At the Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS) in Los Angeles, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts announced that its “Women Own the Room” program, which first launched at AAHOACON in August 2021, has signed its first agreement with Trusha Patel, founder and CEO, Platinum Holdings, with two new-construction La Quinta and Hawthorn Suites dual-branded hotels. The new program is designed to advance and empower women entrepreneurs to break through the predominantly male-dominated hotel industry by helping them help overcome the common barriers women face in hotel development. To do this, the program is built on pillars of delivering comprehensive financial solutions, offering personalized operational guidance and support, and establishing an inclusive community for networking and education.
LODGING caught up with Patel and Lisa Checchio, Wyndham’s chief marketing officer, to discuss the rollout of “Women Own the Room” and the impact they anticipate the program will have on the industry.
How long has this program been in the works?
Checchio: Wyndham has been working on this program for a number of years. It is built from conversations that we were having with female owners and their counterparts about some of the key barriers to entry for ownership: the financing, operations, and community. Only one woman enters hotel development for every 9.6 men; there are not many women who know other women who developed a hotel before. We took our time in building what we think is the first of its kind in our industry—a program dedicated to empowering more women in hotel ownership. We’re very proud to have Trusha be our first member.
Trusha, can you share your story? How did you get involved in this program?
Patel: I pretty much grew up in the hospitality world. My family was from San Antonio, Texas, and I spent 24/7 in an independent property working pretty much all the roles that you can think of. My mom and dad had a lifelong dream to build their own property one day from the ground up. At that time, back in the early ’90s, many people were not doing that. I was probably 16 or 17 years old when my father decided it was time to find some land, talk to banks, and find a franchisor to work with. I helped him as his translator as we embarked on developing a 60-unit Howard Johnson hotel. I learned the whole process about the different facets of building a property from the ground up. It also gave me the opportunity to undergo general managers training—I was probably the youngest person in that training—and bring what I learned back to the hotel to train the staff and operate the property—all while I was going to school full-time.
A couple years down the road, I got married. My husband was building his first hotel—a Microtel in Stafford, Texas—with one other partner. That gave me an opportunity to finish my studies and practice school psychology for a couple of years. After that, I finish my MBA to solidify my business skills. All that experience and education led me to where I am now in my own development stage.
How has the development of these two dual-brand properties been progressing?
Patel: In December, we signed franchise agreements for two dual-brand properties in the metroplex of Austin, Texas: the 125-room La Quinta and Hawthorn Suites Georgetown in a suburb north of the city, and the 125-room La Quinta and Hawthorn Suites Austin Airport near the new Tesla headquarters. We’re projecting an 18- to 24-month construction and opening time due to the obstacles that we are dealing with at the current time.
What are some of the barriers you have faced as an owner?
Patel: Over the last 25 years, pretty much all of my investments have been limited partnerships. I needed to be in the driver’s seat and at the table making decisions, but when I was asking questions about financing, I faced obstacles. Just a couple months ago, I wanted to acquire a couple of hotels, and I went to a lender and asked to see if my deals were reviewed and if there was any way the terms could be looked at again. The lender said, “No, that’s the best we can do.” I went back and told my husband, “Oh well, I guess I need to look at another company or find another solution.” But when my husband went back, that same gentleman told him, “Those are your deals? Let me take a look at them again. You know what? I have some room.” I was livid. Women already face enough obstacles. These things need to change.
Checchio: Trusha’s not alone—we hear this story over and over again, and that’s exactly why we built this program. If an entrepreneur wants to own a hotel, we need to be doing everything we can to help them to run and grow their business, and that’s what we hope to do through this program.
What drew you to the “Women Own the Room” program for these projects?
Patel: This is a bold step for me as a woman developer. For me to feel comfortable taking this step, I need to rely on something that’s been established already; Wyndham has these three pillars and practices in place. When you’re picking a franchisor, you’re not only picking the brand—you’re picking the partner that you’re going to be working with. This program is my main reason for doing both of these projects.
How is the program designed to help women overcome some of the roadblocks to ownership?
Checchio: There are these key barriers that keep women from rising into hotel ownership. We’ve constructed the program for hotel owners to get the financing they need to build the hotel. Then, once it opens, we support them from an operational perspective, helping ramp-up revenue and ensure that the hotel is running in the most efficient way. Lastly, we create a community of women who can come back together again and learn from each other, helping to inspire other women to enter hotel ownership as well.
How does “Women Own the Room” foster that connection between women hotel owners?
Checchio: It’s almost an immediate sense of community. The women representatives of our Franchise Advisory Councils came together in a meeting last month; it was personally inspiring to hear a group of 15-20 women tell their stories, remember what they went through, and share how they’re helping others. Having a platform where women can come together and learn from each other helps other women recognize, “If I can see it, then I can be it.”
What are your future plans for this program?
Checchio: Our industry is the most diverse in the world, and that needs to be reflected at every level of leadership, including hotel ownership. Success for this program is having more women be the primary owner of a hotel. We want to be able to give the keys to more women like Trusha who have always wanted to be owners, to those who have been partners but have not taken that first step for themselves, or to entrepreneurs who are new to hospitality. Every deal is unique and everyone will need a different approach, and that’s the beauty of this program—it’s flexible based on the needs of the developers that we’re working with.
Patel: Asian Americans are very dominant in this field; I went into hotel ownership with my father, then my husband, then I did my own schooling, and now I’m going into it myself. I would like to see my daughter, the future generation, and anyone that has a desire to be in hospitality have the ability to take their dreams to that next level.