PHILADELPHIA— The AH&LA Annual Conference & Leadership Forum, being held here this week, is seeing a 25% to 30% decline in attendance from its past shows, a factor that reflects the decline in the economy, said Joe McInerney, AH&LA president/CEO. Speaking at a Town Hall meeting at the show, McInerney was on hand with Kirby Payne, chairman of AH&LA (and president of American Hospitality Management) and John Russell, immediate past AH&LA chair and principal in Hospitality Artists, a newly formed consultancy. McInerney said the decline in attendance is also due to fewer exhibitors in the exhibition hall. “It also reflects what is going on in other industry shows,” he said. One attendee used the open forum to ask whether the lower attendance could also be due to the fact that there are so many industry conferences to attend. “That could be,” said McInerney with candor. “We want to make sure that as we look at our shows we look at what our members need. And I know that the vendors have a problem going to so many shows,” he said. “We have to provide some value and we won’t have a show simply because we always have one in the the Spring.” At the same time, however, McInerney vowed that AH&LA will convene next spring in Denver, an event which has already been scheduled for April 9-10. “The show may have a different format, but it is important we keep to our commitments,” he said. Other issues brought up during the forum included how the association will retain new members who signed on last year during a campaign when several Cendant hotel brands paid for AH&LA membership for their properties for one year. Membership for those hotels will now be coming up for renewal, and will no longer be free. “We know once those hotels get the bill for membership they will have sticker shock,” said McInerney. The AH&LA will hold its annual board of directors meeting here on Friday, April 5. The association’s Spring conference was also the forum in which to present the Tisch family, owners of Loews Hotels, with the Fourth Annual Hospitality Heritage Award. The award was presented at an event held April 3 at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, which was simultaneously celebrating its second anniversary of being in business. On hand to honor the Tisch family were the mayors of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., who both expressed their gratitude for the presence of Loews hotels in their cities. Former Philadelphia Ed Rendell also gave tribute as he spoke of the experience of working with the Tisch family to develop the Loews Philadelphia Hotel as a public/private development. Loews Hotels originated in 1946 with the purchase of a summer camp in New Jersey. It went on to own the Americana in New York and the Americana Bal Harbour in Florida. The company today owns or operates 17 hotels.