Exploring the role AAHOA and its members are playing in creating opportunities for women in the industry
They’re at Regional Conferences & Trade Shows, networking with numerous exhibitors and industry leaders. They’re at the Town Hall meetings, listening attentively to regional directors share region-specific updates. They hold influential positions within AAHOA’s Board of Directors, with Arti Patel serving as the Central Midwest Regional Director, Purnima Patel and Tejal Patel serving as Women Hoteliers Director Eastern Division and Western Division, respectively, and Laura Lee Blake leading AAHOA as President & CEO. They proudly advocate for the industry at the local, state, and federal levels. AAHOA has witnessed a powerful surge of women who have overcome obstacles and embarked on a remarkable journey to make their mark in hospitality.
A RISING TIDE
While the waves women are making at the association may seem like new triumphs, AAHOA has been at the forefront of empowering and uplifting women hoteliers for quite some time, proactively launching projects and programs to address the gender imbalance early on in the organization’s history. In the early ‘90s, AAHOA selected women hoteliers to serve on a committee. Nancy Patel, former North Georgia Regional Director (2007-2009) and AAHOA Lifetime Member, remembers the ripple effect this committee created among women more than three decades ago.
“As a result of the Women’s Hotelier Committee, the representation of women at various levels of the organization significantly improved, giving them the ability to influence the future of AAHOA and hospitality,” Nancy said.
The Women’s Hotelier Committee immediately started steering the organization’s future, playing an instrumental role in helping other women hoteliers feel seen and heard. As was the case for Priti Patel, who served as a former director at large in the ’90s and is currently an AAHOA Member. Priti joined AAHOA as a staff member while helping her family launch a hotel business in the Atlanta metropolitan area. AAHOA leadership noticed Priti’s unwavering commitment to both of her industry roles.
“I was 26 when I was elected female director at large. I learned and grew a lot,” Priti recalled. “The entire experience was exciting and fun. I enjoyed it.”
The Women’s Hotelier Committee signaled the start of opening doors for women in hospitality. It encouraged greater participation within AAHOA and brought attention to the challenges experienced by women in the industry. Over time, AAHOA incorporated educational programs catered specifically to the needs of women hoteliers.
“The committee acknowledged that women hoteliers frequently encountered unique obstacles,” Nancy explained. “As a result, AAHOA started women-focused conferences, webinars, and leadership summits. These events gave women hoteliers insights into hospitality as well as management practices and business tactics.”
The momentum continued into the 21st century. AAHOA Member Surekha Patel, former AAHOA Board Member, was inspired to join AAHOA after attending an event in Dallas, TX.
Surekha Patel, a chemist by profession, ventured into the hotel industry with her husband after visiting San Francisco in the 1970s, where they met other hoteliers.
“In 1976, we purchased our first hotel together in Dallas. In running this property, I discovered I have a natural passion for the hotel industry,” Surekha said. “My husband and I also enjoyed the financial independence that came with being self-employed.”
Surekha Patel eventually went on to serve on the AAHOA Board for six years.
“During the past several decades, I’ve seen women who were normally involved only behind the scenes come up to the forefront and become hotel owners and operators,” Surekha said. “AAHOA has offered many courses for women through the years that have given women the knowledge and confidence to pursue their dreams in the hotel industry.”
There’s no doubt that AAHOA’s support for women hoteliers has evolved through the years and moved the needle forward. Last year, AAHOA launched HerOwnership: Opening Doors for Women in Hospitality, an initiative aimed at elevating, educating, and empowering the women hoteliers of AAHOA and across the industry.
“There’re so many layers in the hotel industry. It’s not just the ownership side,” Priti said. “As a hotelier, you’re touching so many people, and you need so much support along the way because you can’t just do everything by yourself.”
As part of the initial launch of the HerOwnership initiative, AAHOA hosted a Women Hoteliers HerOwnership Conference & Retreat in Cincinnati, OH, where nearly 300 women attended the two-day event. It quickly became one of the association’s highly anticipated events. This year’s HerOwnership Conference & Retreat is November 2-3, 2023, in Dallas, TX.
“It’s my sincere wish that each attendee experiences the power and support of the HerOwnership community,” Nancy shared. “I hope everyone leaves with a strong sense of belonging and camaraderie.