SAN ANTONIO—AAHOA this year at its annual conference didn’t shy away from its achievements from the previous year. Fixated on broken records, the hotel owners association displayed its ever-growing strength to event attendees while also encouraging its members to continue participating in the industry’s ongoing efforts by voicing concerns at all levels of government—all the way from the top to the bottom.
“AAHOA members in this room—and across the nation—should be gleaming with pride at where this association is in the landscape of the entire industry,” said Bharat (Bruce) Patel, the outgoing chairman of the association (Bhavesh B. Patel has take over the role), during a session at the conference. “Our footprint, and impact, today goes far beyond the fact that we own almost half the hotels in this country. Words like leadership and industry presence are clear identifiers of your AAHOA today.”
With more than 6,500 attendees and vendors on hand at AAHOA’s annual convention, the hotel owners association—celebrating its 28th year—is larger than it has ever been—totaling more than 16,650 members in 2016. The group’s lifetime memberships increased more than 27% in the same year (there are now more than 3,000 lifetime members within the association). Offering attendees a collection of hotel products and services, the trade show at this year’s event had more than 400 exhibitors (600 booths in total—an event record) spread out across a floor of more than 62,000 sq. ft.
“The state of AAHOA is as good as it’s ever been,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AAHOA, in a one-on-one interview with Hotel Business at the hospitality association’s annual conference. “I kind of feel like we’re the New England Patriots of the association world. Just when you reach the top, there’s another top to reach.”
Additionally, the AAHOA PAC raised more than $1 million this past election cycle—more money raised in a single election cycle than all years prior combined (AAHOA established the PAC in 1997). A total of 35 donors individually contributed the maximum $5,000 donation allowed by law to the federal PAC. Some of the contributors named at the conference include David Kong, CEO of Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Wyndham Hotel Group CEO Geoff Ballotti; Hyatt Hotels Corp. CEO Mark Hoplamazian; and Choice Hotels International Inc. CEO Stephen P. Joyce.
Speaking on the PAC’s success in the last couple of years, Rogers noted AAHOA’s increased efforts to inform members of the association’s PAC and explain how the PAC can assist hotel owners. “I think you’ve also seen—not just from the federal government but even at the state and local level—a real anti-business environment among elected officials,” he said. “Sometimes it’s quite puzzling to our members—small-business owners—who realize that they’re making an incredibly positive impact on their local communities by creating economic activity, by hiring people, and they have become puzzled that they are cast sometimes as the enemy for being business owners, which is a bizarre view of some elected officials.” As such, he said, AAHOA’s members became involved during the election and voiced concerns.
Held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, the four-day conference was jam-packed with several general sessions encompassing discussions with industry leaders and analysts; educational workshops focusing on increasing revenue with social media, preparing for the future of franchising, preventing HR lawsuits and financing projects; and a variety of opportunities to network and conduct business with vendors and peers.
Made up of 11 brand CEOs, a panel, moderated by Rogers, conversed on a range of topics: using technology to interact with customers; accommodating the millennial generation; and the growing intrusion of government on the industry. “It was a great symbol of the unity of the industry, a great symbol of the strength and respect for AAHOA members, and with the size of the people in the crowd, a great symbol of the respect for the brands from the AAHOA members,” he said. Armed with questions from members, AAHOA’s president and CEO pressed execs about topics of concern to hotel owners, such as balancing brand mandates and the interests of owners. “Some of the questions really got to the core of that relationship between an owner and a brand,” Rogers said, adding that the continued communication between brands and owners is “critical to rolling out a lot of the brand policies and mandates that are going to impact an owner’s bottom line, going to impact consumers—which is, ultimately, the most important thing.” The respect and communication, according to him, is at an “all-time high.”
Educational sessions this year at the conference provided AAHOA’s members with opportunities to absorb available industry data and integral business information. At full capacity, the Women Hoteliers sessions featured former IBM executive and international empowerment speaker Shelmina Abji. Additionally, the association dedicated one of its general sessions to education entirely. Many of the speeches revolved around the economy, the current political environment and how those in hospitality
and lodging can help prevent government from crippling the industry.
The association’s leaders expect AAHOA’s educational efforts to evolve over the course of the year. “We’re going to continue to expand on education,” Rogers said, pointing out the library of webinars available on AAHOA’s website (there are about 50 webinars currently; however, these instructional videos—ranging anywhere between 10-20 minutes—will be produced more often this year, added the association’s chief executive). AAHOA already has three webinars scheduled for May. Last year, more than 4,000 people participated in the webinars, Rogers noted. The hotel owners association is also rolling out regional events this year.
AAHOA hosted receptions (including a young professionals event), entertainment and other gatherings to encourage networking among the annual conference’s attendees—an opportunity for hotel owners to share best practices and help one another. “When you come here, you learn and educate,” said Mehul Patel, chairman and CEO of NewcrestImage, who is also a former AAHOA chairman.
“What’s happening on our trade show floor that’s completely different is that business is actually taking place because our members are the owners and the decision makers and the check writers,” Rogers explained, comparing the success of this year’s show’s exhibitor floor to the available vendors and booths at other trade shows in the industry. “They come to an AAHOA convention for the purposes of buying goods and services.”
As far as what’s in store for the hotel owners association in 2017, pay attention to AAHOA’s main efforts, which revolve around advocacy, professional development, providing a platform for vendor partners to communicate with owners and humanitarian relief. “We look forward to actually creating more and more initiatives on all four of these fronts in the coming year,” AAHOA’s chairman said. HB