.
 
ALHI is headquartered in Boston. Are you planning to move there?
We're going stay in Vegas for about 60 to 90 days and then I'm planning on moving to Dallas. We're going to keep our place here in Vegas, too; I'll be here often because it's the mecca of meetings.
 
When they hired me, I said I was going to be strategic about where to put the office. The one thing I looked at is getting to the center of the country. From Dallas, I literally can get to an east coast meeting that same morning without going the day before. I can easily get to the Midwest or the West Coast. It really saves me a lot of time. Also, I'll be within a 45-minute flight to get home to my mom in San Antonio. I was just talking to her on Sunday, and I said, "Mom, you're going to see a lot of us." I plan on spending weekends with her when I can; I haven't been able to do that.

Will you move staff to Dallas? 
The CEO office will be in Dallas, so that's where the mail is going to go. For a couple of positions, we might see if people want to move, but I'm flexible enough to say, "Let's see how it all works out." If I can build the culture and bring everyone together often enough without having to move people around, then we'll make that happen."