From March 29-April 1, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville will host one of the industry’s pre-eminent conferences. The Asian American Hotel Owners Association is the largest collection of hotel owners in the U.S., and is one of the most powerful advocacy organizations in the country for its members.
The organization hasn’t strayed far from its initial mission in the 27 years since its inception, though its goals have shifted targets. AAHOA was founded in Atlanta in 1989 as a means to combat discriminatory practices in the hospitality industry. At the time, the organization’s 80-odd members were banding together to put pressure on brands and other agencies to provide them with means that other owners were able to secure, such as insurance.
Today, AAHOA has 15,000 members; an AAHOA member owns one of every two hotels in the U.S.
“We transitioned away from fighting discrimination to being the voice of owners,” said Jay Patel, chairman of AAHOA. The organization’s fight today is in our nation’s capital, where the group advocates on behalf of its members. “We have the upperhand, because we have individuals that are directly affected by the decisions made [by the U.S. government], and they can interact directly with Congress,” Patel said.
Once an organization reaches the size attained by AAHOA, it can't get much larger, which is why the company is stepping back and thinking micro. According to Chip Rogers, president & CEO of AAHOA, the No. 1 advocacy targets right now are the local and state levels, with the primary strategy being education.
“We’ve done well at the federal level, but issues arise in individual states that impact hundreds, if not thousands of hotels,” Rogers said. “That’s where we see our role. When we influence legislation to benefit one owner, we benefit all those under that jurisdiction. It’s a multiyear process, but we are 100-percent better at it now than we were last year, and getting better all the time.”
The success of AAHOA belies the enormity of what it is trying to accomplish. According to Patel, the greatest challenges facing hoteliers today are those that often seem beyond their control, rooted in decisions made by the federal government, including what has been described as “extreme wage increases” and mandatory healthcare costs for owners.
“We are all in favor of fair raises, but only a fraction of the industry is currently making minimum wage,” Patel said. “A lot of what has been proposed, how it could impact the industry is tremendous. Owners are being painted as bad guys; they think we aren’t paying our employees but it’s not true.”
AAHOA has allied itself with other industry advocacy groups to increase its chances of success. One such group is the American Hotel & Lodging Association, an organization that at one time was perceived to be at odds with AAHOA. But times change, and with both groups under new leadership, AAHOA and the AH&LA have worked together on a number of advocacy initiatives, including suing the city of Los Angeles after it approved wage hikes in 2015.
“We work with the AH&LA every day, and we both have legislative priorities,” Rogers said. “We primarily interact with them
on the federal level, whereas we work with state and local lodging associations depending on the issues.”
BY OWNERS, FOR OWNERS
AAHOA also wants to establish itself as a vehicle to distribute education throughout the industry, and plans on increasing its already substantial number of seminars hosted throughout the country (12 of which will be held at the organization’s convention in Nashville). “We want to bring owners together in an informational and social setting that they can find beneficial,” Rogers said. “Additionally, we want to encourage owners to network with vendors at these events.”
As an organization, AAHOA continues to thrive. More than 80 percent of its hotel members and 82 percent of its vendor members renewed their membership for 2016. Membership grew by 1,000 last year, and the organization launched a new website and magazine.
“We created the consistency we are benefitting from today, and we are on the path to grow, expand membership and be more influential,” Patel said. “If there is an issue facing hotels, we are able to understand and communicate it on the federal, state and city level. We’re prepared to continue down that path.”