From humble beginnings to his current role as AAHOA Chairman, Nishant (Neal) Patel looks to the future
At the conclusion of AAHOACON22 in Baltimore, Nishant (Neal) Patel, CHO, CHIA, officially transitioned into the role of AAHOA Chairman. As the youngest person elected to lead the AAHOA Board of Directors, Patel recognizes his extreme fortune at being able to lead an organization that was founded two years before he was born, as his parents’ start in the industry was undertaken without the support of a group like AAHOA, because such a group didn’t yet exist.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
Like many AAHOA Members, Patel is an immigrant, having spent his childhood in Surat, India, before his family left everything they’d known to start a new life in Mississippi.
“It’s a common story among AAHOA Members,” Patel said, “but we were in search of the American Dream, and my parents wanted to create a better life for their children and leave a legacy of which generations to come would be proud.”
Not long after arriving stateside, Patel’s parents began to operate a small hotel in Laurel, MS, a city in which 1 out of every 3.2 residents lives in poverty. Operating a profitable hotel in a city with little expendable income and few visitors was an enormous challenge, but the family persisted and soon expanded its portfolio to include a 31-room motel in Texas not far from Austin.
“We certainly had humble beginnings,” Patel said, “and we didn’t have a lot of resources as we began that entrepreneurial journey at a time when we had a lot to learn. My parents didn’t have AAHOA as a resource, but by the time I took over the family business, AAHOA was there for me as I navigated the industry, providing me with the educational tools I needed to run a hotel successfully.”
EYES ON THE HORIZON
A self-admitted tech junkie, Patel makes no secret of his belief that the industry should increase the pace at which it adopts new technologies.
“Technology is going to play an increasingly important role in the industry and COVID only sped this up,” he said. “For example, thanks to continuing labor shortages during the pandemic, many of us implemented self-check-in kiosks, which are helping our bottom lines, and that wouldn’t have happened outside of a situation the pandemic helped exacerbate.”
Beyond technological offerings that hoteliers can implement to improve their financials, Patel also is keen to educate AAHOA Members on the mere value of data itself. Many other industries are taking advantage of data monitoring and metrics and, he said, it’s well past time for hotels to follow suit.
“In five or 10 years,” he said, “every company will be a technology company. Data is more valuable than oil. Take companies like Uber, Airbnb, or VRBO, for example. They don’t own their assets, yet their values are only increasing because they’ve found ways to capture data and then monetize that data to their advantage. Hoteliers can, and must, be doing this to adapt to the market and evolve.”
Also chief among Patel’s initiatives for his year as Chairman are to focus heavily on ensuring all AAHOA Members are treated equally and fairly with a goal of advocating for members on sensitive topics and help them when they need it most to improve their bottom line.
“Brands and franchisors need to be equal partners with our membership,” he said. “It should be a mutually beneficial relationship for everyone, but it sometimes doesn’t feel like we’re on equal footing.”
As a hotelier himself, Patel is aware of the challenges facing the industry right now, but he is confident that, along with AAHOA, these challenges can be met and overcome.
“We all have things that keep us up at night, including uncertainties about the future,” Patel confessed. “But, not everyone has the courage or tenacity to rise up and conquer those fears. AAHOA is a major driving force behind us as hoteliers, allowing us to flourish and grow, and I hope everyone can feel the momentum we’re creating. A rising tide lifts all boats, and I’m excited to see how high the tide will take us if we all work together.”