AAHOA hosts inaugural HerOwnership Conference & Retreat

AAHOA, the nation’s largest hotel owners association, held its inaugural HerOwnership Conference & Retreat at the Radisson Hotel Cincinnati Riverfront in late October. The event focused on women who are interested in owning their first hotel or learning about owning hotels in general. This conference and retreat was designed to educate women about how to own a property or business and promote women who are interested in exploring hotel ownership.

"Seeing all of these dynamic women in all areas of hospitality come together for a few days of education and relaxation was extremely powerful,” Lina Patel, AAHOA's female director, eastern division, said in a statement. “I’m proud to have worked alongside the entire AAHOA team in launching the HerOwnership program. This conference and retreat gave women hoteliers an opportunity of a lifetime.”

The event began with a panel discussion that took a closer look at industry trends and uncovered why this is a good time for women to get more involved in ownership opportunities in the industry.

“Our industry is relationship-focused. Cultivating your relationships outside of your usual norm is important," said Tejal Patel, one of the panelists and AAHOA female director, western division. "Cultivate relationships with franchisors and cultivate your relationships with local lenders. When I went for my first commercial loan, I got rejected. I was feeling so good about it, but I realized I went to a bank I didn’t have a relationship with. My family had a relationship with a local lender for many years. So, when I went through that door and let them know I was a part of the family, I saw the door open a little bit.”

Following the panel discussion, attendees heard directly from top brands. Leaders from G6 Hospitality, Choice Hotels, Red Roof, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and Marriott International discussed encouraging women toward hotel development and investment and illuminated initiatives to increase ownership among historically underrepresented groups. Beyond these participating brands, My Place and Sonesta International Hotels Corp. also contributed to the conference. 

“This is an important message AAHOA is sending to the industry,” AAHOA Chairman Neal Patel said. “These women are trailblazers and finally getting the support and education they need to take their businesses to the next level, and support their families.”

Negotiating Tactics

Before rejoining AAHOA this past summer, President and CEO Laura Lee Blake spent many years dealing with complex litigation lawsuits involving big companies and millions of dollars. During the event, she shared advice on improving negotiation skills.

Blake recommended that women should consider the art of negotiation as an opportunity to open new doors in their ownership experience. She discussed the concept of listening closely to understand the perspective of the other party and using strategic empathy to assist in influencing change. Blake also identified focused questions and phrases that can assist in obtaining favorable responses to ensure the negotiations do not come to a standstill. 
“Taking time to get to know the other party and build rapport can help hoteliers navigate the negotiation process more effectively,” Blake added. “When you step into the other party’s shoes, trust and collaboration increase, giving you an advantage in the negotiation process.”

Building Blocks

The second day of the HerOwnership Conference & Retreat kicked off with a wellness session that included Zumba and yoga. The event included special sessions focused on wellness, which focused on techniques to relieve stress, drive more energy and balance the demands of everyday life. In addition to wellness, other themes throughout the second day included leadership communication skills, personal branding, technology, lending and finances.

Executive coach and communications expert Diane Ripstein was featured as the keynote speaker and shared four building blocks to create a strong executive presence.

Immediately following the keynote presentation, Heather Carnes, AAHOA’s EVP of communications and chief strategy officer, moderated a panel on personal branding and carving out a niche in the industry. The panel discussion included insight into building credibility in the industry, developing a brand in the midst of the global pandemic and drawing inspiration from other brands.

“When I started this business two years ago, I had to sit there, in the middle of the pandemic, and think, who am I, what does my company represent, and what kind of brand do I want to be,” said Seema Jain, one of the panelists, and founder and CEO of Seva Global. “The brand that resonated with me was Ritz Carlton because they anticipate the needs of their guests and always go above and beyond. That is who I am for my clients.”

“This event has definitely surpassed our expectations and we are so grateful for the opportunity to sponsor. From both a logistics and a content perspective, you conducted a world-class event,” said Kim Twiggs, assistant VP of market development at DIRECTV. “You should be so proud of what you have created, and these women are very lucky to have you at the helm. We have enjoyed our partnership with AAHOA very much over these past 10 years, and this event feels like we are taking things to the next level and creating even more meaning in the work we are doing.”