AAHOA’s young leaders are finding success through talent, work ethic, and drive
There’s arguably never been a more interesting time to be a young professional in the hospitality industry. Within the span of three years, they’ve seen the industry band together to weather an existential threat, then come roaring back to pre-pandemic levels, illustrating the highs and lows of small-business ownership.
Undergoing trial by fire has given AAHOA’s young professionals a wealth of experience that will serve them well as they prepare to take the reins, according to Vik Zaver, AAHOA’s Georgia Regional Director.
“The talent level for AAHOA’s young leaders is high,” Zaver said. “Every year brings new challenges and opportunities to which this generation has to learn from and adapt to be successful. They’re an asset to the association because of the insight and experience they can bring to the table that other generations may not necessarily have given a thought.”
Tejal N. Patel, AAHOA’s Women Hoteliers Director, Western Division, echoed those sentiments, calling AAHOA’s young leaders “the cream of the crop.”
“They are highly skilled and talented individuals who have demonstrated a strong commitment to their careers,” Patel said. “Many of them have impressive academic credentials, work experience, and leadership skills. Beyond that, they have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and innovative ideas.”
With a membership of more than 20,000 hoteliers nationwide, it would be impossible to showcase every impressive, young leader in AAHOA. But here’s a look at a few members under the age of 35 who are proving that the industry’s future is in good hands.
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
For Tanmay Patel, the hospitality industry isn’t just a career, it’s a home.
In 2007, Patel’s parents purchased a rundown hotel near downtown Dallas, TX, renovated the 30-unit building, and made it their home in addition to their business. Since then, SG Hotels LLC has expanded to include five properties in Texas, but the Inn of the Dove is still his family’s gathering place.
Patel, 31, now lives there with his wife and infant daughter. His parents split their time between India and the United States and often stay there as well. Born in Bardoli in the Indian state of Gujarat, Patel moved to America with his parents in 2003 and helped them run their fledging hotel business by cleaning rooms and working the front desk.
Patel now manages the family business, and though he’s considered house hunting in the past, he has no plans to leave the Inn of the Dove. The hotel is centrally located, not just in Dallas but in his heart.
“It’s a home, it’s a workplace, it’s everything,” he said. “This is where we started in the hospitality industry.”
The Inn of the Dove also owns a place in history as the last Green Book hotel in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Patel said he’s weighing the pros and cons of having it included in the National Register of Historic Places, including concerns that the designation might complicate future renovations.
While working for his parents, Patel also hit the books, earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science and master’s degrees in business administration and real estate development from the University of Texas at Arlington. He said those skills and his extroverted nature help him to network and find the best deals on the products and services that are vital for his properties.
“I’ve always been more of a social person, so I like interacting with people and finding out what’s going on in my markets,” he said.
Patel said he’s benefited greatly from the networking and educational opportunities provided by AAHOA, and he’s spreading that message as the association’s Young Professional Director, Western Division.
Some sons and daughters of hoteliers aren’t as passionate about the industry because they watched their parents work extremely hard and struggle through economic downturns, so they wonder if another field would be a better fit, he said. That trend motivates Patel to mentor young professionals, connect them with resources from AAHOA and “help them get to the level where they want to be,” he added.
“Sometimes people view hospitality as a job, but we want them to have the same passion that our parents had because that’s what defines the hospitality industry,” Patel said. “If you just view it as work, you won’t really stay interested in it, and you won’t innovate. When you’re passionate about it, you will innovate and advance the industry as a whole.”
Patel said part of his role with AAHOA is to listen to young professionals and help them identify the hospitality role that will spark that passion. From there, he can connect them with the right mentors at AAHOA’s numerous events for young professionals and at major functions such as AAHOACON. During the years, he’s made many important connections at AAHOACON, including business partners and friends.
“The breadth of experience at the AAHOA convention is so vast, so if you can tap into that, you’ll be successful,” Patel said.
Bhavik Patel said he knew hospitality was the right field for him when guests at his parents’ hotels would smile and thank him for a wonderful stay. Born in Punta Gorda, Fla., and now living in St. Petersburg, Patel would clean rooms and work the front desk at his parents’ two properties, gaining valuable experience and developing a passion for guest satisfaction.
“I grew up in the industry,” he said. “Delivering the best experience that you can for guests through a smooth, seamless process was always something that I enjoyed.”
Patel, 31, is managing director of Conor Acquisitions, which has five hotels in the Southeast, including the two originally owned by his parents. He holds a bachelor’s degree in applied science and a master’s in international business from the University of Florida. Patel said his background in finance helps him perform many important duties, including analyzing profit-and-loss statements, finding operational efficiencies, and evaluating potential business deals.
Patel said it was an honor to serve as AAHOA’s Young Professional Director Eastern Division and help develop the next generation of industry leaders.
AAHOA’s educational resources helped him navigate the process of taking over his family’s business, and he knows other young professionals face similar challenges. He’s also passionate about advocating for the industry at the local, state, and national levels, and he strives to educate young professionals about the importance of getting involved.
The national labor shortage affecting the hospitality industry has been well-documented, but that issue also extends to the top of many hotel companies, Patel said.
“It’s important to invest in our young professionals because in the hospitality industry, some of our youth aren’t as involved,” he said. “Some young people are shying away from the industry, so it’s critical to keep them engaged on the ownership side.”
Patel said his leadership strategy focuses on the three Cs: communication, commitment, and consistency. Communication is vital not only when dealing with employees, vendors, and business partners but when advocating for the industry to elected officials, he said. Through commitment and consistency, young hospitality professionals can grow into the leadership roles that suit them best, he added.
AAHOA’s events for young professionals help to spur their professional growth, as does attending events such as AAHOACON, Patel said.
“It brings the industry together and gives everyone a chance to bounce ideas off each other and network, so that’s a big value add for the members,” he said. “When you have everyone in one place, it becomes more of an innovation hub as well.”
GETTING A RUNNING START
When Rhea Patel becomes a full-time hospitality professional this spring, she’ll be hitting the ground running.
Patel, 21, spent eight months working the front desk at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati before moving over to the Residence Inn by Marriott, where she was a front-office associate focused primarily on guest satisfaction. In early March, she had just transferred into the new role of sales coordinator, tasked with booking large groups to stay at the Residence Inn.
Patel was working from 7 a.m. to noon each weekday, then hustling over to the University of Cincinnati to complete her bachelor’s degree in operations management and marketing. She was scheduled to graduate this May and join the Residence Inn full time. Patel said she was grateful that the hotel had been flexible with her work schedule, allowing her to gain experience while finishing school.
“I’m really excited,” Patel said of training for her new role. “I’ve been at this property for a little over a year now, so I feel like I know it like the back of my hand, but being in a different department will show me a different side of the hotel and will teach me new things.”
Patel plans to bring that knowledge back to her family business. Her father, Bhavesh N. Patel, owns about a dozen hotels in Texas and Ohio and serves as AAHOA’s North-Central Region Director. Rhea Patel serves as an AAHOA ambassador for the region and helps out with the family business whenever she can.
“My favorite thing about this industry is the customer-satisfaction and experience part of it,” she said. “I find consumer behavior extremely interesting, and you get to see a lot of that in hospitality. I want to understand the ins and outs of the industry so I can help with our properties as well.”
Patel said being in school makes it difficult to travel for many AAHOA functions, but she’s enjoyed participating in local events, including the inaugural HerOwnership Conference & Retreat in Cincinnati last October. The initiative aims to educate and empower women hoteliers across the industry, removing barriers to hotel ownership.
Last fall, Patel joined fellow AAHOA Members in Washington, D.C., to advocate for the industry. Among the issues she addressed was the need to give small-business owners more time before requiring them to repay COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
“I’ve made so many connections through AAHOA,” Patel said. “Getting involved with government affairs and advocacy was really cool as well. That’s one of the main things AAHOA Members should try to do. Government officials have so much to deal with and may not understand every issue, so they need people to explain to them what’s going on in the industry.”
In March, Patel said she was looking forward to attending AAHOACON for the first time this year, and she planned to become more active in the association after graduation.
“AAHOA has really great educational seminars, wellness seminars, and other events aimed at helping members,” she said.
Patel said she enrolled in college to study sports management, but when she got a job at the Hyatt, she knew it was time to change course.
“That’s where I realized that hospitality is something that I love and I’m passionate about,” she said, adding that she’s looking forward to spending more time helping her father. “That will mean wearing a lot of different hats, but it’s something that I’m ready to dive into.”