In what’s been an eventful week thus far, so to speak, AAHOA introduced Biran Patel as its new Chairman and subsequently announced that its much-anticipated annual convention will become a virtual event this year as a result of health concerns stemming from a spike in Coronavirus cases in the state of Florida.
Patel—a Texas hotelier who joined the association in 2003 and served as Vice Chairman for the past year—takes over for Jagruti Panwala, who was the first woman to chair AAHOA (Asian American Hotel Owners Association) in 2019-2020. Meanwhile, the 2020 AAHOA Convention & Trade Show—which was scheduled for Aug. 9-11 in Orlando—will not take place in person due to new health and safety guidelines issued by the Florida Department of Health restricting large gatherings.
Cecil P. Staton, president and CEO of AAHOA, spoke about “AAHOA-con” last week during an ALIS (Americas Lodging Investment Summit) virtual session prior to the aforementioned change. His words proved to be prophetic, “obviously this has been very fluid; it’s changing on a daily basis.”
Staton had touted the importance of the event as he pointed out the lodging industry needs to take on a position of leadership for conferences. “AAHOA-con is going to be incredibly important because I believe it will be a great symbol for our industry. It will be a beacon of hope for our industry,” he said.
According to the association, a recent survey of members and vendor partners indicated that thousands were prepared to attend. Now parts of the convention will move to a virtual space as AAHOA will present industry keynotes and panels, speeches by leadership, and online elections its for Board of Directors and Secretary.
Staton also discussed the importance of the association’s recent legislative efforts during the ALIS session. “I’m very proud. If you look at what’s happened in Washington over the last two or three months the fingerprints of AAHOA have been on every one of those pieces of legislation. We’ve worked really hard, whether it was the CARES act—specifically the PPP loan program—the refunding of that program or even the modifications that were made in the last few weeks. We’ve worked very hard to make sure that the interests of hoteliers are represented on the legislative front,” he said.
Staton emphasized that much time and effort has been put into educating legislators at both the state and federal level on some of the complex industry issues. “To make them aware of the unique ways in which what they are doing or may not be doing impact hoteliers and have the potential actually to prolong the recovery. We’re still struggling to make a lot of folks understand as we rush to recovery that there is going to be a prolonged impact on our industry,” he said.
Staton was asked about some of the top concerns among AAHOA’s large membership base of some 20,000 owners. “There’s a great deal of concern about what it means to open back up. We’ve done a lot of education work with our members to help make sure they can open up and maintain the standards that have now been put forward. We’ve certainly been a part of those conversations with AHLA and most of the brands. Our hoteliers want to know how can we do this in a safe way because we’ve got to communicate to our guests that they can come to our hotels and feel safe,” he said.
Staton also noted that liability with regards to the pandemic is a major concern for many members. “On this particular issue we’re certainly advocating at the Federal level and across the states for some safe harbor protection or legislation for hoteliers. Because hoteliers are not health care experts and standards are different all across the country from state to state and municipality to municipality we want to make sure hoteliers can open back up. We want them to begin the service and follow the standards but at the same time not feel like they’re going to be subject to drive-by lawsuits, which would put a real strain upon an industry that is already struggling to recover,” he said.
Staton concluded by emphasizing the importance of forging solid relationships with lawmakers, particularly during the past few months. “Often times this is about relationships and the time to build relationships with Congressman and Senators, state legislators and government leaders is not in the midst of a crisis when everyone is coming to them. Their ears are hearing from every industry on every angle and they’re trying to sort it all out. We need to make sure we’re building those relationships daily, day in and day out. If you have those relationships you can be the voice that helps them understand uniquely the challenges of our industry in ways that no one else can, because as hoteliers you know it better then anyone else,” he said.