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Mr. Ash Patel - Chairman of AAHOA - Asian American Hotel Owners Association
1) What are the specific opportunities for Asian Hotel owners in today's economic situation? How can Hotel owners survive and grow?

Although the current market situation is certainly challenging, it also provides opportunities. In an environment in which many properties are over-leveraged and in which there is market overgrowth, those with liquid cash will be able to purchase properties for below market value. In addition, lenders are learning that they do not have the knowledge or infrastructure to operate hotels successfully themselves, and therefore that foreclosure is not always value-maximizing.
There is a need for hotelier expertise. During these times it has been known that our members are better operators than a corporation. They lend a personal touch to the services they provide that is instrumental to survival. Lenders are also learning that in many cases it is better to negotiate the current loan. In addition, people who are savvy can buy properties at good values even though debt is not available through distressed lender financing and owner financing to help them minimize their losses.
2) What are the main challenges facing Hotel industry in general and Asian Hotel owners in particular?

Based on recent surveys, economy travel, corporate travel, and leisure travel are all down. Discretionary income spending is down as well. New hotels that were built in the last few years with the expectation that demand would grow will struggle to maintain and increase their occupancy rates. In order to face this challenge, owners of these properties will need to embrace creative and cost-justified marketing ideas to attract guests and go the extra mile to ensure that they will return. There are also legislative challenges to consider. The Employee Free Choice Act is a business killer, and would wreck havoc on an already-uncompetitive labor market. In addition, the new ADAAA regulations which are set to go into effect in January will impose significant additional costs on hoteliers and all businesses.

3) How does AAHOA help members to face the challenges?

AAHOA helps members to face challenges in several ways.

a. Professional Development: Our industry is not going to get a bail-out because hotels are owned individually. This is why AAHOA’s CHO program is so important. By stressing the importance of operating efficiently and marketing effectively, this program provides our members with the tools they need to enhance their existing skills to stay afloat during these difficult times.

b. Advocacy: By cultivating relationships with elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels, AAHOA strives to influence meaningful change to the laws and regulations that affect our members’ businesses.

c. Working with Franchisors: In the past months, AAHOA has reached out to the leading hotel franchisors in an effort to encourage them to work with our members to survive the economic crisis, including by granting extensions on renovations schedules, construction deadlines, new program roll outs, limiting new license applications while keeping impact in mind, etc. I am pleased to report that AAHOA has had good cooperation from all brands regarding this request from us. d. Loan Default: If the bank simply takes a property, the note is gone and there is no debt service. I personally am working to educate lenders to work out extensions or interest-only arrangements during a downturn. This way, nobody loses, and there is less collapse of the financial industry.

4) How can AAHOA members participate in AAHOA activities and take-up leadership position in AAHOA?

There are many opportunities for members to participate in AAHOA activities. We have many events each year that are designed to allow for member education and interaction, including our Annual Convention, regional meetings, town hall meetings, industry conferences, a leadership conference, franchisor brand meetings, special events for women and young hoteliers, and more. Our Ambassador program is a great way to take steps towards a leadership position in AAHOA, and allows for a great deal of interaction between the AAHOA members and leadership. Our elections for the Board of Directors and officers positions are democratic—as long as a member is in good standing and meets the requirements, anyone can seek election. We are one of only few associations in the country where our elections are contested elections.

5) What can AAHOA members do to make AAHOA stronger and powerful?

Any membership, no matter how large, requires ongoing activism. AAHOA is continually seeking to increase the political participation of our association and our members at the grassroots and federal levels. Our PAC is strong this year and we are striving to build on this momentum. Imagine if only half of our about 9,000 members each gave $1/day for a year, that would be over $1.5 million! An established PAC fund will increase AAHOA’s political clout and enable our association to support members of Congress who understand the needs of small business owners and are doing the right thing for our community, our country, and the world at large.

6) Is AAHOA working on plans to attract younger hoteliers by creating Web2.0 based Hotel community website?

As technology changes and improves, we are constantly looking at ways to use such technology to accomplish our many goals and objectives through our website. Internet usage is high among all age groups so a specific demographic is not being targeted; the website will appeal to and be made relevant for all users.

7) What steps can new US administration take to boost US travel and hotel industry?

First and foremost, we need to take steps to increase foreign tourism to the United States. On way to do so is by passing the Travel Promotion Act, which will enable the U.S. to market itself as a tourism destination abroad. Countries such as France, Spain, Italy and others spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing their countries to drive tourism, and we should take note. The U.S. was number 1 in visitation until a few years ago and have now fallen to number 3. We have lost our leadership position due to high visa costs, a lack of marketing, and a damaged reputation abroad. By addressing these issues, we can increase foreign tourism to the U.S., stimulating the economy for the good of all.

8) As a successful hotelier, kindly share 3 qualities hotel owners must have to be successful.

a. Financial Sense,
b. Leadership, and
c. Love of Hospitality.

9) How can small hotel owners take advantage of latest in Information and management technology to grow their business? How will AAHOA help the small hotel owners?

It all starts with professional development. AAHOA offers a Certified Hotel Owner program free to our members that help them learn all facets of the business. AAHOA helps small hoteliers compete on a more even plane with larger hoteliers by maintaining vendor relationships which allow for volume purchases and savings. Education also plays a big role, as well as networking opportunities such as town hall and regional meetings. Certain vendor programs also help, such as programs that help with reservations, marketing, etc.

10) What is your vision for the future progress of Asian Hotel owners?

As time passes, I see AAHOA members moving up from the economy-priced hotels to the luxury, boutique and resort sector. We have a global economy now and global opportunities. AAHOA needs to continue in its role as the voice of the industry, and remain active in politics in order to protect and preserve what we work so hard for.

11) There are lot of entrepreneurs in India and Gujarat who dream about coming to US and setting-up their hotel business. What will be your advice and coaching to these young people?

AAHOA offers hospitality training programs in India to help aspiring hoteliers to develop crucial business and operational skills. I would encourage these hoteliers to take advantage of these programs before relocating to the United States. Upon moving to the United States, I would suggest joining AAHOA and taking advantage of the vast line-up of resources that we offer, including the knowledge base of our over 9,000 members. Our CHO programs are offered free to members.

It is also important not to overlook the great business opportunities present in India. There is a small room count in India and a greater population, especially in the middle class which amounts to about 300 million people—that is greater than the US population! Recently this is leading even American hoteliers and Indian-American hoteliers to look to India for opportunities.

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