AAHOA Officers Talk Innovation and Recovery at AAHOACON 2022

The 2022 AAHOA Convention and Trade Show (AAHOACON) kicked off on Tuesday, April 12. As the estimated 6,000 attendees arrived and more than 500 exhibitors set up on the trade show floor, AAHOA’s 2021-2022 officers sat down for a press conference to discuss this year’s convention and the theme they chose for it: Innovation.

Vinay Patel, 2021-2022 AAHOA chairman, said that hoteliers are excited to see some return to normalcy, such as the comeback of major industry conventions like AAHOACON, even as pandemic-era challenges persist, including around lending, construction, and purchasing. Bharat Patel, 2021-2022 treasurer, agreed that there is enthusiasm and optimism in the industry. “I think we’re seeing the beginning of the end of the pandemic and the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve got great numbers for this year’s convention.”

Nishant (Neal) Patel, 2021-2022 vice chairman and incoming 2022-2023 chairman, added that top-of-mind issues for AAHOA members in the year ahead include enhancing relationships with franchisors. “There are some brands that go above and beyond to help the membership and owners, but some not so much. We’re just trying to level the playing field and communicate with the brands that when they make money, we make money. And if we make more revenue, they’re profitable. Anything we can do to maximize our return—that’s the goal at the end of the day.”

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A key priority for Neal Patel as incoming chair is rethinking hospitality for the future. “Our theme for this year’s convention is innovation: What can we do to innovate operations or business development or revenue optimization,” he explained. Neal Patel sees technology as a means to address ongoing challenges for hospitality businesses, like staffing shortages. “In 2019, we did a membership survey, and 91 percent of hotels had job openings. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help.”

Neal Patel, who is also managing partner of Blue Chip Hotels, shared his own company’s approach to this issue. “At multiple hotels, we didn’t have anyone at the front desk working night shifts. There were times the management team got calls from hotels or the police department because someone couldn’t get into their room. That was a huge challenge for us.” The company turned to technology as a solution and installed check-in kiosks that connect guests to a live agent. “Now our team members can do a variety of things instead of being stuck at the front desk. It helped us and our customer service scores.”

The pandemic certainly prompted an acceleration in the adoption of technology, but so has the rise of tech-powered short-term rental platforms, the officers observed. Miraj Patel, 2021-2022 secretary, said that travelers increasingly want lodging options that have the comforts and amenities of home. While hotels have taken steps to enhance design in line with guest expectations, he said the industry has fallen behind in technology.

Miraj Patel noted that now is an advantageous time to roll out innovations that help to keep operating costs low. “When you see our NOI dropping year over year, you can advocate with your brand partners, vendor partners, and the government, but at the same time, we as the operator need to find solutions towards ensuring that our bottom line is still attractive,” he says. However, change can be difficult, and hoteliers are often cautious and need to see solid projections for strong returns before they implement innovative solutions.

“We have to build that confidence in our membership that as we move forward, we’re going to have to take bold steps to ensure that our industry gets better.” He adds that incorporating technology into hotel operations is imperative for attracting the next generation of hospitality talent and encouraging second-, third-, and fourth-generation AAHOA members to continue growing the business. The association is also looking at ways it can innovate its own approach to enhance value for its members. Neal Patel shared plans to create an online hub where members can connect to the resources and partners they need to grow their businesses—whether banks, brands, or vendors.

Vinay Patel said that he hopes members walk away from this year’s conference “feeling educated, good about themselves, good about the industry as a whole, and good about the association.”

Miraj Patel added, “When they come to the AAHOA convention and any of our events in general, we want them to feel that AAHOA is their voice and their partner. AAHOA, to us, is the definition of not only the American Dream but our platform of unity.”

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Christine Killion is the editor of LODGING.