The Indian American hotelier represents AAHOA at roundtable hosted by Vice President Mike Pence.
Prominent Indian American businessman Danny Gaekwad has urged the Trump administration to reopen the economy “with common sense precautions,” highlighting the struggles America’s hoteliers are facing during the lockdown, triggered by Coronavirus.
Speaking at a roundtable of hospitality and tourism industry, hosted by Vice President Mike Pence in Orlando on Wednesday, he said such a move will “help our industry and our state get our economy moving again.”
Gaekwad, Chairman of OSEM Hospitality Management, was speaking as a representative of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA). Besides Pence, the event was attended by Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and several prominent business leaders from the state.
Gaekwad and other industry leaders proposed a number of steps and a phased reopening of the economy.
“This pandemic hit the hotel industry particularly hard, and owners and employees alike continue to struggle,” said Gaekwad, a resident of Ocala and a prominent Republican donor, told the vice president. “Reopening our businesses with common sense precautions that prioritize the health and wellbeing of employees and guests will help our industry and our state get our economy moving again.”
Gaekwad, a resident of Ocala, in central Florida, drew Pence’s attention on the liquidity crisis members of AAHOA, who own nearly one in every two hotels in the country, are facing. “If there is no guest, there is no dollar. If there is no dollar, don’t even think about liquidity. Do we have liquidity? Absolutely not,” he said.
While he praised the Trump administration and Congress for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Gaekwad noted that without guests the effects of the program become null. “My occupancy in 2019 in April was 75 percent, this year, 2020 in April my occupancy is 12 percent. I’m so grateful that you gave us PPP money, but I have no mathematical knowledge how to use it. There is no guest in my room, how do I get my employees to serve them. My employees are ready, but who will they serve? That is our biggest dilemma,” said Gaekwad. He recommended technical corrections to the program that would give small business owners greater flexibility in using the loans to cover operating expenses, and underscored the need for the government to prioritize Economic Injury Disaster loans to support small businesses.
Gaekwad also shared the issues that hotel owners seeking forbearance on Commercial Mortgage-Backed Security (CMBS) loans encounter with predatory practices, which he termed the “Big Bad Wolf,” and urged Pence and DeSantis to support regulatory assistance to prevent mass foreclosures on hotel assets and a potential collapse of fixed income markets.
“You can only save us by putting some legislation to put that big bad wolf in a cage. If you won’t put it in a cage, he will finish us,” said Gaekwad.
“As an immigrant, my whole family works in a business because it does bother us. I represent here more than 20,000 [AAOHA] members. We all came with an American Dream. I thought I saw 9/11, I thought I saw the greatest recession. I have never seen this and I was never prepared for this.”
Other industry leaders who attended the roundtable included Harris Rosen, President and Chief Operating Officer, Rosen Hotels & Resorts; Gene Lee, CEO, Darden Restaurants; Carol Dover, CEO, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; Frank Sherman, President, Transportation Management Services; George Kalogridis, President of Segment Development and Enrichment, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products; Marc Swanson, Interim CEO, Sea World; Patty Nuzzo, Vice-President, Restaurant Equipment World; John Sprouls, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, Universal Parks & Resorts; and Roger Dow, President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association.