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A New Chapter

Newly Elected Secretary Jagruti Panwala Represents First Female Officer For AAHOA

Thursday, April 14, 2016
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The Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) recently elected the first female officer in its 27-year history when Jagruti Panwala became secretary at the annual convention in Nashville. Panwala will ultimately ascend to become the first chairwoman of the association. A second generation hotelier, Panwala first joined AAHOA some 10 years ago and has been on its Board of Directors since 2011. Hotel Interactive® caught up with her to discuss the milestone election.

HI: When did you make the decision to run for office and why?
JP: I made the decision in Washington, DC, which was about six or seven months before the election. I felt like it was time. We had 27 years of AAHOA with all males as officers and chairmen. There has been a need for a woman to add that little bit of a different viewpoint. I believe the more diverse an organization is, the more vibrant the organization will be. My passion and commitment has been there for five years. I know that for the next four years, or as long as I’m in the association, my passion and commitment will always be there for AAHOA. I am convinced that my election will open the door for so many women to take an even more active role in our association.

HI: How did you get started in the hotel business?
JP: I started my hotel career at age 18 with my dad. We bought our first independent hotel in Allentown, PA, which we converted into a Rodeway Inn and still own right now. My husband and I also own a Holiday Inn; a Best Western in the Bronx; and a Wyndham property in Allentown, PA.

HI: Was there anyone in particular who inspired you or served as a mentor?
JP: My father and my husband are the two major mentors in my life. They’ve always supported me and advised me. This position requires so much of your time and dedication that you need to make sure you have family behind you. When it comes to AAHOA, I think my mentors were not just one person but the entire membership. Throughout five years when I was speaking with members, they inspired me.

HI: What would you identify as your top legislative/political priorities for the next four years for AAHOA?
JP: As an association we’ve done an amazing job on a national level. The Joint Employer Act has been an issue for us, and I still believe that is our top priority. I had an opportunity to testify in front of the U.S. Congress two years ago on joint employer. We need to make sure that not just myself, but a lot of members of AAHOA, are speaking directly to lawmakers and fighting the issues that are directly affecting our bottom lines. We also need to focus more on state and local laws, stuff that’s happening right in our own backyards.

We are the largest hotel owners organization. I’d like to see us increase our PAC contributions considerably. Our members are beginning to recognize how important it is for us to invest in elected officials who understand the importance of small business.

HI: Tell me about some other personal priorities as well.
JP: When it comes to the franchise power we’ve done a great job, franchising issues affect the bottom lines of our membership. So I believe in a more proactive approach, making sure we are reaching out to the brands as opposed to being reactive.
Also when it comes to women and the second generation hoteliers, we need more leadership positions. Right now, much of our membership is female, but women only hold about 10 percent of the seats on the board. I know we can improve our representation. We need to keep moving in that direction. We need to make sure we’re providing a platform for women that offers our association a different perspective.

HI: As the first female officer of AAHOA, do you think you will be judged differently?
JP: The expectation is greater because only one person can ever be first. I know in the past when I’ve seen people win elections they usually just get congratulated and are expected to do a good job. But being a woman, and being the first woman, puts me in a unique position. I plan to keep my focus and I’m going to do what I believe in my heart is right for the membership and for the association because ultimately that is why I wanted to serve. I’m not going to make everybody happy, I realize that, but my job is protecting the association and its membership, and that will guide me. Expectations are there, and I truly hope I meet everybody’s expectations but ultimately my focus is on what’s best for all of AAHOA and not necessarily what people expect of me individually.


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