By Dennis Nessler
Underscoring the hotel industry’s pension for being part of the solution during a national crisis, #HospitalityStrong—a grass roots effort initiated by a handful of second- and third-generation hoteliers—has now donated some 200,000 protective face masks to front-line medical personnel battling the Coronavirus pandemic.
Twelve hoteliers representing 8 companies—as well as a number of industry associations—are the founders and trustees of #HospitalityStrong, an organization designed to leverage resources in the hotel industry to provide targeted assistance to communities across the country.
The organization is currently in the process of donating 175,000 masks to hospitals in seven states and overall is now nearly halfway toward its stated goal of providing 500,000 masks some six weeks after being organized. Protective masks have now been distributed in as many as 10 states, including TX, CA, WA, OR, OH, IL, VA, WI, GA, and FL.
Bijal Patel—Chairman of the California Hotel & Lodging Association and CEO of Coast Redwood Hospitality—who helped assemble the group along with Neal Patel, secretary of AAHOA, explained that the inspiration was the result of several of the founders being directly connected to essential workers.
“They were coming home and sharing their stories about how difficult it’s been for them to be front-line workers, but to not have access to adequate PPE [personal protective equipment]. That’s where the need really started and it was kind of a grass roots movement from there,” he said.
The effort began with an initial 25,000 mask donation several weeks ago and “this campaign just kind of blossomed from there,” according to Sawan Patel, managing partner at Unity Hotels Group in Texas and a board member of AAHOA, who is also closely connected to front-line personnel.
He further detailed how a substantial level of industry support helped drive the effort. “When we first initially started out with a donation of 25,000 masks we didn’t really expect anything like this to come out of it. After that donation we received such positive responses from our hospitality community and because of that we started facilitating that we were going down this route. Overall, we kind of just received this overwhelming, constant supportive response from all segments of our industry,” said Sawan Patel.
An integral part in making the initiative possible has been made by Mitesh Jivan of TenSeventy Hospitality in California—who also operates Jivan LED, an LED lighting business. Jivan used his LED contacts in Asia to secure a large quantity of masks quickly and reasonably priced.
“There’s such a high demand, it’s really important that we were able to get the masks in a very timely manner,” said Sawan Patel.
Bijal Patel pointed out the group remains confident it will reach the 500,000 mark with mask donations but acknowledged the group remains flexible as the needs of the pandemic may change. “We’re on pace to reach our goal at this point but keeping in mind we’re ready to pivot as we need to on this,” he said.
According to Sawan Patel, masks are shipped directly to any donors and they are able to facilitate the donation to a local health care facility, police or fire department or “wherever they feel the need is in their local community.”
He further touted the importance of the local aspect of the donations and how it has helped generate industry support. “I think hotel owners and a lot of industry folks just had this innate want to go ahead and help and the opportunity came for them to help with a singular focus where they can directly impact their own local community. I think that kind of inspired a lot of people to help as opposed to donating to some national fund that might go to somewhere across the country,” said Sawan Patel.
But while #HospitalityStrong was borne out of the current pandemic, the group has been structured to continue to serve the industry on an ongoing basis for other emergency situations going forward.
“We purposely kept the organization grass roots so that we’re able to pivot. We’re trying to make sure we’re able to help out quickly and effectively and be able to harness all of our resources together to identify and help out in whatever the need may be going forward,” said Bijal Patel.
Sawan Patel, meanwhile, summed up the overall effort and urged continued support. “The general proactivity of the membership, and of the industry in general, has been so profound and we’re so proud to be able to facilitate this. I hope everybody can join in and do their part in assisting their community and their industry in helping out those that are fighting for us right now in this pandemic,” he concluded.