New AHA President discusses the state of the hotel industry

Long-serving AHA NSW President Scott Leach was unanimously elected as the AHA’s new national President earlier this month. AHA NSW Hotel News’ Jason Bartlett spoke to Mr Leach about the challenges of his new role.

HN: Scott, congratulations on being elected as national president of the Australian Hotels Association, how did it feel?

Just let me say at the outset that I was extremely humbled by the support of my colleagues across Australia.

I look forward to working with the various AHA teams’ right across the nation over the coming year, as we continue to advocate for what is best for our industry, our members and our hundreds of thousands of employees.

HN: What was your immediate reaction to being elected national president?

The AHA has a collegiate tradition of Presidents serving two/three year terms.

Peter Burnett had completed his term with distinction and I was humbled by the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of industry legends like Peter, as well as Peter Hurley, Tom Maguire and many others.

HN: How will you handle both the national and NSW presidencies?

Like my predecessors – with the active support of our members at the state and federal level – also with the help of my loving wife and supportive family.

I am excited and grateful for this opportunity and will do my utmost to protect the interests of our great industry.

HN: What are some of the key issues? 

Historically, the industry has always had its challenges – regulatory, political and economic. But regardless of what we are facing, it’s the resilience and determination of the AHA network across Australia that can deliver results for members – both at the state and federal levels.

The key concern of our industry at the local, state and federal levels is to ensure that policy is well thought out and properly researched. We need to ensure that knee-jerk ‘populist’ policies made up on the spur of the moment are avoided. It’s the same challenge everywhere.

I look forward to working with a Federal Government that is delivering record funding for Australian tourism, and ensuring pubs and accommodation hotels are seen as key participants in the engine room of the hospitality economy

HN: I have heard you often say, ‘decisions are made by those who turn up’ – how does that impact your outlook, and how you see your role at the state and national levels?

In every State and Territory our industry battles the constant growth of regulation and compliance. Hotel operators are frustrated by the overwhelming, un-coordinated approach of ever increasing numbers of local, state and federal agencies.

It appears no aspect of our business is without the scrutiny of someone, often driven by methodology or philosophy rather than an appetite for a common-sense outcome.

At times, conversation and debate around the role of the industry can be swept up in a 24 hour media cycle seeking content and conflict. Elected representatives can be pressured into immediate action based on emotion, rather than considered action based on evidence.

Our detractors are constantly seeking to be more than participants in this process, often wanting to be umpires as well as players in public discussion. The suggestion is that we have no right to be heard, or at the very least our opinions must be discounted due to vested interest. Yet the interests of others are left unchecked.

HN: How important is it for the industry to have a united, national voice?

In 2016, perhaps more than at any other time in our recent history, it is imperative that industry speaks with one voice to ensure fairness, justice and common sense prevails in the evolution of policy and regulatory outcomes.

This is not the time to be a silent passenger and allow fate to chart the course of your business, to allow jobs and investment to be undermined and to give a ‘vocal minority’ a free kick in public debate.

Recent political events in the United States and the UK Brexit referendum tell us decisions are made by those who turn up.

HN: What can we expect over the next couple of years?

The Australian Hotels Association is embarking on an unprecedented program over the next two years to ensure that the needs of the industry are understood.

We are respectful of governments, but too often unintended consequences have more than modest impacts, they are significant and require political opposition.

There is direct, significant real and anecdotal evidence that shows many recent policies around Australia have resulted in a disproportionate effect on industry – with limited positive outcomes outweighed by enormous costs.

HN: Why are you so proud to be the national head of the AHA?

Hoteliers are remarkable people capable of extraordinary things. They are not to be under-estimated. They are to be respected for their drive and determination in business, compassion for their communities and wisdom in human endeavour. Long before social media coined the expression “influencers” hoteliers have been doing just that over the bar, through the kitchen or tucking you away after a long day’s journey; influencing the attitudes and opinions of customers for generations.

NN: What role can hoteliers play?

With more than 6,600 businesses located around Australia, every pub is a permanent polling booth within communities that can leverage our influence. To push back the nanny state, bring back common-sense and balance to political outcomes, we will turn up and communicate.

HN: What do you see as the key role of the AHA?

Much is written about the activity of the AHA, its motives and personalities.

We are an Association that is proud of our members and the way in which these businesses are interwoven into local communities. We make no apology for turning up to advocate this and shout down those who seek to shame, discredit or attack our great institution.

The AHA supports those who have empathy for our industry and are willing to consult. And for those who take a prohibitionist view of our right to trade, we say the voice of every customer in every bar, pub and hotel across this country will be heard in the years ahead.