|By Timothy Boone, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 22, 2004 - The American Hotel & Lodging Association has dropped the Mississippi Hotel & Lodging Association's membership because the state group owes $70,000 in past debts.
Scott Sledge, president of the Biloxi based MH&LA, said his group couldn't afford the national association's dues.
"Half of the dues we were collecting were going to the American Hotel & Lodging Association," Sledge said.
For several years when the state association was based in Jackson, its officers had to dip into upcoming dues or use bank loans to cover its expenses and the AH&LA dues.
In 2003, the Gulf Coast Hotel & Lodging Association was merged into the state association, in an attempt to boost the state group's finances.
But that didn't happen. The state association hasn't paid membership dues to the AH&LA for two years. The national association rejected a payment plan put forth by the MH&LA and ordered payment of the $70,000 in past due membership fees and fines. The state group couldn't pay the money, Sledge said, so they were dropped from the AH&LA earlier this month.
Harry W. "Skip" Ledbetter, general manager of the Biloxi Beachfront Hotel, said the high dues are causing several state lodging agencies to consider their membership in the AH&LA, Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter said the two main services provided by the AH&LA are federal lobbying and employee training programs, which are available to all hotels.
Sledge said association members have had an "overwhelmingly positive reaction" to leaving the AH&LA.
"It was the financially responsible action," he said. "We're not incurring any more expenses from the national association."
The state lodging association hopes to strengthen its finances through new offerings and eventually repay the debt to the AH&LA.
"We plan to have our books balanced at the end of the fiscal year," Sledge said. "And at some point, we hope to rejoin the national association and carry forward."
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(c) 2004, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.