Female officer, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, Jagruti Panwala, Jimmy Patel, PAC fund, 2016 convention
Female officer, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, Jagruti Panwala, Jimmy Patel, PAC fund, 2016 convention

Members elect first woman officer; turn out in record numbers; and declare war on bad government Wednesday, April 6, 2016 – AAHOA’s 2016 CONVENTION was unconventional is all sorts of ways. Its members elected the association’s first female officer; attendance far surpassed previous records; and the heightened fervor to get more active in Washington politics aims to grow the PAC fund to $1 million. The election of Jagruti Panwala as secretary was a highlight of the four-day annual convention held March 29-April 1 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The event drew a record turnout – 5,000 hoteliers, vendors and franchise CEOs and their cohorts. Panwala told Asian Hospitality she is “extremely honored and very humbled to be AAHOA’s new secretary,” but the victory is not hers alone. All of AAHOA can benefit by electing its first female officer. The win is important, she said, for “women hoteliers, young hoteliers, independent hoteliers and small mom-and-pop owners.” She will succeed to chair of AAHOA in 2019, a first for the 27-year-old organization founded by hoteliers to fight ethnic and racial discrimination in the U.S. hospitality industry. Begun by fewer than 100 hoteliers in 1989, AAHOA has more than 15,000 members and ended 2015 with $11.4 million in revenue. Jimmy Patel ended his year as chairman, sharing with the audience what AAHOA had accomplished during the past 12 months. · Membership increased by 1,000 to 15,175. · Revenue grew by 20 percent, surpassing the $10 million budget by $1.4 million. · The political action committee (PAC) fund grew to $450,000. · Established a franchise department where members can directly take their concerns to attorney Rachel Humphrey. At the Gala event, Jimmy Patel, whose family immigrated from London in 1980 and opened a hotel in the Greensboro, North Carolina, thanked his parents R.K. and Kusum Patel for their unwavering support. Jimmy and R.K. are in business together, operating JAM Hospitality, which owns five hotels and is building two more properties in North Carolina. He grew emotional when he honored his wife, Rakhi, and son, Prateek. Holding back tears, he thanked his wife for her support and working quietly behind the scenes to care for the family and be involved with AAHOA. He said because of his 10-year involvement with AAHOA, he missed time with Prateek, who is a junior at Elon University, and called him a “stellar son.” “I value you both, and I love you.” Soon after, 2016 Chairman Bruce Patel helped the 2015 chairman on with his new sports jacket bearing an emblem of a past chairman. Moving forward Bruce Patel kept the momentum going in letting the audience know that AAHOA will continue to charge full steam ahead on its mission as not only the largest hotel owner organization in the world, but the most powerful. Influencing elected officials in federal, state and local governments and educating them about the U.S. hospitality industry is crucial in warding off bad government laws and policies that will harm and eventually dismantle their businesses. The 42-year-old hotelier from Dallas, Texas, joined the AAHOA officer ranks in 2013, when the membership (then around 11,000) elected him secretary. Over the next three years, the association expanded its office in Washington, D.C., and repositioned its strategy to become more than an Indian American social club – it intentionally morphed into a business organization intent on influencing change on behalf of its members, who own almost half of all the hotels in the U.S.; comprise more than $1.30 billion in real estate assets; and employ more than 600,000. Along the way, it found its voice as that of the hotel owner in America. Patel told the Gala audience: “While it’s not always clear what this industry has in store for us, especially over the next few years with an uncertain global economy, bad laws and regulations, and even unconventional competitors in an ever-changing landscape; what is clear is that our voice in this industry and in this country has to be louder; our presence has to be stronger; and our influence has to be greater.” Labor movements that threatened the industry include the state-to-state push to increase the minimum to $15 an hour, an unsustainable level for small businesses, who will either be forced to hire fewer employees, sacrificing customer service, or increase prices, making them less competitive. Another major concern is the National Labor Relations Board’s effort to alter the franchise business model by deeming the franchiser is responsible for the hiring decisions of the franchisee. A disgruntled employee can not only sue the franchised hotel, but it can also demand punitive relief from the franchiser. The issues are myriad, and Bruce Patel told the hoteliers that AAHOA must transform its financial power into political power. The goal for 2016 is to increase the PAC fund to more than $1 million. The push is significant for the fall political season, which will see nearly 90 percent of congressional seats open for election. Two years ago, almost every candidate that AAHOA backed through PAC funds and public endorsement won the General Election. Sitting up and taking serious notice today of the hue and cry of small business owners seeking less government regulation and intervention are members of Congress; many who have been boosted to power in part with financial backing of AAHOA’s PAC fund. The ultimate goal is to help elect candidates who are pro-business and who know the negative-growth impact government overreach and over regulation has on the nation’s free-enterprise system. “Hoteliers are job creators,” Patel said in an interview with Asian Hospitality. “We are conducting a significant amount of business development in this country, creating permanent and temporary jobs. We take the investment risk because we believe the ROI will be there; we cannot allow government to change the rules midstream with reckless abandonment that would decrease our ability to create jobs. “You can see that voters across the country are upset with the political gridlock in D.C., and something has to change. We absolutely have to shake things up.” Female first Changing the status quo in AAHOA were Panwala and those who elected her to the post that puts her on the direct path to chairwoman. Two other candidates were vying for the post – Sunil Patel of Tennessee and Pratik Bhakta of North Carolina. Neither of three received more than 50 percent of the vote. According to AAHOA voting rules that meant a runoff between Panwala and Patel, the two highest vote getters. Panwala garnered 706 votes (57 percent) and Patel tallied 537 in the second go round. Panwala is a businesswoman in Ivyland, Pennsylvania, where she is part of a family hotel company and president and CEO of Wealth Protection Strategies, an investment management business she founded in 1999. She has been active in AAHOA for more than a decade, holding leadership positions since 2011 when first elected female director at large, eastern division. Re-elected in 2014, she has also co-chaired the Women’s Hotelier Committee for five years and served on the strategic planning committee for two years. She testified to Congress against proposed harmful labor laws. Her focus repeatedly has been getting more women, independent and young hoteliers involved. In 2011, she received the prestigious AAHOA Chairman’s Award of Excellence. She is a second-generation hotelier who migrated from Surat, India, with her parents when she was a teenager. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Panwala said the message she wants to AAHOA members to hear is that getting involved in the association can make a difference in their lives and in their businesses. “I want all of our members to value their membership and to get meaningful benefits from AAHOA. But to get more out of AAHOA, you must put more into AAHOA – not just by attending meetings, but by taking courses, by serving on committees, and by being an ambassador, for example. I learned that first-hand. “It’s why I want more members to participate; it’s why I will continue to champion those things that make it worth both your time and your money to be an active member of AAHOA. “My new position represents trust by the members that is special and sacred, so I intend to serve in a way that justifies this faith in me – serve in a way that makes all of us proud to be part of the hospitality industry and to be members of AAHOA.”

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