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On the Scene: Insights from AAHOACON24

The Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) hosted their annual conference for 2024 in Orlando, Florida between April 2nd to 5th.  The largest gathering of hotel owners in the hospitality industry, bringing together over 6,500 attendees, who had the opportunity to attend over 42 educational session and engage with over 520 vendors. This year was the largest convention in the 35-year history of AAHOA with lots of new programs! Here is our recap.


School Is In Session: AAHOA Collegiate Hotel Turnaround Championship

This year, under the leadership of Ralph Thiergart, Vice President of Education & Professional Development for AAHOA, kicked off the inaugural event for hospitality college programs.  The Collegiate Hotel Turnaround Championship, a first of its kind partnership with Russell Partnership and Technology, the host of the hotel simulation, AAHOA, and the seven institutions who joined the event (Florida International University, Grand Valley State University, Kennesaw State University, Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Oklahoma State University, University of South Carolina, and Virginia Tech).  

Prior to arriving in Orlando, the two-student teams from each school met with the competition coordinator, Duane Zubar, CHA, faculty at Grand Valley State University and owner of GZG Hospitality, for orientation and training sessions.  They had a chance to practice using the simulation, where they had to make strategic decisions on rates, discounts, staffing levels and compensation, marketing expenses, and refurbishments – decisions a general manager must ensure the team was making.

AAHOA competition students with the faculty coaches from e
AAHOA competition students with the faculty coaches from each school

Upon arrival to the conference, the first day was spent making strategic decisions that would cycle the simulation for operation over a two-year period.  Each quarter the teams were ranked based on their performance operating the hotel against their marketplace competitors.  The top four teams, achieving the highest GOP and NOI advanced to the final round.  The non-advancing teams were paired up with the finalists to support the pitch presentation development.  This aspect of the experience supported the foundation that teamwork, whether front of the house or back of the house is critical for the success of an operation. 

Pitches were presented to a team of industry sharks, as if they were investors to contribute joining forces with the best turnaround team in the marketplace.  The judges evaluated the financial performance of the hotels for their decisions, and selected Oklahoma State University, while the audience identified Grand Valley State University for the People’s Choice Award.  

Glenn Haussman, Co-Host of No Vacancy Live Podcast was at the conference representing the team with Suzanne Bagnera as the Official Podcast of the Conference.  He spent time mentoring the FIU students and delivered a coaching session to the competition students to prepare them for their presentations.

Picture: Keman Ding, Anna Pia Cramer, Glenn Haussman, Yasmin Bryan, and Elizabeth Greenfield

On Friday morning, the final day of the conference, all the students were recognized on stage during the general session for engaging in this competition.  This inaugural experience supported the commitment that AAHOA has in bridging the gaps between industry and academia, and to generate the interest of young professionals entering a hospitality career path.  Students had the opportunity to meet and network with industry professionals, members of the AAHOA board, and attendees.  There is a commitment from AAHOA to host the student competition again next year at the New Orleans conference April 15-18.  Institutions interested in having a team involved in the competition should reach out to me Suzanne Bagnera at  

3 Cool News Items From the Conference

1. New Commercial Strategy Certification by AAHOA in conjunction with HerOwnership and Kalibri Labs, Inc. six-hour course had over 100 people in attendance.  The candidates who achieved a passing rate on the course were recognized on stage on Friday morning during the general session.  This takes the focus from streamlined revenue management techniques and examines the cost of acquisition for the piece of business.  The overall achievement of profit is examined, not just revenue.

Picture: Certificate recipients. Center (L) Laura Lee Blake, Cindy Estes Green (Kalibri Labs, Inc.), and B Patel (Outgoing AAHOA Chairman)
Picture: Certificate recipients. Center (L) Laura Lee Blake, Cindy Estes Green (Kalibri Labs, Inc.), and B Patel (Outgoing AAHOA Chairman)

2. The HYPE is Real. Youth is critical for our industry.  The incoming Chairman, Miraj S. Patel, will lead the Board of Directors as being the youngest chairman at the age of 26 in the organizations 35-year history!  Miraj holds an MBA and BS degrees from Johnson & Wales University. Back in 2019 he started in leadership involvement with AAHOA as the Young Professional Director in the Western Division.  They approach they are taking to provide HYPE – Helping Young Professionals Evolve – was well received as entrance into the Ice Bar in Orlando was shut off due to exceeding the capacity expectations.  Students who met with Miraj were inspired by the opportunities that lay ahead and to realize involvement can lead to change.

FIU Students: Keman Ding, Anna Pia Cramer, Yasmin Bryan, Elizabeth Greenfield
FIU Students: Keman Ding, Anna Pia Cramer, Yasmin Bryan, Elizabeth Greenfield

3. Back of the House Comes Front and Center "Back of the House Tours" is a strategy that AAHOA is leveraging to support the education of Congress to better understand the hospitality industry.  It’s a refreshing approach provide legislation the opportunity to more intimately understand the complexity and importance of the industry that is considered the largest in most states.

Leadership Panel Addresses Top Industry Issues

Best-selling author, podcast host, television star, and travel expert, Sarah Dandashy, of Ask a Concierge, moderated the CEO panel during the general session.  The panel included the following Presidents/CEOs: Larry Cucullc, BWH Hotel Group; Greg Juceam, Extended Staty America; Julie Arrowsmith; G6 Hospitality; John Murray, Sonesta; Geoff Ballotti; Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; and Board of Directors Member, Rajiv Trivedl, Red Roof. 

L to R: Sarah, Geoff, John, Rajiv, Julie, Greg, and Larry

The panel outlined significant challenges facing the hospitality industry, including rising insurance, supply, construction, and labor costs, along with increasing government regulations and intervention in private business.

Key Takeaways:

  • Opportunities for growth in the sector were identified as expanding training and integrating artificial intelligence. Despite the consistent demand for travel, guests seek quality experiences that are safe and consistently delivered, rather than simply luxurious. Emphasizing efficient data use and technology can enhance guest engagement and operational cost management.

  • The panel highlighted industry disruptors, such as Google’s Search Generative Experience, which tailors search results based on user behavior, potentially boosting profitability.

  • Addressing labor challenges, the industry must improve strategies to attract, retain, and efficiently manage employees. Collaborating with educational institutions and promoting hospitality as a viable career path are critical, especially as top hospitality schools report declining enrollments.

  • A successful hospitality business ensures employees understand their role's purpose and value. Training and culture are pivotal, with competitive compensation and clear career progression paths essential. Leveraging technology to reduce staff burdens and enhance job enjoyment can also play a significant role in employee satisfaction and guest experience.

Final thought: Love what you do and bring it every day! And that's a wrap from AAHOA CON 2024. See you next year!

Suzanne Bagnera, Assistant Professor, The Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, Florida International University.

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