Ashley Ewing Parrott on launching AEP Consulting

2020 was a critical year for hospitality—it was, without a doubt, a devastating year for the industry, but it also presented some unlikely opportunities. AEP Consulting—a hospitality design firm created to help boutique and lifestyle hoteliers— sought to guide hoteliers with design and development aspirations in an unknown market.

Its founder, Ashley Ewing Parrott, helped her clients navigate the challenging landscape while focusing on development strategies. Hotel Business spoke with Parrott about the venture, her entry into hospitality and how women can advance their own careers in the industry.

Why did you choose to start AEP Consulting?
I was furloughed in early 2020 like so many others in hospitality, so I began taking on freelance clients in need of development and design support. I quickly found a niche in helping owners navigate the more nuanced process of boutique hotel development. As time passed and there was once again an opening in my pre-pandemic job, it no longer felt like the right path for me or my growing family. I resigned from my position and dove head-first into creative direction and development consulting.

Why hospitality design? What about the industry are you passionate about?
There is something magical about creating spaces and brands whose sole purpose is providing others with comfort, however temporarily. How many businesses or industries are in a position to host their guests for a minimum of 12-plus hours in a truly immersive experience? Our job is to welcome these guests into our home and do our best to make them feel at ease. I have the pleasure of designing spaces for all types of guests from all across the globe. I’ve also found that owners and developers working in the boutique and lifestyle space have a unique passion for pushing the boundaries and thinking outside the box regarding service and design. It’s something we have in common.

What has your journey been like being a female in the hospitality industry? What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome those?
I began working in the lodging industry by way of the hotel sales department, which is dominated by strong, confident women. Roughly 90%-95% of my bosses were female, and I drew inspiration from watching them lead. When I transitioned into the development world, the representation of women I was used to was flipped on its head. Adapting to this environment wasn’t easy. I was young, female and new to this side of the business. I received more than a few confused looks in the boardroom. Some vendors didn’t want to meet with me and would attempt to go over my head to find “the right person.” I was discounted, dismissed or flat-out ignored, but I was bullish in my desire to learn, collaborate and contribute. What I lacked in experience, I made up for in passion, curiosity and research. I spent hours reading and listening to podcasts and buried myself in the details. I asked a ton of questions. My boss recognized my passion and began inviting me to participate in more meaningful ways. I excelled and earned more responsibility. It took time, but I continued to develop my talent, and eventually, it became impossible for others to ignore.

What do women bring to the table in the industry?
Openness, healthy accountability and a desire to truly collaborate. As women, we are expected to be welcoming and supportive. Bringing those skills into the boardroom means that our teams benefit from transparent communication, a healthy level of accountability and ongoing collaboration, which benefits individual contributors, the morale of the team and the overall success of the project.

How are you working to advance other women’s careers in the industry?
I have been mentored and supported by many amazing women over the course of my career. They were generous with advice, encouragement and introductions, and to this day they remain treasured friends. I do my best to pay their kindness forward by mentoring younger members of my teams, volunteering my time to our local hospitality programs and by taking a genuine interest in fellow female professionals.