By Bharat Patel
Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in the Hospitality Industry Speakers Series by the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. What a great opportunity to speak to the future members of our industry!
I happily shared my own personal background with the students. I told them that, though hospitality was in my blood, I wasn’t planning on being in the hotel business – despite being a Patel! In fact, I worked in a Zagat-rated diner until a short stint helping my parents in Daytona Beach changed my mind. I tried to impress upon them that, no matter what hard times you might face growing up, as I did, you can be successful if you just work hard and stick to your goals.
I also introduced the students to AAHOA, which most of them had never heard of. They were quite surprised to learn that our members own nearly half of all the hotels in the U.S. Since they were unfamiliar with the organization, I shared our history with them, explaining how AAHOA grew out of necessity as we banded together to fight discrimination in financing and insurance against Indian-Americans. I explained how many Indian-Americans could not obtain loans from banks, so they pooled their resources to become each other’s financiers. I invited them to attend some of our conferences to not only learn more about the industry but also to meet some of its movers and shakers.
The human trafficking epidemic was another major issue within the industry that the hospitality students were for the most part unaware of. Few of them realized the pervasiveness of the problem or how greatly it affects hoteliers. I explained how AAHOA members are working with Homeland Security and other agencies to provide special training to help our owners and their staffs identify human trafficking so we can put an end to it.
I defined and explained our legislative priorities, the major issues hoteliers face today, and the importance of advocacy in our industry. I told them we want to make the tax cut permanent, end “drive-by” lawsuits, and get a statutory fix for the joint-employer standard, among other things. One major issue they were unaware of was the threat Airbnb and other short-term rentals pose to hoteliers. I explained, for instance, that Airbnb sells more rooms per night than Marriott’s entire brand and that 80 percent are unhosted experiences. I told them that we, as hoteliers, welcome short-term rentals as an industry, but we want them to be subject to the same state rules and regulations as hotels. We only want a level playing field.
Before wrapping up, I encouraged the students to get involved in professional development by attending conferences, conventions, and other industry-relevant events, and to get as much real-world experience as they could. School work is fine, but nothing beats actually doing it. I explained that many current hotel CEOs and owners started as entry-level employees, and if they can do it, so can the students. They just need to work hard and keep their eyes on the prize.
Thank you to USF Sarasota-Manatee for the opportunity to share AAHOA and my passion with the future generation of our industry.