The opening session of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) annual convention and trade show kicked off with a bang yesterday as the Atlanta Falcons drumline set the rhythm for an upbeat “Bigger, Bolder, Better” event at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Alkesh Patel, AAHOA vice chairman and 2012 convention chair, welcomed attendees. He addressed the lack of credit hoteliers are facing and the importance of supporting legislation that will help small businesses rebound. He also expressed support for California’s recently introduced fair franchising bill, “The Level Playing Field for Small Businesses Act of 2012.”
AAHOA Chairman Hemant Patel gave the opening address and stressed the importance of the Pool Safety and Accessibility for Everyone Act (Pool SAFE Act), introduced by Rep. Mick Mulvaney. The bipartisan legislation would provide a one-year delay for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) pool lift requirement, allow the use of portable lifts and sharing lifts between pools and spas, and protect hoteliers from being sued during the delay period. He advised attendees to support extension of the jobs bill President Obama signed into law in 2010 to spur hiring and help small business owners. Patel also discussed the Travel Promotion Act, and attracting more international visitors to the United States through improving access to visas.
Special presentations included Bob Coleman, editor of the Coleman Report; Arun Singh, deputy chief of Mission Ambassador, India; and Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister of India and CEO of C-SAM. Coleman discussed how SBA financing is critical to the lodging industry and offered advice on how to secure loans. “Be as aggressive as you are in securing your capital,” Coleman said.
Singh reiterated how AAHOA’s more than 10,000 members own more than 40 percent of all U.S. hotels, and expressed the commendable role Indian Americans have played in the success of the U.S. hotel industry. Considering the strong growth in India’s domestic tourism and the rapidly growing hotel industry there, Singh emphasized the strong business opportunities for the hotel industry in the Indian market. He said the estimated demand and supply gap in India is approximately 100,000 rooms, especially in the mid-sized and budget hotel segment. India is also an important destination as a source for supplies, he added, such as linens and cutlery.
Pitroda, who described AAHOA as a powerhouse, said India is growing at a rate of 8 to 10 percent and more than 550 million people in the country are below the age of 25. India is in need of expansion of institutions and infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, highways and hotels. Opportunities are especially abundant in second and third tier cities, he said. “It’s a great opportunity to do business,” Pitroda stressed to attendees.
Jonathan Karl, senior political correspondent for ABC News, moderated a political debate between Michael Steele and Howard Dean. The two politicians discussed the 2012 presidential election and who will take control of Congress in November.
In an industry leaders panel discussion, moderated by President of BHG Hotels Buggsi Patel, panelists addressed building the next generation of hotel owners, community involvement and civic partnerships, making the right investments, financing, and more. Buggsi said the panelists on stage represented more than 35,000 rooms in the United States. They included Navin C. Dimond, president and CEO of Stonebridge Companies; Bharat Patel, chairman and CEO of Sun Development and Management Corp.; Vinay Patel, senior vice president of operations and sales, SREE Hotels; D.J. Rama, president of JHM Hotels; and Mitesh Shah, senior managing principal and CEO of Noble Investment Group.
Dimond said hoteliers should invest in properties because they think it’s the right thing to do, and put one-upmanship aside. “Sometimes the best deal you do is the one you don’t do,” he said.
Bharat Patel said the hotel industry is a cyclical business and always will be. “Timing of entry into the cycle is critical,” he stressed. While some level of sanity has returned to the business, he added, there is an imbalance in supply and demand. “We are to be a net seller at the height, and a net buyer in times like this.” Having sufficient cash flow from existing operations helps ease hoteliers through down cycles, he said.
Shah expressed hope for the next generation of Asian American hoteliers, despite the concerning complexities of the business in this period of economic uncertainty. “We might have to feel a little bit of sorrow for the fact that this next generation won’t have the same pathway that our generation did, but don’t count them out because they will find a path. The people that came before them—their mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts—paved the way.
“…Even though it’s not clear today what will take place,” he continued, “there will be a path, there will be success, and this community of ours, if it’s anything, it is very resilient.”
The convention will continue through May 5. Other highlights include an industry issues panel this afternoon featuring Liam Brown, executive vice president of Marriott International; Eric Danziger, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group; Steve Joyce, president and CEO of Choice Hotels; David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western; and Bob Morse, senior vice president and COO of IHG. George W. Bush will be the keynote speaker.