Flying high


The sky is the limit when AAHOA Members band together to support one another


The moment a hotelier joins AAHOA, they gain access to a community of hospitality professionals whose experiences, interests, and concerns often overlap significantly with their own. AAHOA’s events, news updates, and educational programming are all invaluable resources for members, and hoteliers would be hard pressed to find a fraction of the services AAHOA provides at anywhere close to the cost of annual membership dues, which are less than the cost of an average one-night hotel stay. But, despite the resources, support, and solutions AAHOA provides, perhaps its greatest selling point is the members themselves, many of whom show up for each other and the industry in ways too numerous to count.

For starters, the bond between AAHOA Members extends beyond any official association function. “This association initially was created for business purposes, and that’s certainly a major element of its focus, helping members with anything from franchising to advocacy issues,” said Harikrishna (HK) Patel, AAHOA Mid South Regional Director. “But at the same time, we treat each member as family.”

As countless members have learned, the AAHOA family can be a source of day-to-day information, alerts, advice, and support on a range of topics, from recommendations for sourcing equipment to staffing issues. But, when it comes to legislative, regulatory, or legal issues that affect hoteliers, members can lean on each other for solidarity and strength in numbers. The power of an individual voice in the crowd simply doesn’t compare to the influence of thousands of hotel owners pulling in the same direction under the AAHOA umbrella.

“You have an organization that represents nearly 20,000 members nationwide, who own 60% of the hotels in the U.S.,” said Sarah Gulati, Esq., of Gulati Law, P.L., who is also an AAHOA Florida Region Ambassador. With that kind of backing, “you come with much more force when you’re trying to take down a bill or get a bill approved,” she added.

AAHOA’s collective lobbying power has been instrumental in helping hotels across many states resist lawsuits regarding ADA compliance. “We’ve banded together locally to not only educate our local politicians but, more importantly, place restrictions so these lawyers can’t come in and keep filing these lawsuits,” said Imesh Vaidya, AAHOA Southwest Region Ambassador. “In Arizona, we were successful in having a law passed that gave our members 60 days to cure any ADA violation. In New Mexico, we were successful in having the attorney general join numerous lawsuits as a co-defendant and have them dismissed.” The ability to respond collectively has helped AAHOA Members navigate issues ranging from marketing programs to local taxes and crime.

Some members take on added responsibility to help their fellow AAHOA Members. The association provides access points at all tiers of government, via local and regional groupings, as well as at the federal level through AAHOA’s office in Washington, D.C. Patel said local and national AAHOA representatives play a critical role in advocating on behalf of members. “Basically anybody who needs help can reach out,” he said. “Any issues you have, as a Regional Director, I will take it personally and support you.”

times of extreme duress

The association’s lobbying and government relations functions can be invaluable, but lateral communication between rank-and-file members also is essential to AAHOA’s value proposition to its members. Members who stay with AAHOA for a number of years tend to develop interlinked networks, interacting both on official AAHOA channels and informally via other platforms. Vaidya said AAHOA’s WhatsApp groups are an outlet for connecting with hoteliers in his region, but he also keeps in touch with an “inner circle” of close contacts in the industry via a group email.

AAHOA counts many non-hoteliers among its membership, including lawyers like Sarah Gulati, herself a product of a family of hoteliers but who practices hospitality law. These professionals offer AAHOA hoteliers expert advice on the hospitality industry from a different perspective. “I’ve been asked numerous times to provide input on the legal side of things for the hospitality industry, I’ve done some speaking events, and I’ve helped many hoteliers on ADA lawsuits and hospitality transactions,” Gulati said.

Gulati also is active on the AAHOA Women’s Committee, which gives female hoteliers access to a unique network of peers across the country. AAHOA hosts several events throughout the year specifically focused on women hoteliers, educational events, local Town Halls, and other meetings. Participation has doubled in the time Gulati has been involved, and in recent years, female leaders also have assumed senior roles within AAHOA. “You do see much more involvement from women,” Gulati said. “For example, a few names that come to mind are Jagruti Panwala, Lina Patel, Tejal Patel, Nimisha Patel, and Jyoti Sarolia, who have taken leadership roles in the association. There’s definitely a shift in involvement from women in the industry.”

In times of extreme duress, AAHOA Members tend to rise to the occasion to support each other. When tornadoes ravaged Kentucky in the waning weeks of 2021, HK Patel witnessed the power of AAHOA Members rallying around not only each other but also their communities. In fact, he played a leading role in coordinating relief efforts with other AAHOA Members in the region.

Patel oversaw a fundraising campaign that collected around $20,000 to help families and businesses affected by the disaster. “The majority of the people who were affected were not in the hotel industry or any hospitality business,” he said. “They were individuals. Their homes were destroyed. Their small businesses were destroyed.”

Patel and a group of AAHOA representatives got together to distribute thousands of dollars’ worth of essential items – including food, water, and toilet paper – to residents. “All of my Ambassadors were very helpful in taking initiative and helping me go up there with all these materials to hand them out to people who were in need,” he said. “As a Regional Director and a citizen of Kentucky myself, I took it personally to be my duty to help.”

AAHOA also was able to leverage its network to help a hotelier whose hotel and personal belongings were destroyed by a tornado. “We had a great supporter of AAHOA, an insurance adjuster based in New Orleans who helped this hotelier immensely,” Patel explained. This adjuster did everything in his power to help the hotelier close his claim with a record amount that he couldn’t have gotten from the insurance company on his own. This was money he desperately needed to help him recover and rebuild after the extensive damage.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, AAHOA Members have relied on each other like never before. Both Patel and Vaidya talked about how AAHOA Members had been able to lean into their networks, built during their time as AAHOA Members, for advice and education on PPP loans, as well as information on how different franchises were responding to the pandemic. In some cases, this helped iron out tensions between hotel owners and franchises.

“COVID has taught us that nothing is permanent, but the need to work together is something that will never go away,” Patel said. “We will all come up against difficult situations in life, and we need to help one another because there are some obstacles we can’t overcome on our own.”

As Vaidya says, sometimes that simply means AAHOA Members showing up for each other after a particularly tough day or a busy week. “There are times when everyone just has a miserable day and a friend of yours will call you up and say, ‘We just need to go have a beer,’” he said.

Vaidya said there obviously is still room for improvement and advancement, but the industry and individual hoteliers would be worse off if associations like AAHOA were not there to provide a framework for collaboration and cooperation between members.

“We know it’s not perfect,” Vaidya said. “No organization is perfect, and AAHOA still has a long road ahead of it. But the positive change that AAHOA has caused, and we’ve benefited from, in the past 30-plus years are immeasurable.”


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