AAHOA Members finding unshakeable success in the face of an unsteady economy
Thanks to what feels like a seemingly unending ocean of uncertainties, due to COVID-19 and a roller-coaster economy, operating a hotel during the past two years hasn’t been an occupation for the faint of heart. But across the industry, AAHOA Members have weathered the storms, some quite literally, and supported each other valiantly during one of the most challenging periods in recent American history. Here, we profile three such industry leaders who didn’t let circumstances beyond their control mess with their business success.
Building prosperous relationships
The strength of any organization is at the local level,” said Jay Trini Patel, AAHOA Member and recent recipient of a Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority 15th Annual Partners in Tourism Award. Proudly, he took home the Local Champion award that celebrated his tireless energy and devotion to spreading the good word about Charlotte, NC, something he’s joyfully done for 32 years.
According to CRVA, “Local Champions are individuals who live and work in Charlotte or North Carolina and have been instrumental in collaborating with CRVA’s Sales and Services teams to bring meetings and events to the city that generate an economic impact for the area.”
And Patel fits that description to a T, recounting his history as “a passive investor in numerous hotels over the years.” He also owns five UPS stores, including a franchise location in the Charlotte Convention Center.
“During these times, you must be proactive and not just sit and wait,” he said.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Patel helped bring AAHOA’s national convention to The Queen City in 2007 and served as AAHOA North Carolina Regional Director from 2005 to 2008.
CRVA says annual visitor spending is $7.8 billion, and Patel ponders what else he can do to increase that number along with the satisfaction of those who visit. He continues to champion Charlotte to his contacts within UPS and at other hotel corporations, sharing what’s ideal about his city as a conference destination, and it works.
Originally from Trinidad, he’s always wanted to give back to his home country as he does now for Charlotte. As a fun side business, he’s taken more than 700 people to the Caribbean to see cricket when India plays the West Indies.
Engaging with others “is key in all aspects of life,” he said. “It gives you confidence in anything you do because you have resources.”
“People do business with people they know, like, and trust,” says Mike Butts, CRVA vice president of sales and executive director of Visit Charlotte – CRVA’s sales and marketing division – in a video documenting Patel’s award. “Jay is one of those people who is enthusiastic, and they trust him, so people just share information with him, and he passes it along.”
This Local Champion proves that sharing and caring about his city and his friends inspires him, and everyone around him, to think about more than just themselves.
With 24 years in the hotel industry, AAHOA Member Vimal Patel, CEO of QHotels Management in New Orleans, LA, knew that opening new properties could always be rife with challenges. What he didn’t expect was contending with a pandemic and hurricane at the same time.
His LinkedIn post of early February 2022 said it all: “Finally, after almost five months and taking the most significant punch from Hurricane Ida, the first hotel out of six is finally open. There are still five hotels closed and in rebuild mode for the next few months.”
He said business “in his market was on an upward trend until COVID-19 and resulting liquidity and other financial issues.” Patel had to shut down an operating hotel for three months in March 2020. Then another, under construction, closed for 2.5 months. That was enough to cause anyone angst and more, but Hurricane Ida thought she’d wreak some havoc in Louisiana in August and September 2021. As a result, Patel closed six hotels due to “extensive damage.”
But, he persevered, and that “first hotel” opened with the help of “additional debt and line of credit,” and astute maneuvering, Patel said, noting that he was aided by the input of three other partners and his wife, Mina.
Patel said the other openings are works in progress, but he can see the proverbial light at the end of the repair tunnel. However, every day that passes without business means costs of labor and materials continue to rise, and the lead time for shipments to arrive lags even more.
His enormous to-do list didn’t deter him from filing a lawsuit against a major hotel brand, which is an example “of brands pushing mandatory requirements, such as for approved vendors, unfair marketing programs, and brand mandates that add to the overall cost of operations.”
Patel knows he’s pushing boundaries. “But,” he said, “99% of owners fear if you do speak up, you’ll suffer retaliation by those brands.”
So, instead of operating from a position of fear, he relies on his “resiliency, fighting spirit, and will to survive and navigate.” “We had to rise above the water,” he said. “Problems existed before the hurricane, but the elephant in the room – brand-mandated requirements – only increased during COVID. If I can’t stand up and speak up for what’s right, what am I teaching my two daughters?”
Patel’s advice to any hotel owner is to plan for “what if,” including intrusion from Mother Nature.
“After a catastrophe,” he offered, “we seem to always play defense and react. Put proactive measures in place before it happens, be sure you have insurance that covers what you need, and understand the exclusions and limits.”
What better time than now?
AAHOA Lifetime Member Surpreet Singh wanted to open a restaurant like Amrina for eight years and it finally happened at the end of March in The Woodlands, TX. With creative, eclectic, Indian-inspired cuisine, and illustrative cocktails, Singh said the venture is “definitely risky now, or at any time,” but that he and his family and partners at THIND Management follow the pulse and shift of consumer demand.
Although timing might have seemed wrong for others contemplating new ventures, for Singh, it was perfect. The new luxury boutique restaurant, operating under the banner of THIND Management’s Kahani Social Group, features a variety of lavish and inviting spaces for diners to enjoy “a social experience married to the rest of the experience,” Singh said.
A live DJ adds to the cosmopolitan “nightlife” feel of Amrina, because “people should be able to have a great dinner, and jam to a live deejay and other instrumental music,” he added.
THIND specializes in hotels, and Singh said this family got started in the industry 15 years ago. The company owns properties and performs thirdparty management, while Kahani Social Group currently targets other boutique ventures.
In 2020, he found the right space for Amrina, found his celebrated chef, and Singh was off and running. During COVID, his company worked hard to keep doors open and to save jobs and paychecks.
“We didn’t let anyone go,” Singh said. “We survived it and it was a great thing.”
The company aims to bring a bigcity dining landscape to smaller towns. Additionally, Singh is planning an upscale food truck hall, and he’s set to open more indoor restaurants in the upscale fine dining category. “Each will have its own unique story,” he said.
“The pandemic won’t last forever,” Singh said, relishing strategizing next moves for Amrina’s success with younger brother Preet Paul Singh, “who’s fresh out of college with fresh ideas.”
He also said resilience helps ground him and keep him focused on what he’s working toward, eyes on the prize.
“We’ll make whatever sacrifices necessary for our dreams to become a reality.”