By Dennis Nessler
Self-described by president and CEO Cecil P. Staton as an ‘event-based association,’ the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) has had to look at alternative ways to come together in the wake of the coronavirus, which has spawned a Virtual Event Series.
The series is designed to help hotel owners remain connected with AAHOA officers, board members, staff and each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the inaugural series, AAHOA hosted 21 live streams—one tailored for each of the association’s regions. During the events, association officers and directors presented updates on the industry and COVID-19.
Staton detailed the challenge created by the Coronavirus as it relates to the new initiative. “It’s just really presented an occasion for us to take advantage of technology and figure out some new ways to stay in touch with our members and the response has been overwhelmingly positive and strong. We may be under stay-at-home orders, we may be having to deal with social distancing, but we can still stay in touch with our members and hoteliers across the country through these virtual events and we’re very happy they’ve been received so well,” he said.
Staton added that AAHOA plans to enter a second phase of Virtual Events alongside their state hospitality association partners to provide updates on their efforts at the state and local levels. He further added that the association has hosted some 50 webinars, which had received close to 10,000 views, in the wake of the pandemic.
AAHOA also recently postponed its annual conference, which was scheduled to take place earlier this month in Orlando. Now tentatively scheduled for August 9-12 in Orlando, Staton confirmed that its annual officer elections have been pushed back to coincide with the conference. He added that there is a contingency plan in place for the elections if the conference is further postponed beyond August.
A big focus for the association has been, and continues to be, its advocacy efforts in Washington, DC. Staton noted that while those efforts have changed in the wake of the pandemic, they continue to move forward. “We’ve had to obviously adapt and do it a different way. We’re not able to walk the halls of congress and have one-on-one or personal meetings as we’ve been accustomed to doing. We’ve had to go to the telephone. We can’t let up, we have to be engaged,” he said.
One area of focus has been the CARES act that was recently enacted as part of the national stimulus program. AAHOA has been publicly urging Congress to take immediate action to provide additional funding to the Paycheck Protection Program, which was likely to run out of money as of last week.
“While we’re grateful for the support that’s been given, especially through the PPP loan program, we still have a lot of members who have not been able to access those funds. They are also limited obviously in terms of what you can do with them and how you can use them. They were introduced in the beginning to just sort of be a stopgap maybe for a 8- or 10-week period, but I don’t think anyone expects travel to return to normal by the first of May or middle of May so this is going to be a longer-term thing,” he said.
Staton further discussed the overall impact of the pandemic on AAHOA’s membership of more than 19,000 hoteliers. “Our members are certainly like all small business people in the country just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and pay their staff. We certainly are finding it very common to hear that occupancy rates are down in the single digits, and of course, a number of hoteliers have already had to close properties and lay off staff… It’s really been very difficult,” he said.