Nashville, TN: April 12, 2016: Jagruti Panwala was elected as the first ever female Secretary of Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) during the four-day annual convention held March 29-April 1 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Bruce Patel has been elected as the new chairman of AAHOA, while Chip Rogers will continue to serve as the President of & CEO of the three decades long organization.
The election of the association’s first female officer, record turnout and the heightened fervor to play an active role in the nation’s political process with the aim to raise $1 million, were the highlights of the just concluded convention in Tennessee. The event drew a record turnout – 5,000 hoteliers, vendors and franchise CEOs and their cohorts.
“I am extremely honored and very humbled to be AAHOA’s new secretary,” said Panwala, soon after being elected as the first ever woman to raise to the ranks. All of AAHOA can benefit by electing its first female officer. The win is important, she said, for “women hoteliers, young hoteliers, independent hoteliers and small mom-and-pop owners.” Officers hold each post for one year after being elected secretary.
Jagruti Panwala will succeed to chair of AAHOA in 2019, a first for the 27-year-old organization founded by hoteliers to fight ethnic and racial discrimination in the U.S. hospitality industry. Begun by fewer than 100 hoteliers in 1989, AAHOA has more than 15,000 members and ended 2015 with $11.4 million in revenue.
AAHOA officially kicked off its 2016 convention and trade show in Nashville with a packed-house at the opening general session on March 29th. This year’s sold-out conference theme was “Success by Design.” The general session began with an all-star panel of industry CEOs, which included Steve Joyce, president and CEO of Choice Hotels, Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group, David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western, Elie Maalouf, CEO, the Americas, IHG, and Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International.
Following the panel, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam took to the stage to talk about the growth of travel and tourism in the state, and the opportunities that the hospitality industry presents for business-minded individuals in both Tennessee and all over the country. In closing, Haslam expressed his gratitude to AAHOA for choosing Nashville for its 2016 conference.
A hot topic of the morning general session was the importance of the hospitality industry to the overall U.S. economy. Chip Rogers spoke passionately about AAHOA’s role in lodging. “As the largest hotel owners’ association in the world, we, all of us, are in a unique position of leadership and responsibility. You see we made an industry that is thriving. And it is thriving in no small part because of the incredible efforts made every day by the very people in this room,” Rogers said. “However, we also share a responsibility. An obligation to serve millions of Americans every day in their home away from home. By every measure, we are meeting and exceeding our obligations.”
Citing the latest industry data—like the fact that the travel and tourism industry is responsible for over 8 million jobs in the United States—Rogers detailed how the lodging industry helps to prop up the country as a whole. “While these numbers are impressive, think about what it means in the lives of those who actually make our industry what it is,” he said. “You see the millions of jobs it helps create, and the billions of dollars of economic effect. It ultimately means that kids get to go to college, families get to take vacations, and the American Dream is realized in all corners of our country.”
Rogers also took an opportunity to introduce the inaugural issue of Today’s Hotelier magazine, AAHOA’s new official publication, as well as an upgrade to the AAHOA website. The magazine was completely redesigned from its last iteration. The morning general session closed with a keynote speech from recently retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning.
Jimmy Patel ended his year as chairman, sharing with the audience what AAHOA had accomplished during the past 12 months. Membership increased by 1,000 to 15,175; Revenue grew by 20 percent, surpassing the $10 million budget by $1.4 million; The political action committee (PAC) fund grew to $450,000; and, Established a franchise department where members can directly take their concerns to attorney Rachel Humphrey.
Bruce Patel, chairman of AAHOA, in his address, informed the delegates that AAHOA will continue to charge full steam ahead on its mission as not only the largest hotel owner organization in the world, but the most powerful. Influencing elected officials in federal, state and local governments and educating them about the U.S. hospitality industry is crucial in warding off bad government laws and policies that will harm and eventually dismantle their businesses.
The 42-year-old hotelier from Dallas, Texas, joined the AAHOA officer ranks in 2013, when the membership (then around 11,000) elected him secretary. Over the next three years, the association expanded its office in Washington, D.C., and repositioned its strategy to become more than an Indian American social club – it intentionally morphed into a business organization intent on influencing change on behalf of its members, who own almost half of all the hotels in the U.S.; comprise more than $1.30 billion in real estate assets; and employ more than 600,000. Along the way, it found its voice as that of the hotel owner in America.
Patel told the Gala audience: “While it’s not always clear what this industry has in store for us, especially over the next few years with an uncertain global economy, bad laws and regulations, and even unconventional competitors in an ever-changing landscape; what is clear is that our voice in this industry and in this country has to be louder; our presence has to be stronger; and our influence has to be greater.”
Bruce Patel told the hoteliers that AAHOA must transform its financial power into political power. The goal for 2016 is to increase the PAC fund to more than $1 million. The push is significant for the fall political season, which will see nearly 90 percent of congressional seats open for election. Two years ago, almost every candidate that AAHOA backed through PAC funds and public endorsement won the General Election. “You can see that voters across the country are upset with the political gridlock in D.C., and something has to change. We absolutely have to shake things up,” he said.
Panwala is a businesswoman in Ivyland, Pennsylvania, where she is part of a family hotel company and president and CEO of Wealth Protection Strategies, an investment management business she founded in 1999. She has been active in AAHOA for more than a decade, holding leadership positions since 2011 when first elected female director at large, eastern division. Re-elected in 2014, she has also co-chaired the Women’s Hotelier Committee for five years and served on the strategic planning committee for two years. She testified to Congress against proposed harmful labor laws. Her focus repeatedly has been getting more women, independent and young hoteliers involved. In 2011, she received the prestigious AAHOA Chairman’s Award of Excellence.
She is a second-generation hotelier who migrated from Surat, India, with her parents when she was a teenager. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Panwala said the message she wants to AAHOA members to hear is that getting involved in the association can make a difference in their lives and in their businesses. “I want all of our members to value their membership and to get meaningful benefits from AAHOA. But to get more out of AAHOA, you must put more into AAHOA – not just by attending meetings, but by taking courses, by serving on committees, and by being an ambassador, for example. I learned that first-hand.
“It’s why I want more members to participate; it’s why I will continue to champion those things that make it worth both your time and your money to be an active member of AAHOA. My new position represents trust by the members that is special and sacred, so I intend to serve in a way that justifies this faith in me – serve in a way that makes all of us proud to be part of the hospitality industry and to be members of AAHOA.”
Chip Rogers, former Georgia State Senate majority leader, has been serving as the President of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) for over one year. Rogers was named interim president of AAHOA last year and has been with the organization nearly five years after having previously served as the association’s VP, government affairs and public relations. Rogers took over from Fred Schwartz, who stepped aside as president in December 2014 after 18 years with AAHOA. Rogers previously served in the Georgia General Assembly, and was elected to six terms, serving two as Senate majority leader.
AAHOA in recent years has leveraged its power and influence on Capitol Hill and is expanding its legislative advocacy to state and local levels. Rogers is well versed in government affairs, having served as a lawmaker in the Georgia State Legislature from 2003 to 2012. He was first elected to the House of Representatives, and in 2004 was elected to the Senate. A Republican, Rogers also elected as the Senate Majority Leader in 2008 and 2010. He resigned from the Senate in 2012.
Rogers, began working with AAHOA in 2009 and previously served as the association’s Vice President of government affairs and public relations. As a lawmaker Rogers earned more than two dozen Legislator of the Year awards, including twice from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and was a three-time winner of the Golden Peach award given to the lawmaker most dedicated to digital learning in Georgia.
In the private sector Rogers has been a long-time small business owner with interests in broadcasting, marketing and real estate. He founded and led Rogers Communications for two decades. He earned his undergraduate degree from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Georgia State. He and his wife Amy have four children and live in metro Atlanta.
Rogers said, his vision is, when it comes to Congressional influence in the case of laws and policies that impact the lodging industry, that AAHOA be the most powerful lobbying group on Capitol Hill, in state capitols and on the municipal level.