The March issue of Today’s Hotelier magazine is on newsstands everywhere, and in honor of Women’s History Month, AAHOA Female Director Eastern Division Lina Patel and AAHOA Female Director Western Division Tejal N. Patel are featured on the cover. In the cover story, Lina and Tejal share their perspectives and insights on the strides women have made in the industry and the progress still to come for the association.
As is true for numerous industries, leadership positions across many facets of hospitality have long been dominated by men. But times are changing, and women make up growing per-centages of leadership positions at hotels, within the brands, at supplier companies, and pretty much everywhere else. And groups such as the Castell Project have put considerable effort into accelerating the numbers of women in hospitality leadership and owner-ship. AAHOA also is on the front lines of this fight, its members are playing an increasingly important role in leading the industry forward in the march toward gender equality in leadership.
Here, we feature perspectives from two women who hold leadership positions within AAHOA. They stand on the shoulders of those who came before them while carrying the torch for those who will come after.
By LINA PATEL, CHO, FEMALE DIRECTOR EASTERN DIVISION
After immigrating from India to the U.S. in the early 1980s with my parents, I practically grew up in a hotel. Like many AAHOA Members, I cleaned rooms, did the laundry, worked front desk shifts, and even mowed the lawn. I vividly remember coming home after school and immediately racing to the hotel lobby to begin my shift. Today, countless shifts and many years later, I’m the owner and operator of a Days Inn by Wyndham in Cincinnati, OH, and my portfolio includes Wyndham, Marriott, Choice, and IHG properties across the Eastern U.S.
I’m also privileged to serve on the board of the Franchise Advisory Council for Days Inn, where I help fine- tune brand standards before passing them to hotel owners with the goals of maximizing revenue, saving money, and providing resources needed to operate their hotels efficiently. Through my time in this industry, I’ve become experienced in negotiating and forming international business partnerships, and I started an international company catering to international extreme adventure travel, Himalayan Glacier Trekking, in 2010.
As a second-generation hotelier, I have faced more challenges than I care to recount here, and I don’t cite my accomplishments to brag. Instead, they demonstrate the difficulties that many of us have faced on our ascent into leadership. And while the journey certainly isn’t easy for anyone in this industry, women undeniably face additional obstacles. However, as Michelle Obama said, “There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.” The women of AAHOA are always ready to board the limitless learning platform provided by AAHOA, and there are many examples besides myself of women who are breaking down barriers and helping to level the playing field.
“I have faced more challenges than I care to recount here, and I don’t cite my accomplishments to brag. Instead, they demonstrate the difficulties that many of us have faced on our ascent into leadership.”
As an AAHOA Board Member and industry veteran, I want to help create opportunities for women hoteliers and provide a platform for us to learn from and inspire each other, and set everyone up for years of progress and success. For example, my team and I have hosted more than 45 women hotelier education and networking sessions across the nation, planned three women hotelier conferences, and hosted five brand-development days and six educational sessions at national conventions with 1,200 women attendees being the largest educational session on the AAHOA platform!
AAHOA provides opportunities for women hoteliers to build relationships with local officials and decision makers in our local governments to ensure they understand our businesses and our industry. Without question, women play an important role in the hospitality industry, and especially in the families of so many AAHOA Members. Although many of our mothers and sisters played an equal role in helping these businesses succeed, we have yet to see enough women serving in prominent industry roles, but I’m proud that AAHOA strives to lead by example and counts growing numbers of women leaders among its membership.
Women are the backbone of America’s hotel industry, and they remain underrepresented in the industry. AAHOA is committed to changing that, as its initiatives to help women hoteliers take their rightful place in our industry started with education and networking events. When we all work together, the opportunities are limitless.
By TEJAL N. PATEL, CHO, CHIA, FEMALE DIRECTOR WESTERN DIVISION
AAHOA Members represent the heart of the hotel industry. They are the owners and operators of more than 60% of all hotels in the country that not only provide jobs for their employees but also invest in their local communities. Their hotels are more than places where people sleep; they’re gathering spaces, community centers, and often sources of support for those who need it most.
When you walk into an American hotel, you’re most likely walking into the life’s work of an AAHOA Member, whose contributions help strengthen the economy.
Since the 1940s, Asian-American hoteliers have been planting the seeds critical to the growth and success of the industry generation after generation. The entrepreneurs of this diaspora are the American Dream personified. They are AAHOA.
The association will continue promoting and protecting the interests of its members through advocacy efforts, as it has for the past 30-plus years. However, as we enter this “rebuilding/recovery” phase, AAHOA Members are at an important juncture that will shape the industry during the next five years and beyond.
Poor prospecting of hospitality labor, increase in costs, and supply chain problems are just a handful of the myriad issues owners face. Furthermore, the need for hotel franchising reform has only been amplified by frustrated franchisees.
Our industry is no stranger to downturns and adverse circumstances. Resiliency is a key pillar of our entrepreneurial spirit. AAHOA has gone through bumps, yet we have come so far since we were founded. But, there is still work left to do.
There are many potential challenges that could threaten industry recovery, but none is more threatening than a lack of unity and teamwork from all fronts. The ability to put ego aside and seek out other ideas from others – whether inside or outside of our industry – is key to getting the best results.
“To excel today and tomorrow, each AAHOA Member must continue to learn and grow in unity.”
Success comes not just from constantly working hard and thinking strategically but working on the right things at the right time. It’s easy to tear each other down when someone has a different perspective than you or challenges your thinking.
But, that’s the critical point that allows us to collectively make impactful change. Most of our membership is rooted in the South-Asian diaspora, yet there is diversity among us. It’s important to understand that there are many different ways of thinking, and our diversity is what enables us to do great things together, united.
The impact of AAHOA Members during the past 30 years has been tremendous.
AAHOA Members were the first to own their hotels and take control of their destinies. AAHOA Members were among the first to embrace technology, globalization, and franchising. AAHOA Members took control of their businesses and turned them into profit-generating assets. They expanded their businesses, brought in new blood, and raised capital to acquire and build more hotels.
To excel today and tomorrow, each AAHOA Member must continue to learn and grow in unity. It is my sincere hope we all come together and focus on the future trajectory of our industry and association. I also hope our members’ presence will be felt in every facet of hospitality: from the guestroom to the boardroom to the halls of Congress.