Today’s Hotelier sits down with AAHOA’s new leader to uncover his plans and goals, leadership, and industry issues and trends.
by Alicia Hoisington
Bhavesh Patel says he entered the hospitality industry by accident. His parents came to the United States from England in 1976 to make a better life for him and his two sisters. It was here that the Patels became owners of their first hotel.
“We helped out in every aspect,” Patel said. “I was even a lifeguard at the pool there for many summers. I saw what the industry was like and what my parents went through.”
Patel attended York College of Pennsylvania and earned a B.S. in business management and finance. Upon graduation, he had a job lined up working on Wall Street. But when his father fell ill, his mother was left trying to manage three properties alone. Instead of going to Wall Street, Patel went home to take over for his father.
Now Patel is a principal of ADM Hotels, a family-owned, full-service real estate company specializing in hospitality management, development and investments. ADM has six limited-service properties in its portfolio in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois. The company has four more hotels in the works for this year, two more in the pipeline, and looks to add three to four properties per year moving forward.
Patel is also an active member in his community and several Indian associations. He is a past president of Charotaria Leuva Patidar Seva Samaj and now serves on its Board of Trustees. He also has been president of the Rotary Club of Runnemede-Bellmawr-Glendora, where he was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow.
An active member of AAHOA since 1994 and a current lifetime member, Patel served as AAHOA’s vice chairman from 2016-2017. He has also served on various AAHOA committees, including Government Affairs; Franchise and Industry Relations; and Finance and Audit. He received an AAHOA Chairman’s Award in 2011 and 2012.
Last month at the AAHOA Convention & Trade Show in San Antonio, Texas, Patel became the 26th AAHOA chairman, an accomplishment he says is one of the greatest in his life.
“We have over 16,000 members who own half the hotels in the country. They all have placed their trust in me to represent our one voice on a national stage,” Patel said. “I’m excited to take on the responsibility and work to make AAHOA even greater.”
He follows former Chairman Bharat (Bruce) Patel’s leadership at AAHOA.
“Bruce’s leadership has been extraordinary. He’s not only detail-oriented, but he’s on top of things and likes to get things done,” Patel said. “With that in mind, he put a lot of challenges in front of himself and the officers across the board. And because of that, this year we have broken almost all records with his leadership.”
Patel spoke with Today’s Hotelier about goals for his upcoming leadership at AAHOA, how he sees the organization growing in the future and insights on the industry. What follows is an edited account of the conversation.
Q. Describe a defining moment that led you to where you are today.
The reason why I became involved with AAHOA is because I saw all these rules and regulations being put in place. Back in 2007, New Jersey came up with this occupancy tax to start mandating on the state and city level. I went to a lot of these different towns and spoke up and said how this is going to impact our members and hotels in that town. That led me to get involved with AAHOA to help members on the local and national level.
Q. How do you feel AAHOA can best serve this industry and its members?
We need to be engaged and express our voice as one. We’ve been too silent, sitting on the sidelines, depending on someone else to pick up the slack. Now, we’re changing that. We need to be more engaged, not only on the advocacy level and the Federal level, but we need to be more engaged on the state and local level as well.
In addition, AAHOA and its members need to get involved with all the different brand aspects. We have all these brands, and a lot of our members are not engaged with the different franchise advisory committees. We need more members to become engaged on that level.
Q. What’s your biggest initiative as chairman of AAHOA?
The biggest initiative I have is educating, educating, educating. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” The future of AAHOA and the hospitality industry is education. If we’re united, engaged, inspired and – as Gandhi reminded us – educated, there’s no reason why we can’t conquer and achieve our goals.
Last year, we offered more than 40 industry-specific webinars. My goal this year is to double that. Last year we offered educational seminars. This year, we’re going to triple them. Last year we formed a partnership with Hotel Management to create the national conference series, Hotel ROI. This year, we’re going to have seven different regional conferences as a result of that partnership, and we’re aiming to establish even more for 2018.
Last year, we offered educational seminars at our regional meetings; I also want to make sure we offer these at our town hall meetings. I’m going to be proactive working with the brands and our vendors to create internship programs for not only our young professionals but for anyone who wants to enter the hospitality industry.
Q. What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken that maybe didn’t pay off how you thought it would? What did you learn from it?
The biggest risk was getting involved with a large full-service property. We weren’t really ready for it as far as management was concerned. We didn’t have the education and knowledge to run something like that. Again, that’s why I go back and press on education.
Q. What do you see as AAHOA’s current role in the industry?
We need to have a unified voice of hotel owners. Education is a big part of this, but we also need to expand on advocacy. While we’re doing a lot on a Federal level, we’re seeking to do more on the state and local level by partnering nearly 10 different state associations. The AAHOA PAC is what binds all our advocacy together and we’ll continue to be aggressive in promoting and growing it. Only through all of these things coming together can AAHOA be a unified voice of hotel owners.
Q. What legislative priorities do you think are most important for the industry to focus on right now? What is AAHOA doing to respond to those issues?
First is tax reform. Over the past couple of years, there’s been talk of abolishing the 1031 Tax Exchange. That’s been a strong vehicle for many of our members and their growth. We want to make sure that it doesn’t go away and stays in the tax code the way it is. Nothing is broken; why fix it?
Also, we still want to continue to focus on ADA drive-by lawsuits. Last year we made great strides by having Congressman Poe from Texas draft a bill. For the first time in history it passed the Judiciary Committee, but because of the election season, it didn’t go anywhere. Congressman Poe has reintroduced it this year, and we’re working with some senators to introduce it on the Senate side. Hopefully, by this time next year, we’ll have some kind of bill in place that protects our members. We’re not against the ADA – we’re just asking for a period of time, maybe a month or two, instead of getting abruptly sued if there is an issue. If there’s no issue when these frivolous lawsuits happen, then this is a way to stop it.
Also, we need to protect our members from their hotels being unionized. We’re talking about the NLRB coming out with the joint-employer ruling, and we’re still carrying that message and making sure it doesn’t happen.
On the state level, we still want to focus on the increase of occupancy taxes as well as minimum wage and ensuring the playing field is level for our members and Airbnb.
Q. What do you think is the hotel industry’s greatest challenge, and how do you suggest we overcome it?
It’s regulatory rulings that come out, whether on the state or Federal level, that really impact our hotels and hoteliers. It’s now more difficult for us to operate and become profitable because of all these issues. We want to ensure we let our folks know in Washington how regulations affect us, whether it’s taking away from our bottom line or preventing food from being put on the table for some of our small hotel members.
Another challenge as face are brands coming up with so many different brands, which takes away from market share. When is too much too much? We need to hear from our members about how much business is affected by it. It’s going to take some time, and we’re going to have to watch. But it is going to make an impact because they aren’t only taking directly from their market share within their family, but also market share from other brands.
Q. What is our industry’s greatest opportunity as we head into the latter half of 2017?
Being on the same page and delivering a concise message. We need to be unified. We need to make an impact, not only on the national level but also on the state level and with local city officials. We need to let them know how all these regulations – whether it’s occupancy tax or minimum wage – are really going to impact us.
Q. What’s your leadership style?
I believe that no one accomplishes anything great alone. My leadership style is never an “I,” it’s always a “we.” I never think of something as an individual accomplishment.
I always like to listen and understand the issues and see the best way we can tackle them. I’ll always believe in the team – your team is what allows you accomplish goals.
Q. Where do you see AAHOA in 10 years?
We’re a powerhouse now, but I see us as an even stronger powerhouse. We’ll be the continued voice of hotel owners and hospitality itself. We will increase membership to more than 20,000 members. By then, our members will own almost 60 percent of hotels. Lifetime members will probably exceed 10,000; we’re already at 5,000 now.
In Washington, we will be the leaders. We will be the voice. They will look to us as a resource instead of us going to them. Not only on the national level, but also on the state level as a result of all the partnerships we’re forming with state associations and congressional folks.
Q. How can this generation of hoteliers best serve the industry and AAHOA as an organization?
By being engaged. Take part in everything we do and anything you see you need to take part in. Don’t sit back. We need to hear everyone’s voice, and so does the industry. If we don’t speak up, we’re going to see all these rules and regulations just come into place because no one said anything.
In addition, we need to focus on being unified with one strong voice and message. But the greatest part is being engaged, whether on the Federal, state or city level. Even be engaged with the brands themselves, and let them know how coming out with a new incentive or initiative will affect you.
Q. Tell us about an accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
The biggest accomplishment is becoming an officer and chairman of AAHOA. I love to help people – that’s part of the reason I’m in hospitality. Whether it’s a family member or friend who needs help financially, needs help in maybe buying a hotel, or already has a hotel and looking to find a vendor or renovate a hotel, or someone who needs a loan, I’m always out there trying to help everyone I can.
Q. What leader do you most admire and why?
My dad. Growing up, he really showed me what it takes to make a dollar. I saw all the hard work he did alongside my mom. I learned everything from him from the ground up. When I came home from school, he showed me how to lay carpet or put in tile, how to clean a pool, everything from A to Z.
Everything I learned in the hotel industry and in life, I learned from him. ■