Q&A with Bharat (Bruce) Patel Dabu Hotels

For Bharat (Bruce) Patel, president of Dabu Hotels, it’s been an “amazing” year, especially helping steer the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) as its chairman 2016/17. Together with his brother, Danny, this son of a first-generation hotelier and former AAHOA officer owns, develops and/or operates more than a dozen hotels in Texas, including flags from Choice Hotels International, Hilton, IHG and Marriott International.

As chairman, Patel has been heavily involved in advancing AAHOA’s legislative agenda and increasing continuing-education offerings for members.

How would you best describe your year as chairman of AAHOA? Simply amazing. Full of opportunities, new initiatives and great successes. My fellow officers, board members and the AAHOA team have worked in a more unified effort than at any time I can remember. As a result of this unity, AAHOA’s platform has been able to expand tremendously. Our member engagement is at its highest level in the history of AAHOA. This has allowed us to make advances in advocacy and professional development we didn’t think possible just a few years ago. We broke just about every record we track during 2016. AAHOA membership rose above 16,600. The AAHOA PAC fund raised over $1 million in the 2015-16 election cycle. Our education offerings reached more than 7,000 members, including a record number of Certified Hotel Owner graduates. Finally, attendance at our more than 150 AAHOA-hosted events was up more than 40% from the previous year. All in all, we’ve had an incredible year and there’s every reason to believe that growth will continue.

One of the planks in your platform targeted legislative and regulatory monitoring. How much more active now is AAHOA from a political/legislative stance? We have grown exponentially over the last four years. We started with a one-person office a few miles from Capitol Hill in 2013. Later this year, we will move into a new 3,000-sq.-ft. home just a few blocks from the Capitol. We will also grow our advocacy team to eight full-time members by the end of 2017. This investment in advocacy is perhaps our best example of leading our industry. When we advocate in the halls of Congress, state capitol buildings or even city hall offices across the U.S., we are doing so as the voice of all hotel owners, not just AAHOA members. We have gone from being a relatively unknown entity to becoming a trusted source of information for lawmakers at every level of government in all parts of the country. One great example is in my home state of Texas. Recently, almost 300 Texas AAHOA members joined with the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association to take our message directly to Texas legislators at their Capitol Hill Day. Together, our voice is heard loud and clear in Texas, and now we’re replicating this type of partnership in other states.

Do you feel AAHOA is getting its voice heard? Does it need to do more, particularly under the new administration? Our voice is being heard more and more on Capitol Hill and in state capitals. We’ve gone from explaining who we are to becoming a trusted source of information for lawmakers. In the last year, we’ve held hundreds of meetings with members of Congress and many more with state legislators, mayors and city council members. But there are times when our best efforts to share the viewpoint of small business owners fall on deaf ears. That’s where the AAHOA PAC helps us financially invest in candidates who understand and support small business. So far, the Trump administration has been very supportive of reducing regulations and striking a much-needed balance between the interests of organized labor and business owners who create jobs. It is also historic to have a hotel owner in the White House. We believe this will be good for business and our industry.

What are the current top three issues of concern for AAHOA? We are leading the fight to stop frivolous drive-by lawsuits. With an expected 10,000 ADA lawsuits being brought against small businesses this year alone, our efforts are more important than ever. More and more hoteliers are unfairly targeted by unscrupulous plaintiff attorneys abusing a good law for selfish monetary gain. Sadly, the money they extort from the system does not even go to their clients. We’re also focused on workforce relations, which includes issues like the change in joint-employer definition from the NLRB and overtime regulations from the Department of Labor. We are looking forward to some favorable changes under the new administration. Finally, we are very much engaged in the efforts to overhaul the U.S. tax code. We are fully supportive of major change that simplifies the system and lowers overall rates. However, during the process we want to make sure great investment tools, like the 1031 like-kind exchange, are protected.

There are so many hotels owned by AAHOA members. What are they looking to AAHOA to accomplish for them in the nitty-gritty level of owning and operating hotels? The answer to that is going to vary somewhat depending on where a member is located, how many hotels he or she owns, whether the property or properties are franchised or independent, and so forth. However, I can say that everyone is looking for information and education that will allow them to make better decisions based on the goals of their companies. We started years ago with the Certified Hotel Owner program and now we’ve added workshops, special-interest group conferences, webinars, brand days and industry reports emailed monthly.

With second- and third-generation Asian American hoteliers now significant contributors to the lodging landscape, what advice would you give to the newest ranks of AAHOA members? Start as early as you can when it comes to learning and networking. So much of what you need to know in this industry doesn’t necessarily come from a textbook, so…recognize that real-world knowledge is inevitably going to come from two places: veteran hoteliers, which they have regular access to at AAHOA events, and experience. If you don’t have a hotel in your family, find an internship and commit to learning every part of the business. Take advantage of the intense hands-on workshops that AAHOA offers. HB

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