HB ON THE SCENE: AAHOA celebrates 30 years

SAN DIEGO—AAHOA has more members than ever, launched a scholarship for aspiring hoteliers and continues to educate its members across the country through various initiatives—all of which can be attributed to its past.

That past was honored as Mike Leven, AAHOA’s co-founder, was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the 2019 AAHOA Convention & Trade Show, held at the San Diego Convention Center here, where more than 8,100 hoteliers, trade show exhibitors and industry partners from across the country converged for the association’s annual event. The AAHOA board also posthumously awarded a Lifetime Achievement award to Lee Dushoff, another key figure during the early days of the association.

“When Mike and Lee saw Asian-American hoteliers being wronged by discrimination, they went above and beyond to make things right,” said Jagruti Panwala, AAHOA chairwoman and 2019 convention chair. “They’ve done so much for hoteliers by showing that they would not tolerate discrimination in the hospitality industry. By creating the conditions for individuals to prove themselves as hoteliers, they helped remove the barriers that prejudice and small-mindedness created on the pathway to the American Dream.”

To create opportunities for future leaders in the hospitality industry, AAHOA has launched the Michael Leven and Lee Dushoff Scholarship for Compassionate Leadership at Kennesaw State University.

“This scholarship program is just one small way that we can honor them for their work on behalf of our members and our industry and help the next generation of hoteliers equip themselves with the tools that a good education provides,” she said.

So far, $125,000 has been raised for the scholarship. The association is still accepting donations.

“There were several moments throughout this year’s convention when I was deeply moved: Mike Leven’s opening; Elaine Dushoff’s remarks about her husband, Lee; the times I looked out from the stage at many of the people who helped make AAHOA what it is today; and when I delivered as the new AAHOA chairwoman,” Panwala said. “These were all incredibly emotional moments that made the convention and the celebration of AAHOA’s 30th anniversary truly unforgettable.”

Legislators are paying attention to AAHOA’s efforts and turning to the association’s members for answers, much of which can be attributed to ongoing political advocacy initiatives.

“Our voice is louder, and more people are listening to what we have to say, and for one simple reason: AAHOA always delivers for its members,” said HP Patel, AAHOA’s former chairman.

“With more hoteliers and vendors recognizing the value in political engagement, our presence in city halls, statehouses, and the halls of Congress is growing steadily,” Panwala said. “Our legislative events in Washington, DC, routinely draw hundreds of hoteliers. We will continue growing our federal advocacy initiatives, and I am optimistic about our plans to increase our presence at the state and local level where hoteliers can work with their elected officials to address issues such as a level playing field with short-term rentals and occupancy taxes.”

AAHOA’s PAC raised $1.25 million in the 2018 election cycle, a 14% increase from 2016.

“I think members are starting to realize that their voice really matters, so whether it’s meeting with an elected official, whether it’s voting, whether it’s bringing out issues that are of concern, they’re really seeing how it impacts the bottom line,” said Rachel Humphrey, interim president and CEO of AAHOA. Eighty-seven percent of the candidates AAHOA supported during the time frame won their elections.

“You want people who support small business,” she said. “In the end, our membership is all entrepreneurs, so it’s very important that the officials who are getting elected are those who understand small business, who understand the issues and the importance of small business to the communities and to the economy.”

While many things at AAHOA are evolving, some things have stayed the same; Humphrey spoke about the organization’s enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit over the decades. “It’s an honor to help this association usher in its next decades of greatness,” she said.

At the annual conference, the organization also appointed a new secretary, Nishant (Neal) Patel, and elected eight new members to three-year terms on the board of directors: Prashant Patel, director at large; Miraj S. Patel, young professional director, Western Division; Sanjay M. Patel, Alabama regional director; Hitesh Patel, Central Midwest regional director; Nick Zaver, Gulf regional director; Akshat A. Patel, North Carolina regional director; Hiten Patel, Northwest regional director; and Sandip Patel, Washington, DC area regional director.

AAHOA is still searching for a permanent president and CEO. The association retained management consulting firm Korn Ferry back in January to conduct a national search for the top spot, which Chip Rogers, now president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), stepped down from late last year.

“We will begin interviewing candidates when [Korn Ferry lets] us know it’s time,” she said. “We’re continuing to look for our next great leader.”

There’s a lot of excitement around AAHOA moving forward.

“We are entering our fourth decade as an association, and AAHOA is also at the strongest point in our history,” Panwala said. “Membership is at its highest level ever, as is the number of lifetime members. AAHOA members own nearly half of the hotels in the United States. I am excited at the opportunity to engage those who own the other half and bring them into the fold, so we can extend the value and services we provide to current AAHOA members to the entire industry.” HB

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