With a clearly stated goal of seeing more women enter the hotel industry, a panel of women hotel owners detailed some of the challenges that they have collectively faced, as well as the opportunity that exists for the next generation of female hoteliers.
Speaking during the BITAC Owner’s event on a panel entitled “Natural Progression: Women Hoteliers Help Drive Home Industry Diversity Efforts,” the female executives talked about their respective journeys and the role of AAHOA (Asian American Hotel Owners Association) in the overall effort.
Lina Patel, an AAHOA board member, began by speaking about the association’s HerOwnership initiative, which earlier this month held its inaugural event in Cincinnati attracting more than 300 attendees.
“Women have always been the backbone of the hotel industry. Roughly 73% of the workforce in hospitality is women, yet only one in 10 women are hotel owners. That’s what we wanted to help elevate so we created this platform and program,” she said, adding that five brands participated in the program as well.
Shila Patel—owner of a Hampton Inn in Troy, OH and an AAHOA member—also touted the initiative.
“I’m really excited about it. It would have helped me about 20 years ago, but it’s never too late. I feel like women in our community don’t have a place to go to share ideas or thoughts or discuss challenges in the business. So I feel like it’s going to be a great platform to be able to do that,” she commented.
The women went on to acknowledge the role of education in helping them get to the next level and achieve success.
Purvi Panwala, co-founder PPM Corporation and former AAHOA board member, offered her perspective.
“There wasn’t a blueprint for my parents to pass down to me when I joined our company so I found it imperative to get myself out there to get the information that I needed so that I can be successful. One of the ways I did that was getting certifications from Cornell while also helping my parents build their business and improve it and structure it. Aside from certifications from different colleges, something that was really helpful for me was joining AH&LA (American Hotel & Lodging Association) because they have a platform not only for educational sessions, but when you do advocacy you can learn everything about how these bills affect your business,” she said.
Shila Patel amplified the point.
“I believe that a formal education in the hospitality industry is really important and it would help women like me understand the financial side of it and the investment side of it. When you go out to get a loan or you want to build your own property, we know the informal way of operating a hotel but to have that formal education is critical,” she noted.
Cookie Desai—who is the Arkansas ambassador for AAHOA, and owner of Span Hospitality— shared her aspirations for the future.
“I hope more women step up and trust themselves. They can do it, they have a feel for it and they also need supportive partners,” she noted.
Lina Patel elaborated on the association’s progress and discussed what its efforts means to her.
“Twenty years ago if you would have had all these platforms I think I would have owned half the hotels in America. But the struggle was real at the time, I believe it’s changing considerably as more and more education platforms are coming and there are more networking opportunities and a better understanding of the culture. It’s going to make it even easier for our second, fourth, or fifth generations down today,” she said.
“I think women are on an upward trajectory. It’s been going that way and I think it will continue to keep going that way,” concluded Panwala.