016 | Adapting to Change, Delivering the Right Product, and Government Affairs with Ash Patel

Ashwin “Ash” Patel entered the lodging industry in 1992 as a resident-manager and partner of a 54-unit Econo Lodge in Flagstaff, AZ. In 2004, he started Southwest Hospitality Management, LLC, with ownership interest in hotels that have affiliations with a variety of national chains, including Marriott, La Quinta Hotels, Choice Hotels, Wyndham Worldwide Hotels, Hilton Hotels, InterContinental Hotels, and Best Western International. Headquartered in Mesa, AZ, Southwest Hospitality Management provides both third-party and distressed-hotel management services, as well as investment opportunities through syndication.

LL16-Ash_PatelAsh served as the President of the Flagstaff Innkeepers Association from December 1999 to June 2003. In 2003, he also became a member of the Franchise Advisory Committee for Days Inns of America, which represents 2,000 hotels and franchisees within the brand.

Ash has also served in various leadership roles within the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA). Beginning in 2003, he was elected as the Southwest Regional Director. In 2005, he was elected as an Officer and began a four-year succession to Chairman of the Board, beginning with Treasurer in 2005, Secretary in 2006, Vice Chairman in 2007, and Chairman in 2008/09. He also served as Chairman of the Government Affairs Committee and Chairman of the AAHOA PAC.

Resources & Links

Ash Patel

  • Email: ashpatel[at]swhm.com
  • Direct Phone: (480) 924-8000 ext. 7
  • Facebook

Southwest Hospitality Management Inc.

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You’re big on service and membership. Why this level of involvement/commitment? What do you get out of it?

In the beginning when you’re young, your personal goals are very important and most of your time is given to those personal goals. As you get older and wiser, and you start appreciating mortality and how fragile life is, I think one tends to find a purpose that gives them great personal gratification and also at the end, finding internal peace. And I think in my particular case, every time I got involved and I saw the difference that I would make in my fellow hospitality members or my fellow community members, it gives me an exhilarating feeling. And the more I did it, the more inner peace I achieved, and the more I do it, it still makes me feel better. I think that everybody has a different sense in how they get personal gratification. In my case, I think that participating has always made me feel better.

One of the prouder moments of mine was to start the AAHOA PAC and also the Government Affairs Committee. If you look at today’s involvement that AAHOA has in Government affairs, we’ve reached a very, very pivotal point in our participation in politics.

The one thing I noticed [about AAHOA] is we were great at providing value and providing education and those kinds of things, but the thing that we lacked the most, and the thing does affect us the most is Government. Government at every instant wants to be in your pocket. If you’re not participatory, Government regulation will always affect you negatively. And so when I joined AAHOA, that was my vision – that we needed greater participation at both grass roots and Federal politics.

What do you think makes an effective leader?

An effective leader is able to guide a group of people to work together to achieve a common goal as efficiently and cohesively as possible. People will follow and appreciate a leader and a leadership if they also believe the goals. And so I think an effective leader is able to encourage people to achieve these common goals, whether it be in personal life, or whether it be in a business life, or whether it be in an association’s life. You know, I just feel that, if you’re able to guide people, and if people believe in you and follow you, you have effective leadership.

Do you think that leaders are born or made?

I think half and half. The made part is from life experiences. As a leader goes through life with failures and successes and observations, you gain the knowledge to lead. But there is also a something inert in a person that either makes you jump in that position to lead or puts you back in a position to follow. I’m not saying either or wrong, but I think it’s a half and half where half of it is inside you and the other half through experiences will help you lead.

You first entered the lodging industry in 1992 as a resident manager and partner of a 54-unit Econo Lodge in Flagstaff, Ariz, and you were a partner right from the beginning. How did you do that?

When we moved from Atlanta to California, we commuted on I40 and stayed in Flagstaff … and we really liked Flagstaff … I mean, we fell in love with Flagstaff at that time. So when the opportunity came up to become a resident manager for this property in Flagstaff, we took on the opportunity.

Ash visited with the owners in Anaheim, CA, and asked them “how do I get my skin in there and get motived so that you win and I win as well, and worked out a partnership. And that’s how I started in the lodging industry. And I had zero experience of operating hotels at that time.”

On December 31, 2002, Ash separated from his partners in Flagstaff to begin the next phase of his career. He took a year off to focus on his board positions with Days Inns of America and AAHOA. In 2004, he launched Southwest Hospitality Management (SWHM), and between the years 2004-2008, he completed over a dozen transactions.

The 2008 Recession

As was the case for many hoteliers, when the recession began in 2008, Southwest Hospitality Management was hit hard. “We were very opportunistic – deals came, we took them. In many cases, some of them were average deals and we took them. Basically, the mentality was, it’s a rising market and follow the herd kind of thing. And we did a lot of that because we hadn’t had the experience of failing.”

Due to the recession and challenges they came across, Southwest Hospitality Management relocated to Mesa, AZ, they downsized the company, and they lost an asset.

“With the help of my partners, with the help of a great staff, we survived the recession. And what we learned from that is that one fails because of having apathy towards change. People do not adapt fast enough to change. And the way the evolution of technology is, change is very, very fast.”

“What we learned through that recession is we needed to adapt fast, we need to have policies and procedures in place that allowed us to adapt fast, and that we can no longer over-leverage like we used to.“

What are some of the common pitfalls that hoteliers face today, and what things can they do to avoid them?

First is that they over-leverage, then comes that they have not spent substantial resources in understanding the cycles of renovations and the lifecycle of a product. And, they may feel that they got a great deal today in buying an asset, but they don’t realize that three years down the road you’re going to require another $.5 Million dollars to refurbish the asset because the renovation cycle is up. A lot of people don’t fully understand that the brands they connect with, and the brands future plans, and so what happens is that they get further leveraged. Everybody is wrestling with PIPs. The PIPs are costing more, or the brands are coming up with changes that the current cash flow at the hotel will not substantiate.

The second one is human resources. I think one of the biggest pitfalls we have is we are having a huge shortage of people that really want to be in our industry. People want to use us as a launchpad versus us becoming a career. And I think somehow to address that for the future betterment of the industry is going to be crucial for us.

The other one that I find is Government. We do not have the level of participation from folks in our industry that should in order to curb government from over-regulating our industry, over-regulating our businesses, over-regulating the capitalistic society that we’re in.

Do you have any tips for improving your ADR, occupancy or your profitability?

You need to have the right product! And, when I say right product, I mean from your hotel product to the technology that you provide, and the services you provide in your asset. And then, giving a great experience, and in order to give a great experience, you need a great team. If you have those things, I think it will work. That’s the key.

One things for sure – technology is moving faster and faster, and in order to be ahead of the curve and in order to provide great service and great experiences and everything, we’re going to need to stay on top of it. We’re going to have to adapt to it.

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