Hitesh (HP) Patel is a believer in the power of education. He joined AAHOA a decade ago as a young professional with ambitions to educate and inspire other hoteliers to advance their careers and the interests of their industry.
Building a Business
HP Patel, AAHOA’s incoming chair and the president and CEO of Capital City Hospitality Group, found his footing as a hotelier shortly after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996. He had heard about a franchise program called “American Dream” by U.S. Franchise Systems Inc. (USFS), whose founder, Michael Leven, co-founded AAHOA. “I applied for the program and got approved, and built my own American dream,” Patel says. That dream came in the form of a newly constructed Microtel—Patel’s first property. “After selling that one hotel, I was able to buy another, and another, and now we have multiple properties where just one stood.” Since then, Patel has added Best Western, Choice, IHG, Hilton, Wyndham, and Marriott hotels to his portfolio.
Patel learned the hospitality business while working at his family’s 18-room hotel in Elgin, Texas, which his parents established after immigrating to the United States from England when Patel was eight years old. He credits his early experience and training as the foundation for his success in the years that followed. “I learned my way around the corporate structure, how to value and respect others, how to do my due diligence, and not to cut corners. Most importantly, I learned that guest experience should always be at the top of my list,” Patel explains.
A Commitment to Education
Another source of success for Patel is education. “I strongly believe in continuing education,” he says. “Our industry is always changing. If we want to continue to succeed, we must learn to anticipate and adapt, which is why becoming a lifetime learner is so important. I always tell our members to keep learning and don’t ever stop. The more you learn, the better you’ll be personally and professionally.”
Patel’s passion for learning is precisely what drove him to join AAHOA in 2008 as an ambassador and volunteer, and eventually to run for election to the association’s board of directors. As a young professional, he saw an opportunity to leverage AAHOA’s platform and audience to improve programming and educational opportunities for future generations. Patel became involved in the association’s education committee, working to revamp AAHOA’s hotel owner certification program and offer other classes for professionals to continue their education. “AAHOA is currently in the process of taking the certified hotel owner (CHO) program to the next level by moving it completely online, making it more contemporary, more convenient, and more affordable for members,” he adds.
Moving forward, Patel plans to expand AAHOA’s scholarship program, which is currently offered to University of Houston undergraduates pursuing degrees in hospitality, to include additional university partners, graduate students, and other opportunities for continuing hospitality education. Patel is also looking to further develop an AAHOA internship program to help young professionals learn the ropes and advance their careers. Part of that vision includes partnering with hospitality brands and vendors to launch internship programs.
“There are hundreds of companies that could create and provide opportunities for members to get experience and on-the-job training in these roles,” Patel says.
A United Approach to Advocacy
In the same vein, Patel plans to work more closely with brand partners to stay abreast of mandates to better educate members. “Developing those relationships and having that open communication with the brands is extremely important and valued by our members,” he explains. Another critical relationship that he aims to strengthen is between AAHOA and state associations. “Working in partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), our federal advocacy is strong. I would like to see us continue to build relationships with state and local lawmakers and lodging associations, so we can work more closely on issues affecting hoteliers at the local level, like fighting hotel tax increases and advancing a level playing field with short-term rentals,” he says.
Fostering those relationships with people throughout the industry and beyond is part of what captivates Patel about hospitality. “I’m a people person and love working with people from all walks of life; I enjoy learning about different cultures, languages, and customs,” he explains. “What we’re known for in the hospitality industry is being hospitable. People from various parts of the country, various parts of the world, come to our hotels and call them home for a few days. I love doing what I can to make their stay comfortable and enjoyable.”