NEW YORK— Kirby Payne, president of Minnesota-based American Hospitality Management Co., takes the figural reigns tonight as the 2002 chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, confident that— in these troubled times— he can successfully build on the solid foundation created by his predecessors. While his office doesn’t officially start until January, Payne’s inaugural, to be held at The Plaza hotel, is one of the highlights of AH&LA’s annual fall conference, being held here in tandem with the 86th annual International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Payne admits exiting chairman John Russell’s shoes might be a bit roomy to fill, but has no doubt he’s up to the task. Toward that, he intends to work hand-in-glove with new AH&LA president/CEO Joseph McInerney to retain the more than 2,600 properties brought into membership this year via Russell’s “One for One for One in 100 Days” campaign. Although the successful campaign brought in more than 250,00 new rooms, there’s no intention to reprise it in 2002. “I suspect it wouldn’t happen because of the focus on retention,” said Payne. “Certainly, as part of that retention we’ll come up with better ways of going out and getting members at regular prices.” During the membership drive, which ran last summer, new member properties were able to join their state associations for $1 per room per year instead of the regular $8 per room Payne said aside from the economic/tourism/impact of September 11-related issues that are out there to address, his tenure will target making sure “the retention and the value, the connectivity, the relevance [of being an AH&LA member]continue to improve faster and faster. A big part of that is that we communicate better.” Streamlining such communication also is a priority. For example, Payne noted there are some 40 newsletters and publications for different constituencies from different AH&LA departments. “We can be so much more efficient and targeted than that,” said the executive. In fact, several of the publications— Lodging News, Lodging Law and Lodging Human Resources—are scheduled to go out to readers via e-mail beginning in January. “That’s something I’ve been talking about for I don’t know how long,” said Payne, noting there had been concern for cost. “Well, the cost of e-mail is not too much and we’ll be able to sell more advertising in those sponsorships and newsletters if we can get them to more people. Everybody keeps wanting more membership benefits. Well, those three newsletters have tremendous membership value,” said Payne.