Washington DispatchAHLAIn Conversation With Mitch Patel: New AHLA Vice Chair Supports Agenda for...

In Conversation With Mitch Patel: New AHLA Vice Chair Supports Agenda for 2024 and Beyond

Mitch Patel, president and CEO of Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Vision Hospitality Group, recently spoke with LODGING regarding his goals as AHLA vice chair, current challenges and positive aspects of the lodging landscape, and his outlook for the industry.

What initially attracted you to the hospitality industry?

My parents came to this great country with little in their pockets, trying to pursue the American Dream. They leased an 11-room motel where my family lived and worked. Because I grew up in the “motel” business, that’s the last thing I wanted to pursue as a career, so I became an engineer. After working three years as a traffic engineer, I realized I didn’t have a passion for engineering, so I took the plunge and got into this industry with $3,000 in savings. I built that first hotel as a general contractor and opened the hotel as a general manager. It took a little while, but I fell in love with every aspect of this business, especially the people. Most importantly, I found my passion where I never expected to.

How and why did you decide to take an active role within the AHLA?

I’ve been connected with Chip Rogers for years, so when he joined AHLA, my interest in the organization naturally peaked. I believed in him, his leadership, and his agenda, so when he reached out for me to get involved, I couldn’t resist. While they were unfortunate circumstances, during the pandemic, I saw the tremendous value of AHLA and AAHOA. These organizations were our guiding light during the darkest of hours. I am honored to represent this great organization as a hotel owner, operator, and entrepreneur to protect and move our industry forward.

As the vice chair, what are some of the ways you plan to support Kevin’s mission in 2024?

Advocacy and member services are at the heart of everything AHLA does. Kevin is a tremendous leader, and I look forward to working with him and the rest of the executive committee and board to stop onerous policies for hoteliers and advance positive legislation that helps our members do business and build upon AHLA’s legacy.

What do you project to be some of the bigger issues and challenges for the industry in 2025 when you become chair?

The future of the hospitality industry is constantly changing, but I would like to see an environment where operational challenges like labor shortages, regulatory overreach, inflation, and the current interest rate environment are much less of a factor than they are today and give hoteliers more leeway to focus on improving and growing their businesses rather than navigating these roadblocks. Also, we have made tremendous strides in our fight against human trafficking in our industry in recent years. We are going to double down on that fight going forward. Success is never final. We will continue to fight for our industry.

With 2024 being an election year, how might that impact the lodging industry?

The electoral process typically positively affects the lodging business—particularly in the swing states—as candidates, campaign staff, media, and others visit throughout the campaign. All of that is a recipe for more hotel stays. The election results also affect our industry in different ways, such as shaping tax, regulatory, and legislative agendas at all levels of government.

The AHLA has made great strides in advocacy efforts in recent years. How do you plan to continue that momentum? Over the last few years, AHLA has done an excellent job putting in place an infrastructure for fighting and winning policy battles throughout government. For example, last year, AHLA racked up several monumental achievements, including a clarification in Paycheck Protection Program eligibility guidelines that will save hoteliers an estimated $14 billion, a $9 increase in the continental U.S. per diem rate that will net hoteliers an estimated $300 million, and the release of an additional 64,716 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas for FY24. Continuing this momentum depends on maintaining and fine-tuning AHLA’s already formidable infrastructure, so we’ll be focused on that.

What are some of the most positive aspects of the current lodging landscape in your opinion? There are so many opportunities for both hoteliers and hotel employees right now. The American traveler has proved to be resilient and demand continues to grow. This trajectory is great news for hoteliers, but it’s also critical for our employees. There has never been a better time to join our industry with better wages, better benefits, more flexibility, and chances for upward mobility.

What’s your overall outlook on the lodging industry going forward? I’m optimistic about the future, even though there are continued challenges. That’s why it’s so vital to have an organization like AHLA that’s dedicated to stopping onerous policies for hoteliers and advancing positive legislation that helps our members do business. Many of these members, like my parents, came to this great country with little in their pockets to pursue the American Dream. I am honored to represent this great organization and fully committed to protecting our industry, our livelihoods, and the American Dream.