AAHOACON20 Day 1: Advocacy, Resilience Are Key During Crisis

NATIONAL REPORT—On the opening day of AAHOACON20, Chairman Biran Patel welcomed guests (viewers) to the first-ever virtual conference for the organization.

“As you can imagine, this isn’t exactly what we envisioned when we began planning our convention,” he said. “We were prepared for four festive days of celebrating your accomplishments and our industry in sunny Orlando, FL. So many Americans are facing a tough new reality because of COVID-19, and we’ve had to make some changes. This pandemic is having a profound impact on our industry and our country.”

He continued, “Over 160,000 of our fellow Americans have lost their lives from this virus. Big parts of our economy and our society are on pause. Businesses are struggling and millions of people in our industry are out of work. Hotel owners are struggling to keep their lights on and stay current on their mortgage. It’s easy to get down in these challenging times, but we hoteliers are resilient people and a resilient industry.”

Jagruti Panwala, AAHOA’s immediate past chair—who pointed out that the group’s membership has risen to nearly 20,000, the highest in its history—discussed how important political advocacy is to the association and its members.

“When I first became involved in AAHOA over a decade ago, I saw just how important advocacy is to our industry. Advocacy became a passion of mine,” she said. “As entrepreneurs living the American dream, we have an incredible story to tell. We can use our story to share valuable insights into the laws and regulations that govern our industry. When we engage in advocacy, we put faces to our names, to our businesses, to our issues and to our contributions in our communities. When our elected officials know who we are, our hotels cease to be just part of the landscape.”

She continued, “Over the past year, we achieved great things in Washington, DC. We worked with our coalition partners to help with the reauthorization of Brand USA. We also mobilized hoteliers to inform the new rules of joint employer, which will fundamentally strengthen the success of the franchise business model. And AAHOA officers stood with the president at the White House as he announced the important initiatives that help small businesses. We must keep building this relationship and increase our footprint in the political sphere, especially as the crisis challenges our livelihood.”

‘Do the Best You Can’
Harris Rosen, president and COO of Orlando-based Rosen Hotels & Resorts, offered leadership advice in a keynote address.

“In the 46 years that we’ve had our little company, I must confess that this has been the worst time by far. It’s been an awful experience. We’ve tried our best, but we can’t control what is going on, and that’s the great tragedy,” he said. “Normally, if we’re having challenges, we can step forward, confront those challenges and do something about it. What is occurring now is well beyond our control, and that’s what’s so frustrating. So, my advice is: Just do the best you can. There really isn’t much advice I can offer because this has never happened to us before.”

He added, “What can we do? We can take a deep breath, do the best we can under these circumstances and hope and pray that within a reasonable amount of time there’ll be a vaccine and then things will get better.”

He offered a suggestion to hoteliers who will have to decide whether or not to close their hotels.
“Put together a pro forma based on open, put together a pro forma based on closed—whichever works best for you, my recommendation would be to do it,” he said.

He recommended that the industry continue to plan for the future. “This is not the end for any of us hopefully. We’ll all survive. It will be a struggle but we will survive,” he said. “A question that we have asked ourselves, and I’m sure many of you are asking yourselves: Now what? Let’s assume in the next six months to a year things get better, and within a couple of years we’re back to normal. If we have plans for the future, what do we do? My advice is pretend as though this didn’t happen. The likelihood is that it will never happen again in our lifetime. Do everything you normally do to prepare for additional rooms, for a new property, whatever it is that you’ve been dreaming about and hoping for. Don’t let this interfere with your future.”