Vinay Patel take over as AAHOA chair during time of transition

At the recent AAHOA Convention & Trade Show—the first major convention in Dallas since the onset of the pandemic—Virginia hotelier Vinay Patel took the reins as the new chair of the association’s board of directors.

As Patel takes over the role in a year of transition for the industry and the association itself, he said that the one word he would use to describe his thoughts on the new role is “excitement.” “There are a lot of changes in the industry, a lot of changes in our association, a lot of changes everywhere, especially coming back from pandemic,” he said. “I, myself, as a hotelier have changed over the last 18 months. With all the changes, it’s always good to lead because obviously you can influence [things] in the long run. I think the decisions that we make today will impact us in the industry and our association for the long term. I’m just proud and excited to be in this role in this year.”

Patel joined AAHOA in 1993, has served on its board since 2014 and was elected secretary in 2018. He is the president of Fairbrook Hotels, which owns and operates 11 properties. He also serves on the board of directors for the Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association and is the president of the Herndon [VA] Hospitality Association.

He told Hotel Business that his number-one priority will be helping hoteliers get back on their feet from the devastating effects of the pandemic. “Certain markets are back, but there’s still a significant amount of hotel owners who are still not back and they need assistance—whether it be education, governmental help, dealing with brands or whatever else is out there,” he said. “We’re looking to see how we can make sure we can recover more safely and better.”

He also said that he will work to restore members’ faith in the association. “Over the years, people started seeing things differently,” he said. “How do you get back to the basics and get back to what the association is there for, which is looking out for the best interest of our membership? That’s what I’m looking forward to over the next seven months.” His term has been shortened to re-adjust to the normal AAHOA leadership cycle.

The association has seen a great deal of transition in the last 12 months, with Ken Greene currently in the interim president/CEO role, and Rachel Humphrey stepping down as the organization’s EVP/COO. “It’s going to be a learning curve,” said Patel. “So, we’re all getting our getting our feet wet. It’s a change that we’ll have to adapt to.”

He said Greene “has done a great job as interim president/CEO. I think the transition overall at the office has been trying at best, but I think it’s a good thing. Over the long run, I think it will be good. Nobody likes changes and it is not something that everybody looks forward to, but I think this change is going to be better for the industry, and better for the association and our membership as well.”

Elevating the association’s advocacy and engagement at the state and local level, including coordinating political education efforts with the American Hospitality Alliance, will also be a focus. “We must be united in our advocacy efforts, especially as we engage with local governments,” he said. “I am also committed to broadening our outreach to lawmakers who have not necessarily engaged on the issues we champion. Building a broad coalition that supports small businesses and their employees will help draw more attention to why issues such as 1031 like-kind exchanges and the Save Hotel Jobs Act are so important to rebuilding our economy with new, good-paying jobs.”

AAHOA has played a major role in Patel’s career, and he credits his success to its existence. “I’m probably one of many in the younger generation who have grown up in the hospitality industry, but to me [AAHOA] probably means everything,” he said. “…I literally have used every aspect of it, whether it be networking or the advocacy on behalf of the industry…Education has been something I’ve taken advantage of. Everything that I am today is probably due to the fact that AAHOA was here.”

He added, “I’m so proud to be the chair. There are probably thousands of people out there in our membership who are similar to me [and] have really taken advantage of what the association has to offer and really bloomed.”