Hitesh (HP) Patel
AAHOA Chairman (2018-2019)
Before I became AAHOA Chairman in April, I committed myself to making a significant impact in my first 100 days. That number may seem arbitrary, but those of us who are privileged to serve America’s hoteliers in this role only have about 365 days to do so officially, and I wanted to commence my tenure by advancing our agenda to as many people in as many forums as possible and promote the issues central to our industry. But, as Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy. The question is, what are we busy about?”
Over the next year, human trafficking awareness and prevention will be a centerpiece of my chairmanship. It is an issue of vital importance to our industry, and if we can help stop it, we, as hoteliers, can save lives. On May 2, AAHOA launched its Human Trafficking Awareness Training (HTAT), a complete online course that helps hoteliers and their employees recognize the signs of human trafficking and understand what they can do to prevent it. The training, developed in partnership with Polaris, a global leader in the fight against modern slavery, is available at no cost to AAHOA members and their employees. As an industry that traffickers continue to target because of the privacy afforded to guests, hoteliers must take a stand against this illicit practice. AAHOA’s reach is significant. With nearly 18,000 members who own one in every two hotels in America and employ over 600,000 workers, this training has the potential to raise awareness of human trafficking to a significant percentage of our industry. On the day of HTAT’s launch, I attended a roundtable with U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) in Houston where we discussed trafficking prevention with members of the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, Polaris, and law enforcement agencies. There is a moral imperative to end this practice, and hoteliers can play a significant role.
Preventing human trafficking is born out of education, and HTAT is just the latest in new digital offerings by AAHOA. As part of our initiative to ensure members get the most out of their membership, we initiated the AAHOA HOTEL OWNERS ACADEMY™, a digital resource where all AAHOA education is available under one umbrella. Now AAHOA members can access all webinars, get information about brand development days, CHIA, education sessions at regional meetings, and one and two-day workshops. One of my goals as chairman is to ensure that we continue to make member benefits more accessible to help hoteliers make money, save money, and protect their investments.
Learning about key facets of our industry will help us as an association as we build on our advocacy efforts to help federal, state, and local elected officials understand our industry and our issues as they create (or repeal) laws and regulations. At our Spring National Advocacy Conference (SNAC), over 200 hoteliers traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with their congressional representatives and staffers. I want our advocacy days, whether in Washington or at our state capitols, to be constructive, educational, impactful, and meaningful events for both our members and our elected officials. This year at SNAC, our members advocated for issues such as ending predatory drive-by lawsuits and the establishment of a statutory joint-employer standard. They also educated our lawmakers on AAHOA members’ efforts to combat human trafficking and shared stories of how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is benefiting their plans to grow their businesses, help their employees, and increase their bottom lines. One of my goals for the next year is to encourage state and local political engagement, especially as we push for a level playing field for short-term rentals, address proposed occupancy taxes, and work with local governments and law enforcement to combat human trafficking. Hoteliers are a significant driver of our economies and play an important role in our communities. We simply cannot afford to be absent in the political space.
Representing our association is a key part of the chairman’s role, and I’ve been traveling to events around the country to ensure that AAHOA’s perspective is represented and that we can continue to promote the types of constructive partnerships and engagement with brands and industry partners that benefit our members. In April, I attended conferences and brand alliance meetings for Radisson Hotel Group, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, and Choice Hotels. I spoke at a hotel owners roundtable at the HD Expo in Las Vegas where I discussed AAHOA’s activities on several advocacy issues and shared the success of our efforts in Oklahoma to repeal the $5 per night hotel tax. In Chicago, I spoke at the Red Roof Forum on Leadership for Women Entrepreneurs about the important work AAHOA is doing to support women hoteliers and the education and networking opportunities we make available throughout the association. In addition to my presentation at SNAC and meetings with elected officials, I attended the Arizona Tourism Unity Dinner in Scottsdale, AZ with the Governors of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, Doug Ducey and Claudia Pavlovich respectively. In June, I participated on a panel about boutique design at the NYU Conference and spoke about how this important sector of our industry continues to develop to meet consumer demand for a more bespoke guest experience. Additional conferences in Houston with HITEC and AAHOA’s Young Professional Hoteliers continue to yield valuable opportunities to advance our leadership in the industry.
AAHOA and our members are doing great things, and I am proud to be representing the association at so many events and contributing to the ongoing dialogue about our industry and how we can continue to grow. We are working hard on behalf of all hotel owners and bringing the unique perspectives of owners to the table as brands, vendors and other industry partners work collaboratively to create the best guest experiences and the most successful businesses possible. The first 100 days have been incredibly busy, but I try to be mindful of John Wooden’s advice, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” We are making great strides as an association, in advocacy, education, and in advancing our position as the voice of America’s hotel owners, and I will keep on working hard to achieve great things for us over the next year.