When Wyndham Hotels & Resorts launched its Women Own the Room program in August, the goal was to advance and empower female entrepreneurs who are interested in hotel ownership. That included helping women overcome common barriers they face in hotel development and helping them open and run their own hotels.
The company committed to use its balance sheet to support women hotel owners and launched a development incentive program that will provide financing and complimentary or expanded first-year operating services for hotels developed by women. Wyndham also planned a series of educational and networking events to kick the program off.
The program reached an important milestone recently when Wyndham announced its first signed agreement. Trusha Patel, founder and CEO of Platinum Holdings, is the program’s first member with two new-construction La Quinta and Hawthorn Suites dual-branded hotels that are expected to open within the next 24 months.
“There [are] a lot of opportunities out there, but you don't see a lot of choices for women. This program pinpoints opportunities for women specifically,” Patel said. “When you're making a bold step like this, even with the amount of education and experience, you still need a good partnership through a franchisor to be able to provide you with that resource and that umbrella. I feel that Wyndham was my choice because of the [Women Own the Room] program. They understand and they listen.”
Patel is building the dual-brand hotels in the Texas cities of Austin and Georgetown. Each hotel will offer a combined 125 guestrooms: 75 of which will feature the recently refreshed room design from La Quinta’s Del Sol prototype, and 50 will have the updated Hawthorn room design for extended-stay guests.
“Wyndham is ... committed to helping female owners secure financing through our network of debt and equity partners and will continue to explore and implement new and creative ways to support female hoteliers through the use of our balance sheet,” Michele Allen, Wyndham’s CFO, said when Women Own the Room was announced.
Patel has a long history in the hotel industry—she grew up living and working at one of the three independent properties that her parents owned in San Antonio. Her parents’ lifelong goal was to build a property from the ground up, and that rubbed off on her.
“When I was young, I pretty much followed [my dad] everywhere. We were sourcing out land sites, [talking] to banks, looking at contractors,” she said. “It gave us an opportunity to understand that whole process, and I was only, like, 16 or 17 doing this.”
Patel helped her father overcome the language barrier, which helped her to truly be involved in the inner workings of the deal and learn how a hotel deal is put together.
“I think that was my start in hospitality, truly. It helped me understand how hard and how difficult it is, and all those challenges that everybody faces when they are building their own property,” she said. “At that time within our own community, there weren’t many people building their own franchise properties. And couple of years later, I had the opportunity to do that with my husband.”
Patel went on to practice school psychology, earned two master’s degrees and became a real estate broker, but the desire to build her own hotel remained. Doing it on her own was a very different experience from going through the process with her father and husband—which is where Women Own the Room came in.
“When I was reading through it, I'm like, this is exactly what I need. This is where I'm getting stuck,” Patel said. “Women don't have that network of people. We don't have a network of resources where we can kind of count on each other to say, 'OK, this is where I'm stuck. How can I get some help here?' And this is why we have very few women in this arena.”
Patel selected the La Quinta brand because of its strong name recognition in Texas, and the Hawthorn brand because of the healthy performance of the extended-stay segment throughout the pandemic.
Wyndham used the time away from business as usual during the pandemic to really build out the Women Own the Room program, according to Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Checchio.
“We went to our franchisees and asked them what they needed to survive and what they needed their businesses to do to thrive post pandemic,” she said. “One of the things that we found in those conversations was the barriers to female ownership and as the largest hotel franchise company in the world, we take pride in being able to be a hotel company for first-time owners.”
The company took a hard look at the numbers and identified a gap between the 70 percent female representation in the industry and the number of female hotel owners, which is 1 in 10, Checchio said.
“We were able to identify some of the key barriers, one being financial, one being operational. Also there’s a lack of community—there are very strong female owners out there, it's just being able to find them,” she said. “This program was born from Wyndham’s commitment to diversity, our commitment to hotel ownership and our commitment to advancing entrepreneurship, regardless of gender.”
Female owners of Wyndham properties and the female representatives on Wyndham’s franchise advisory councils helped the company understand what would benefit them most in terms of the program.
“The financing upfront is one piece of it; finding land or finding hotels. The next piece of it is—once [I] have it, how do I operationalize it, how do I drive the most revenue from it? How do I run a successful business? Because that's really what we're advancing—hotel ownership through small business ownership,” Checchio said. “And then, how do I continue on my journey to either pay it forward to others or to help others come and start that cycle all over again?”