Vinay Patel, president of Fairbrook Hotels and incoming 2021-2022 chair of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), is a second-generation hotelier who tells a story familiar among those whose families immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. “Like many hoteliers, I grew up in the hospitality industry. My family came to the United States from Malawi, a country in southern Africa, and settled in Richmond, Virginia, where my parents bought a small 15-room property.”
There, Patel says, he helped out while growing up to support his parents’ dream, but then, after college, he jumped in with both feet to pursue dreams of his own. “I remained in the industry because I saw great opportunities to build a business and work in a field I am passionate about,” he recalls.
Over the years, the business grew from that first motel to what is now Fairfield Hotels, a fully integrated hotel development and management company headquartered in Chantilly, Virginia, which owns and operates 11 properties, including IHG, Hilton, Radisson, Choice, and Wyndham brands.
During those years, Patel also expanded his horizons beyond his own business interests to assume leadership positions in the industry he loves, starting with becoming a member of AAHOA in 1993 and serving on its board since 2014, most recently elected to serve as secretary and currently serving as vice chair. He is also now president of the Herndon Hospitality Association and on the board of the Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association, and was previously on the board of AHLA.
Through these associations, Patel has been a passionate champion for hoteliers in the nation’s capital. His leadership in advocacy includes testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives on regulatory issues affecting franchisees, hosting roundtable meetings with public officials to illustrate the importance of the lodging industry to the American economy, and working with lawmakers on banking rules that affect small-business owners.
Patel says advocating for hoteliers during challenging times has always been important, but never more so than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when working together to achieve common goals was a matter of survival for many properties and their employees. While the industry struggles to recover, he says his top priority as AAHOA chair is to help America’s hotel owners through the resources the association offers its members: professional development, advocacy, and events that bring together hoteliers, industry professionals, and brands from across the country. “Just as we have for the past year, we are targeting our resources to help hoteliers get through this crisis and take advantage of new opportunities as we work towards a full recovery,” he says.
Patel plans to continue expanding AAHOA’s engagement with state and local governments, noting, “As a part of the American Hospitality Alliance, we are forming effective partnerships and working with a variety of partners to educate lawmakers about the issues affecting hoteliers and their employees.” He highlights, too, AAHOA’s educational resources, which he says provided incalculable support during the pandemic, and will remain an essential component in helping members understand and navigate the challenges they face. “Last year, despite lockdowns and quarantines, AAHOA saw the highest level of member engagement in our history, and education led the way. We provided over 200 detailed, timely, and relevant webinars about COVID-19’s effect on the industry and what hoteliers could do to keep their lights on. Tens of thousands of hoteliers look to AAHOA for industry-leading education, and during this economic recovery, it is more important than ever for hoteliers to understand what lies ahead.”
Patel couples his concern for the continuing challenges with his faith in the industry. “The speed of the recovery—both STR and CBRE project a 2024 recovery—and the labor shortage are the biggest challenges we face, but I am optimistic that as more Americans get vaccinated and cases continue to drop, people will feel confident enough to travel again. Similarly, I believe with widespread vaccination and school reopenings, we will see more people reenter the workforce later this year.”
Reflecting on the devastation wrought by the pandemic, Patel says, “This pandemic is a reminder that there is much beyond our control. We can prepare as best we can for existential threats, such as global pandemics, but, as we’ve seen over the past 15 months, these types of crises exacerbate the daily issues that owners face, such as labor, occupancy, and revenue.”
He says that it is therefore important for efforts to support the industry, including those by AAHOA, to stay the course with programs to address those daily issues. He mentions how AAHOA’s educational offerings, advocacy, and political engagement stood out during this difficult time. “These initiatives became central to the association’s identity and role in the industry. AAHOA webinars helped tens of thousands of hoteliers and industry professionals navigate the shifting landscapes of health and safety, finances, and politics during the pandemic. AAHOA and our allies in the industry were instrumental in helping hoteliers elevate their voices to educate lawmakers on the dire threat facing the industry and advocate for relief and stimulus measures.”