Bakulesh “Buggsi” Patel, center, holds the Kemmons Wilson Service Award, presented to him last week at IHG’s convention in Las Vegas by Alan Fusco, left, 2017 chair of the IHG Owners Association, and McClean Wilson, a member of the association and grandson of Kemmons Wilson.

BAKULESH “BUGGSI” PATEL has dedicated countless hours and days in not only growing his hotel development company but helping others achieve success as well.

For his sacrifice and dedication to the industry, IHG Owners Association awarded Patel its Kemmons Wilson Service Award last week during the franchiser’s annual convention in Las Vegas.

Alan Fusco, 2017 chair of the owners association, and McClean Wilson, grandson of Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn and owners association, presented the award.

Getting the award, said Patel, “is a big deal. It is a first for a minority owner. So, for our community, it’s a huge deal.” Patel was chairman of AAHOA in 2000 and remains active in the association.

Fusco called Patel an industry leader and friend. “Buggsi defines service and making a difference,” he said during the award presentation. “A big supporter of emerging leaders, Buggsi is a great role model because he truly cares. He is passionate about making a better system and truly embodies the spirit of Kemmons Wilson.”

Eyes Toward Growth

Patel, 55, is a member of the owners association’s U.S. board, and had been its 2014 chair. At that time, association members were heavily tasked with issues of governance and management – little things that took their eyes off the big picture.

Patel proposed they move away from an owner-centric business model and find a better way to handle the increasing demands on members, especially as InterContinental Hotels Group continued to grow its footprint by franchising more and more brands such as Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Hotel Indigo. This month, IHG announced plans to launch a new midscale brand.

The association created a new governance model, creating a CEO position and other executive roles that alleviate the volunteer board members of tasks that weighed them down, prevented them from progressing as a team and kept other owners from becoming active members out of fear they, too, would have to add to their already-heavy business schedules.

Don Berg came on board in December 2015 as CEO after Eva Ferguson, longtime president of the association, retired.

Free from having to worry about the fundamentals, the board set about establishing a three-year strategic plan aimed at protecting franchisees’ investments and working closely with IHG on developing brand standards and marketing tactics. The plan, said Fusco, is updated each year to stay current with an ever-evolving industry.

IHG’s franchisee community is growing, Patel said. For that reason, “we want to keep on attracting good people who will lead. We want to grow the brain trust needed to move the needle. It’s a big time commitment for owners, so we want them to be able to stay involved and make a difference. We are looking at the bigger picture.”

Midscale Brand in the Works

The timing is right as IHG plans to roll out a new midscale brand in the U.S. Called Project Horizon, the brand does not have an official name or logo. Patel and Fusco said IHG is working with an owner advisory council in developing the product’s concept. “It will be a tier lower than a Holiday Inn Express,” Patel said.

While it is too early for specific design details, IHG said the hotel will have about 95 rooms, be three-stories, fit on 1.5 acres and cost about $85,000 to $90,000 a key to construct. The rooms will be smaller than average but the lobby large and accommodating for guests. IHG said industry studies show a dearth of quality midscale hotels that meet travelers’ expectations of affordability and quality.

It is similar to Hilton’s Tru, a midscale brand the franchiser launched in January 2016. Hilton design engineers and developers worked with a group of Asian American hoteliers who advised on the design to keep it financially feasible to build. In advance of its rollout, Hilton inked licensing commitments with about 100 owners, most of them Asian American. Included were the advisers, many who promised to develop several Trus. The brand name was kept under wraps until January 2016 and the project worked under the name Canvas.

Fusco said he believes IHG’s new brand launch is about a year away, although the company has said it may have a franchise licensing agreement ready by the fall, and expects the first hotel to open in 2019.

Neither Fusco or Patel said whether they would be interested in investing in the new brand. Fusco owns two full-service Holiday Inns in upstate New York. Patel is president and CEO of BHG Hotels in Wilsonville, Oregon. He recently opened a new Holiday Inn Express in Newburg, Oregon. It sports the new Formula Blue design, which IHG introduced in 2014.

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