The convening of AAHOACON brings with it many things, including opportunities for networking, education, and much more. In addition to all the event entails, it also marks a change of leadership, and this year Vinay Patel moves from Vice Chair to Chair. Here is a little bit of insight into who he is, where he comes from, and his vision for AAHOA’s future during his tenure and beyond.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL BACKGROUND AND WHAT LED YOU INTO THE HOTEL INDUSTRY?
Vinay Patel: Mine is the typical Asian American story where I grew up in the industry from a young age and knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. Upon graduating from college, I started running a small motel in Richmond, VA. After operating that motel for two years and with a college degree in hand, I decided to build a larger franchise property, and I still recall having issues getting a brand. Many of the larger brands turned me down due to my lack of experience in more sizeable properties and I needed a brand for financing purposes. At that time, Country Inn and Suites was looking to grow and I needed a brand, so we built the first Country Inn and Suites together in Virginia.
I learned a lot at that hotel, from operations to dealing with people – staff and customers – to giving back to the industry. I made plenty of mistakes but learned a lot from those experiences. From there, I got involved in local and national associations where I continued learning by educating myself on issues relating to the industry and learning from my peers as well.
IS THERE AN ACCOMPLISHMENT OR EVENT IN YOUR LIFE THAT YOU FEEL ALTERED THE TRAJECTORY OF YOUR CAREER?
VP: I failed my very first quality assurance inspection from a brand very early in my career, and the feeling I got from knowing I hadn’t done a good job really impacted me. After that event, I’ve tried to focus on doing the best I can on everything I do. To do that, you have to put a talented and motivated team around you that will elevate your own work.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE EXECUTION OF AAHOA’S STRATEGIC PLAN?
VP: My vision is to make sure the Strategic Plan is executed in the best possible way. Many great ideas fail if executed poorly, and many bad ideas succeed if executed well, so my plan is to make sure we have all the tools necessary to execute the Strategic Plan to the best of our abilities. This includes having the best talent in place, deploying the right member engagement capabilities, and creating an environment that fosters success. I want AAHOA to be the leader in everything related to hotel ownership. We want to be seen as the go-to resource for the hotel industry, and as our vision statement says we want “to be the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners.”
WHAT ARE AAHOA’S GOALS DURING YOUR TERM AS AAHOA CHAIR, AND HOW WILL YOU SET THE BOARD’S STRATEGIC VISION?
VP: One key goal I have during my term is to help members start recovering from the pandemic. This past year, due to the pandemic, some AAHOA Members have slowly disengaged, and I want to help them rejoin the fight alongside their association so we can help each other on the road to recovery.
There are many issues our members face, like franchising, OTAs, working with policymakers, and many more. These are massive subjects that take time to address, but my term is for one year. So, I’m planning on having short- and long-term goals. In the short term, we’ll identify a few common problems and stay focused on addressing those items. In the longer term, we’ll look at how we can structurally fix the issues members are facing. My main goal is to make sure our members know AAHOA is here for them in every way possible.
A LOT HAS HAPPENED IN THIS INDUSTRY SINCE YOU JOINED THE BOARD, NOT EVEN TAKING THE PANDEMIC INTO ACCOUNT. HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR EXPERIENCE HAS PREPARED YOU TO ASSUME THE CHAIR’S ROLE WITH AAHOA?
VP: I’ve been involved in various organizations during my time with AAHOA, and I think that experience will help me as Chair. I’ve worked with a wide variety of people, and I’ve learned it’s important to communicate effectively. Whether it’s talking to policymakers, our partners, or members, it’s vital we all communicate effectively so AAHOA’s objectives are met.
SPEAKING OF THE PANDEMIC, WHAT SPECIFIC LESSONS DID YOU LEARN FROM THIS INDUSTRY-CHANGING EVENT, AND HOW DO YOU ANTICIPATE BEING ABLE TO IMPLEMENT WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED IN THE FUTURE?
VP: I’ve learned you can do a lot more with very little. We were able to operate our hotels with remarkably few resources, and I think this will help us operate our hotels more efficiently in the future.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO THOSE WHO MIGHT BE JUST BEGINNING THEIR CAREERS IN THIS INDUSTRY?
VP: It’s a fun business to be in, and it also allows people to focus on things they may like, because many different specialties are involved in this industry. If you like accounting, we have a place for you. If you like sales, there is room for you here. If you like development, you belong here. Ultimately, I think anyone can thrive in this industry and be content, thanks to the many opportunities for growth.
AS THE INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO REBUILD FROM THE PANDEMIC, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE MOVING FORWARD?
VP: I would say the biggest obstacle is the unknown of the pandemic’s long-term impact. Things change quite rapidly in this industry, and not knowing what the future holds or what curve ball will come next can be challenging.
HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OF LEADERSHIP?
VP: I’m a participative leader. I like to get input from everyone and see the pros and cons before making a decision. I like to include everyone, and I really like hearing the other side of an issue. I always tell them that, if we disagree, convince me. It’s always good to hear all sides before making a decision.
IN YOUR MIND, WHAT MAKES SOMEONE A GOOD LEADER?
VP: To me, a good leader is someone who makes you feel good about what you’re doing.
IS THERE A SPECIFIC PERSON WHO SHAPED YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?
VP: Early in my career, Nancy Johnson challenged me to get more involved in the industry. At that time, she was the leader at Carlson/Radisson, and I observed how compassionate she was, how she heard all sides, and made sure there was the best outcome for everyone. Those lessons have stayed with me ever since.
HOW HAS YOUR AAHOA MEMBERSHIP BEEN OF VALUE TO YOU DURING YOUR CAREER?
VP: To put it simply, my AAHOA membership has been critical for my growth. I have taken advantage of countless resources on everything including education, networking, and advocacy.