AAHOA Officers Share Thoughts on Their Industry and Their Organization

(From the left) Neal Patel, Biran Patel, Jagruti Panwala, Rachel Humphrey, and Vinay Patel
(From the left) Neal Patel, Biran Patel, Jagruti Panwala, Rachel Humphrey, and Vinay Patel

AAHOA officers, led by chairwoman Jagruti Panwala and joined by former interim president and CEO Rachel Humphrey, who has returned to her previous position as COO now that AAHOA’s Board of Directors appointed Cecil Staton as president and CEO, recently gathered to share some of their thoughts on the industry as a whole and their organization in particular. Below are their responses to numerous questions including those on the current state of the industry and their concerns for the moment and the period ahead. They also shared comments on their organization’s goals, achievements, and how they work together to serve their membership and all hoteliers.

How would you describe the current state of the industry?

Jagruti Panwala, AAHOA Chairwoman: 
More hoteliers are developing and acquiring hotels, but as they do so, the possibility of a downturn is on their minds. Although cautiously optimistic about the industry’s ability to continue its expansion, many of the hoteliers that I speak with are revisiting their portfolios to make sure their assets and liabilities are in alignment.

Vinay Patel, AAHOA Treasurer: 
The current state is cautious optimism. The industry is expecting a downturn, and many hoteliers have been preparing. The labor shortage remains a big issue, and with one million job openings in the industry, it’s not going away any time soon.

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What is keeping AAHOA members up at night? How has AAHOA been working to combat those issues?

Jagruti Panwala, AAHOA Chairwoman:
 Hoteliers are wary of several factors that are impacting our industry such as over-regulation, the economy, high construction costs, the labor shortage, and disrupters such as short-term rentals. AAHOA is working on multiple fronts to help hoteliers address these concerns. We just had the 2019 Legislative Action Summit in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of hoteliers met with their representatives in Congress to advocate on several issues including regulating STRs. We help connect hoteliers with their lawmakers at all levels of government because it is a great way to make our voices heard and let policymakers know what our industry needs to thrive.

Rachel Humphrey, AAHOA COO:
 There are currently one million unfilled jobs in the hospitality industry due largely to historically low unemployment. AAHOA is working to provide hoteliers with access to association health plans and benefit packages to complement the higher wages many are offering to attract workers. Owners are also concerned with industry disruptors like short-term rentals and other technology-based platforms that continue to enter the market. These companies reap many of the benefits of the lodging industry without operating in the traditional space, and they are doing business in a murky regulatory environment. We’re working with lawmakers to ensure that they play by the same rules and that there is a level playing field.

Owners are also concerned with consolidation as well as the launch of nearly 100 new brands over the past few years. With that, over time, comes the near elimination of the protected territories afforded to owners in years past and potential competition from hotels under the same brand that could be using the same reservation system as an existing hotel. AAHOA continues to be the voice of owners to brands on these important issues, given that AAHOA members own over 50 percent of projects in the pipeline.

What would you say have been AAHOA’s top accomplishments this year?

Jagruti Panwala, AAHOA Chairwoman:
 The launch of MyAAHOA.com is one of our top accomplishments this year. This new online platform allows members to manage all aspects of their AAHOA membership. They gain exclusive access to AAHOA HOTEL OWNERS ACADEMY and our vast catalog of webinars and educational sessions, and they can track their progress as they complete different trainings and sessions. Members can also update their property information, which allows our association to paint a more complete picture of America’s hoteliers when we talk with elected officials, brands, and vendor partners. As members help us gain a better understanding of their hotels and footprint, we can be more specific in how we talk about AAHOA in meetings with congressmen, governors, mayors, CEOs, and other associations. It leaves quite an impression when you tell a congressman that there are, for example, five AAHOA members in their district who own 15 hotels. They leave that meeting with a much better understanding of the impact hoteliers have in a congressional district, from the jobs they create to the projects they build. MyAAHOA.com will help our association gain a better understanding of our membership and how we can continue to serve them.

Biran Patel, AAHOA Vice Chairman:
 I agree with Jagruti that the launch of MyAAHOA.com is one of our top accomplishments. I also think that the inroads AAHOA made with the current administration are quite significant. The White House invited AAHOA members, including some of my fellow officers and me, to different events where President Trump rolled out initiatives intended to help small business owners and hoteliers.

What are some new initiatives that have recently been introduced?

Biran Patel, AAHOA Vice Chairman: 
At AAHOA’s 2019 Convention and Trade Show in San Diego, Calif., AAHOA and Emerald Expositions announced a partnership to reimagine HX: The Hotel Experience Powered by AAHOA, which will be this November in New York City. AAHOA is organizing great educational sessions for the conference. AAHOA’s industry-leading educational offerings through AAHOA HOTEL OWNERS ACADEMY™ are bringing on-demand professional development to hoteliers through our archive of hundreds of webinars and trainings. We’re also partnering with AHLA to promote human trafficking awareness and training at events across the country. We’re getting governors, first ladies, attorneys generals, U.S. senators and representatives, and other elected officials to join us in letting people know that hoteliers are part of the solution and to promote training for hoteliers and employees.

Neal Patel, AAHOA Secretary:
 Building on what Biran said about our partnership with Emerald Expositions to reimagine HX, we are also introducing the first Young Professionals networking event in HX’s history, which will present the next generation of hoteliers with opportunities to meet with brand representatives, vendors, and other hoteliers.

AAHOA also continues to expand our educational workshops and webinars to assist hoteliers in professional development. This fall, AAHOA is offering a live educational session in Columbia, Md., “How to Form a Management Company,” which will also be available online. It will feature several webinars on topics including financial planning, recession-readiness, structuring employee benefits, prospecting 101, the new overtime rules, and how to take advantage of a big little-known tax deduction. We are always listening to member feedback when it comes to creating our professional development sessions and webinars, and our education department is consistently finding authorities on an array of topics to meet member demands for up-to-date training and education.

What has your experience been like on the board?

Biran Patel, AAHOA Vice Chairman: 
Serving on the board, first as a regional director and then as an officer, is a very positive experience. It exposes me to valuable perspectives from numerous hoteliers, and I’ve gained a better understanding of our industry. Our association represents hoteliers who own hotels in every segment, and each offers a unique perspective on the challenges their businesses face, consumer expectations, and how new trends and technology are being incorporated into business plans.

Neal Patel, AAHOA Secretary:
 I feel that because each board member represents a different region and constituency, our board is a constructive body that helps us gain a stronger understanding of the industry, explore innovative ideas, and learn about the challenges hoteliers face across the country. My experience serving on AAHOA’s board, first as the Young Professional Director Western Division and now as Secretary, continues to provide me with a wide range of views and an understanding of different parts of our industry.

How has the hotel industry changed in the past two years? Five years? How have these changes impacted how AAHOA manages its organization?

Vinay Patel, AAHOA Treasurer:
 Technology is developing quickly, and guests are expecting a lot more on the technology front—not only higher internet speeds but also how they can use their mobile devices and interact with the televisions in guestrooms. Customers are seeking instantaneous service and looking for experiences in the hotels.

AAHOA must adapt to these changes, and we are constantly creating new educational content to meet member needs and to ensure they are prepared. AAHOA will also work with the brands to see how we deal with all the changing technological needs in hotels, because hoteliers will have to budget accordingly to meet changing brand standards. Owners want to ensure that they see a good ROI when they invest in new technologies.

What is the role of organizations like AAHOA in the hotel industry? Why are they so important?

Neal Patel, AAHOA Secretary: 
Hospitality is a multifaceted industry, and associations like AAHOA are critically important to bringing people together. Whether it is connecting hoteliers, brands, vendors, and specialists in different fields of professional development, or speaking with one voice on behalf of our industry in the political arena through our advocacy work, AAHOA helps people build networks and gain access to valuable information, perspectives, and opportunities.

Rachel Humphrey, AAHOA COO: 
AAHOA was originally founded to combat the prejudice that many immigrant hoteliers faced as they tried to make it as small business owners in the hospitality industry. Thankfully, because of AAHOA’s efforts and a change in social attitudes, we are in a better place and, as an association, our efforts are now focused on areas like education, advocacy, and initiatives such as our work to combat human trafficking in the hospitality industry. As an industry, we are stronger together. Whether it is giving voice to policy issues that affect hoteliers, providing owners the professional development tools they need to be even more successful, or working with the brands and vendor partners to address common issues across our industry, AAHOA not only helps America’s hoteliers speak with one voice, we also help bring people together. Networking and relationships are so important in our industry. That’s why AAHOA holds over 200 events each year to facilitate networking among owners, executives, elected officials, vendors, and industry partners.

What is your outlook for 2020 and beyond?

Vinay Patel, AAHOA Treasurer:
 I think 2020 will be steady. Supply is increasing but demand will feed the supply. I think the rise in ADR will be due to inflation and the new products in the market. Looking beyond 2020, caution is the word I would use. The economy will slow down, which will impact the lodging industry, but I think it will be a soft and short dip—nothing like the last recession.

Rachel Humphrey, AAHOA COO: AAHOA is looking forward to continued growth as an association. This includes growing our membership to all hoteliers, hosting more great events, expanding our educational offerings through the AAHOA HOTEL OWNERS ACADEMY, and bringing the successful advocacy model we’ve developed in Washington, D.C., to state capitals across the country. We are optimistic about where our association is headed.

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