Insight, expertise, and ideas: An inside look at how your AAHOA Officers are investing in the future and building relationships in the industry

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by Peter Clerkin

Today’s Hotelier recently caught up with the 2018-2019 AAHOA Officers to discuss their experiences within AAHOA and in the industry as a whole. Here, they share their insights and wisdom on a host of topics. Get to know your AAHOA Officers a little bit better.

Hitesh (HP) Patel, CHA, CHO Chairman

WHAT HAVE YOU WORKED ON AT AAHOA THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Hitesh (HP) Patel: I am most proud of our efforts to combat human trafficking in the hospitality industry. AAHOA’s educational efforts are helping raise awareness of the issue among hoteliers and their employees. The educational platforms we developed through our partnerships with Polaris and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) are free and easily accessible on our website. Helping hoteliers understand the gravity and scale of this issue will go a long way to save lives and keep traffickers out of our businesses and our communities.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO AT AAHOA?
HP: I’m most looking forward to AAHOA’s continued growth as the third generation of hoteliers gets involved in the industry. Being an owner these days can be much more sophisticated than in the past, depending on the hotelier’s level of engagement. Whether one is focused on day-to-day operations or wants to get into large-scale development or capitalize on the latest trends, AAHOA will continue to evolve to engage with young professionals to keep them coming back.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT AT AAHOA?
HP: Earlier this year, when I got to address the crowd at ALIS, it showed the industry that AAHOA had arrived. Having the chairman of AAHOA speak before the conference was a big step forward for our association in the industry. It also demonstrated the unity between AAHOA and AHLA when it comes to our advocacy efforts and our pursuits in the industry.

MILESTONE/ANNIVERSARY OF TIME SERVED AS AN OFFICER:
HP: I have served nine years with AAHOA: five years as a Director and four years as an Officer. I’ve seen AAHOA change significantly in that time, from the transition when Chip Rogers became our president and CEO and all the changes he ushered in, to our new transition as we search for a new executive. We always want to make sure AAHOA continues growing.

WHAT IS THE LATEST HOSPITALITY TREND YOU READ ABOUT?
HP: Robots that clean rooms. They come in, take off sheets, collect trash, vacuum, etc. It’s all in the move toward automation.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?
HP: “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins

IF YOU COULD HAVE LUNCH WITH ANYONE, DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE?
HP: As an Officer, sometimes it feels like I’ve been living my life on the road for the past four years. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to have many more lunches with my wife, Trusha, when my term ends. No phones, no distractions, just us.

Jagruti Panwala, CHO Vice Chairwoman

WHAT HAVE YOU WORKED ON AT AAHOA THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Jagruti Panwala: I’m most proud of testifying before Congress about joint employer in 2014. It wasn’t just about me testifying, it was about the amount of attention AAHOA received. Putting our association and our issues in the heart of government increased awareness of our association in the eyes of lawmakers.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO AT AAHOA?
JP: I’m excited to see how AAHOA can help second- and third-generation hoteliers succeed as more of them transition from property development to asset management.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT AT AAHOA?
JP: I love working with our Board of Directors Officers and meeting all the high-caliber individuals who make up our membership. Every time I meet members and see how they bring their vision to life, it makes me happy.

MILESTONE/ANNIVERSARY OF TIME SERVED AS AN OFFICER:
JP: When the members elected me to be an Officer, knowing that I would become the first chairwoman of AAHOA, that decision reflected a significant achievement for our association.

WHAT IS THE LATEST HOSPITALITY TREND YOU READ ABOUT?
JP: Hoteliers are increasingly using technology to make their guestrooms feel more like home. Whether it’s using smart-home devices or allowing guests to use video streaming services, the trend seems to be all about increasing personalization for guests. I’ve also stayed at hotels that use bots to engage with guests over text message, which creates an additional level of convenience for the guest experience.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?
JP: “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World,” by Admiral William McRaven. It is an inspiring book about how the cumulative effect of our actions can help us reach our full potential but only if we realize how it all fits together – starting with the little things.

IF YOU COULD HAVE LUNCH WITH ANYONE, DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE?
JP: My mom is no longer with me, and when you can’t share those little moments with someone, where you’re just talking about all the things in life, big and small, and are totally absorbed in conversation, you really miss it. So, I’d say my mom.

Biran Patel, CHO Treasurer

WHAT HAVE YOU WORKED ON AT AAHOA THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Biran Patel: Trying to lead by example and having a mindset of doing what is best for the membership and association and not necessarily yourself. Don’t let politics dictate your value of serving the membership. If you aren’t self-serving, others will see it.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO AT AAHOA?
BP: As AAHOA celebrates its 30th Anniversary, I look forward to seeing how the next generation of hoteliers helps our association and industry evolve.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT AT AAHOA?
BP: My favorite moment at AAHOA so far was running my campaign for Secretary. During the campaign, I met so many new people and heard about their hopes for the association and the industry. Knowing that they placed their trust in me, along with my fellow Officers, to make a difference for hotel owners was a humbling experience.

MILESTONE/ANNIVERSARY OF TIME SERVED AS AN OFFICER:
BP: Being an Officer for two years and serving on the board for five years, I am proud to be a part of how far we have come as an association in the past five years. I look forward to seeing how we will continue evolving as an association to meet our members’ needs.

WHAT IS THE LATEST HOSPITALITY TREND YOU READ ABOUT?
BP: Having fast and reliable Wi-Fi throughout a property is a must, and making sure it is secure is just as important. Staying competitive means keeping up with technology trends but only if they make sense in the long run.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?
BP: “The Life, Lessons & Rules for Success,” by Warren Buffet.

IF YOU COULD HAVE LUNCH WITH ANYONE, DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE?
BP: Michael Jordan.

Vinay Patel, CHO Secretary

WHAT HAVE YOU WORKED ON AT AAHOA THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Vinay Patel: I’m proud to work on AAHOA’s advocacy efforts as we increase our footprint in Washington D.C. and in state capitals around the nation.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO AT AAHOA?
VP: I am looking forward to bringing on our next president and CEO and working with him or her to keep moving AAHOA forward.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT AT AAHOA?
VP: It’s not a single moment, but my favorite experience at AAHOA is working with our great staffs in Washington D.C. and in Atlanta. Being an Officer is a lot of work, but our staff makes it fun.

MILESTONE/ANNIVERSARY OF TIME SERVED AS AN OFFICER:
VP: Witnessing the runup to our 30th anniversary is something I won’t soon forget. Reflecting on AAHOA’s many achievements over the past three decades makes me excited for our future.

WHAT IS THE LATEST HOSPITALITY TREND YOU READ ABOUT?
VP: Hotels are creating unique experiences for guests. Whether it’s providing a signature cocktail during check-in, offering wellness opportunities, or a taste of the local culture, hotels are looking for more ways to make their guests’ stays memorable – and keep them coming back.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?
VP: “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins. I found his discussion with Admiral James Stockdale insightful because, to succeed as an entrepreneur, you must be brutally honest in assessing your situation, but you can never give up hope on achieving your dreams.

IF YOU COULD HAVE LUNCH WITH ANYONE, DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE?
VP: Ronald Reagan. I admire much about him and what he achieved in his life.

Rachel Humphrey, Interim President & CEO

WHAT HAVE YOU WORKED ON AT AAHOA THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Rachel Humphrey: I am incredibly proud of the very strong relationships we built during the past few years with our industry, advocacy, and conference partners, trade media, and others. As an industry, we are more united than ever before because of a strategic effort to strengthen our relationships with key industry partners.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO AT AAHOA?
RH: As we celebrate our 30th anniversary this year and continue our search for our next president and CEO, I look forward to seeing what is next for AAHOA. I don’t imagine that 30 years ago anyone foresaw how successful AAHOA is today, and the opportunities for AAHOA moving forward are endless.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT AT AAHOA?
RH: The last night of the AAHOA Convention in San Antonio in 2016, my first on the AAHOA team, I had a moment where I got to take it all in. I was so proud to be a part of this great team, hosting the best convention in the hotel industry. We handle every aspect of the Convention internally, and it is truly amazing to see it all come together every year, but that moment was very impactful for me.

MILESTONE/ANNIVERSARY OF TIME SERVED AS AN OFFICER:
RH: For me, the milestone is becoming an AAHOA Officer. While completely unexpected, I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to help lead this association during this transition.

WHAT IS THE LATEST HOSPITALITY TREND YOU READ ABOUT?
RH: Even with tightening brand standards, more select-service hotels are employing designers to help localize the guest experience and provide for a uniqueness missing from this market. This has opened up an entire new opportunity for collaboration between hoteliers and designers. AAHOA partnered with Boutique Design the past two years to explore this growing area, and it’s a trend I think is just at its beginning stages.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?
RH: I enjoy reading so much across a lot of genres, but a favorite which comes to mind is “Primal Fear” by William Diehl. It is a psychological thriller with a fantastic surprise ending, which has really stuck with me.

IF YOU COULD HAVE LUNCH WITH ANYONE, DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE?
RH: I would like to just find time in the day to eat lunch. Then I could actually think about with whom I would like to eat!

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