The reflective perspective


Celebrating the five-year anniversary of AAHOA’s first Chairwoman Jagruti Panwala

As AAHOA celebrates its 35th anniversary, 2024 also marks a milestone for one its members as it was five years ago that Jagruti Panwala took office as the first chairwoman of the association.

Much has changed since that time, including setbacks for the hospitality industry as well as opportunities for growth and development. Panwala has been an active participant in those changes through her role as a hotelier and president of Wealth Protection Strategies and as an AAHOA volunteer leader.

“The hotel industry has definitely evolved during the past five years,” she said. “We’ve seen many challenges to our global economy with the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and wars. We’ve felt and continue to feel the impact that has contributed to major labor shortages, supply chain issues, inflation, and overall unease in international travel.”

jagruti panwala jagruti panwalaSpeaking specifically about what she’s observing in the industry, she notes limited, select-service, and extended-stay properties continue to be a good value proposition due to their limited labor requirements. She cautions owners should continue to avoid the over-supplied primary and secondary markets, especially those with stagnant average daily rates. Panwala said new construction is becoming selective so renovation remains important, particularly for properties that must remain competitive but may have put off upgrades during the pandemic.

“As for opportunities, I believe if we continue to stay on top of new trends in travel and technology, a hotel with the right design, the right brand, and the right location with a focus on the customer experience should remain an attractive opportunity no matter the market segment, competition, or unforeseen outside factors,” she said.

An area of positive change in the past five years was creation of the AAHOA HerOwnership initiative, with the first HerOwnership Conference held in 2022. Panwala had the pleasure of speaking at last year’s HerOwnership event, serving on a panel focused on “Leading with Impact: Harnessing the Power of Executive Presence.” She encourages women in the industry to take advantage of such offerings.

“HerOwnership is a great initiative,” she praised. “Collectively, by working together with so many women leaders and with the talented Women Hotelier Committee members, I have no doubt HerOwnership will continue to provide important tools and opportunities.”

Panwala said the role of women has evolved since she held office and believes there has been much progress. She notes, however, there’s work to be done given that – while 65% of today’s travelers and some 60% of the hotel industry workforce are women – fewer than 20% of executive management positions in hospitality are filled by women.

“Women are still under-represented,” she said. She is heartened to see more women in leadership positions and more diversity in corporate executive positions. She also believes more women will move up the corporate ladder if women continue to advocate for each other, promote and encourage each other to volunteer their time, and mentor future women leaders.

jagruti panwala jagruti panwalaFIXING THE FUTURE
Upon reflecting on her areas of focus during her time as chairwoman, Panwala says those same initiatives remain vital to the industry and AAHOA today.

  • Grassroots initiatives: “We need to focus on energy back to acting locally but thinking globally. That’s why our regional directors and ambassadors are so important.”
  • AAHOA PAC: “We’re all in this together, and that’s why the AAHOA PAC and advocacy efforts are so important. They’re our insurance policy to fight against bad laws that negatively affect us. That is why it’s such a passion of mine.”
  • Evolving educational programming: “One of my primary initiatives was harnessing the power of information to strengthen AAHOA, allowing us to gain a better insight into our members, their needs, and their interests. Helping the association acquire a more complete picture of our footprint in the hospitality industry and expand our reach allowed us to have a more focused and strategic discussion with brands, vendors, and lawmakers. My hope is we continue to place the highest importance on these programs in the future.”

As AAHOA celebrates its anniversary, and as Panwala celebrates the anniversary of her milestone achievement, her hopes and dreams for the future of the association and the industry remain much the same as they were five years ago. These include building and enhancing AAHOA’s relationship with industry leaders and likeminded associations.

“Since AAHOA is the world’s largest hotel owner association, we should be playing a much bigger role informing policymakers about laws that impact our industry before they are introduced,” she said. “AAHOA should be in the room whenever the U.S. economy is being discussed on media outlets and in government buildings across the country. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s my hope that, in the near future, we collectively broaden the association’s reach to help our members and the hotel industry.”


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