DAVID KONG, THE recently retired president and CEO of Best Western Hotel Group, is the inaugural recipient of the Arne Sorenson Social Impact Leadership Award. The award, sponsored by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation and The BHN Group, is named after the late Arne Sorenson, the former president and CEO of Marriott International who passed away in February.
Kong will be recognized during the AHLA Foundation’s fundraising gala, the Night of a Thousand Stars on Jan. 23, as well as during the 21st Annual Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, according to a press release from AHLA.
The award will be presented annually to a senior-level executive in the lodging industry to recognize their leadership and community engagement. Nominations are reviewed by AHLA’s executive committee and representatives from ALIS.
“Like Arne, David is an industry icon—an amazing leader and among the most respected people in our industry,” said Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO. “The story of David’s career trajectory, from dishwasher to CEO, is inspiring to us all—as is his commitment to the next generation of hotel leaders and the communities we serve. It has been a joy to work with David, and I can think of no better way to honor him at the conclusion of his illustrious career than with this award.”
Kong’s career in hospitality began when he immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a young adult, with no money, job, or connections to offer support, according to AHLA. He started as a dishwasher and busboy and rose the role at Best Western he held for nearly 20 years. Kong also held leadership positions with KPMG Consulting, Hyatt Hotels, Omni International and Hilton Hotels.
Sorenson was a leading voice for the hospitality industry, Kong said at the time of Sorenson’s death from pancreatic cancer.
“I have always admired him as a transformative leader and I have no doubt that his contributions to our industry will be celebrated for years to come,” Kong said at the time. “Arne touched many lives, including my own, and will be deeply missed by all who knew him.”
Kong also has had an impact on the industry, said Jeff Higley, president of The BHN Group.
“The humanity-meets-business crossroads that Arne and David built their leadership styles around are more important than ever, so it’s an honor to acknowledge Arne’s legacy by having David as the inaugural recipient of this award,” Higley said. “The impact of embracing a people-centric approach by prominently addressing key social issues serves as an agent of change far beyond the boundaries of the hotel industry. We should all be proud of the impact that Arne and David have contributed by being kind, thoughtful and forward-looking leaders.”
Kong’s accomplishments that led to selection for the award, according to AHLA, include creating Best Western’s “Today’s Women in Leadership Forum” to promote the work of women in the industry; working with the AHLA Foundation to provide scholarships to hospitality students; spearheading BWH Hotel Group’s Future Leaders Group that provides networking, training, career counseling and exposure to young people interested in careers in hospitality; and advocating for hoteliers during the pandemic.