Why So Many Motels & Hotels Are Owned By Indian-Americans

by SharonKurheg

The Global Hyatt Brand is owned by the Pritzker family. What eventually became Marriott International was started, and is still run, by the Marriott family. Although it’s changed hands a few times, the Hilton brand of hotels was started by the Hilton family in the early 20th century.

All three of these large, well-known hotel brands were started by white American citizens. But if you start looking at smaller hotels and motels, especially the privately-owned ones that aren’t chains, you discover that a lot of them are owned by Indian-Americans, many of them first, second, or even third generation immigrants. How that came to be is pretty interesting…

After watching this video, I HAD to find out more, especially about this “Patel Motel Cartel.”

The New York Times ran their piece about the Patel Hotel Cartel in 1999 and it goes into much more detail than the video. Some highlights:

  • When one buys a hotel, you have to have so many tens of thousands of dollars available for the loan. Would-be motel owners will put down as much as they can afford and their extended families will all chip in for the rest
  • At the time of the article (granted, 20+ years ago), roughly 70% of all Indian motel owners — or about 1/3 of all motel owners in the U.S. — were named Patel. It’s a surname that indicates they are members of a Gujarati Hindu subcaste.
  • Why do so many Indian-Americans go into the hotel or motel business? According to Vilpesh Patel, who was the the owner of the 85-room Flamingo Inn in Windsor, CT at the time, ”Technically, it’s easy to run. You don’t need fluent English, just the will to work long hours,” he said. ”And it’s a business that comes with a house — you don’t have to buy a separate house.” (this is true – when I worked as an occupational therapist in home health (like like a visiting nurse sort of thing) here in Central FL, I had several elderly patients – usually of Indian or other Asian descent – who lived with their adult children in the hotel they (the adult children) owned.
  • Not surprisingly, white competitors, especially in the rural south, have sometimes put not-very-subtle “American-Owned” signs outside their hotels (I live in Florida – can you believe they’re still around, here and there?). ”It doesn’t get us down,” said hotel owner Mike Patel. ”If we survived Idi Amin, a couple of redneck motel owners aren’t going to bother us much. In any case, our motels are American-owned, too. We’re Patels, and Americans.”

The video mentioned HHM Hospitality. You can look at their website yourself if you wish, but what impressed me was the diversity of their leadership. The President & CEO, Naveen Kakarla, is, of course, Indian-American. But the rest of the team appears to include a team whose appearance and last names are on par with the United Nations. Just as our Great American Melting Pot is supposed to be.

Frankly, I find the history of how so many Patels run hotels and motels charming. It’s a prime example of the American dream and I just love that!

*** Feature photo: Desert Hill Motel, Tulsa OK, owned by Jack Patel. PC: Nicholas Henderson/flickr

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DaninMCI February 12, 2020 - 3:46 pm

One of the issues that Indian-America hotel owners have had over the years is they will buy hotels or motels that need work because they are trying to get into the business cheap. That results in the family living in the hotel and being cheap on towels and other items. Then there can be culture differences with cleaning, amenities, service, etc. Cooking on hot plates in the lobby, etc. They gives Indian run hotels a bad image overall. That is the reason many hotels put “American Owned” outside not so much because it’s racist but it’s a cultural divide or perception of that. I’ve stayed in awesome hotels run by India-Americans and flea bag motels run by Redneck-Americans and the ownership standards matter, not the race so much.

SharonKurheg February 12, 2020 - 8:31 pm

Not sure where you live but here in the south, “American Owned” is indeed because some good ol’ boys don’t think that anyone besides people who look like them, speak their language and go to their churches should run businesses, especially not ones that are in competition with them. They also want to ensure that people who are “like them” go to their establishments and not those of “those foreigners.” Pretty horrific, isn’t it?

As for how some Indian-Americans decide to live their lives, that is definitely not your or my business.

But you’re right; the heritage of whoever is running any establishment has nothing to do with the quality of said establishment.

Jeremy Ellington May 27, 2023 - 9:25 pm

I’m currently staying in a Red Roof Inn in Tn and the smell of the Indian cuisine is permeating the entire second floor. It’s so strong over the already potent incense smell( to hide the dampness and mold because the ac is turned off in most rooms) that we are going to check out early on a non-refundable booking. Just walking the hall makes me nauseous and my eyes burn. So how they choose to live does affect people when they are essentially living with them and charging them. I didn’t book an air bnb or bed and breakfast, I booked a suite at a hotel. Nothing about this racially motivated as some will indeed take it but more of a culture difference.

Debra Herrera August 30, 2023 - 8:46 pm

Well I know of a few indian owned hotels, one was in sarasota florida I had a job there as a houekeeper/part time laundry worker as needed. The owner and his wife were Patel’s. I thought they were nice and they treated all the employees fairly.

John Gray October 13, 2022 - 6:18 pm


Richard Garrido February 12, 2020 - 4:01 pm

My British-Indian brother in law used to tease me about my hotels, motels and Patels blog.

SharonKurheg February 12, 2020 - 8:38 pm

Link? Pretty please? 🙂

Christian February 12, 2020 - 9:03 pm

Loyalty Traveler at BoardingArea.com

SharonKurheg February 12, 2020 - 9:08 pm

I know that, silly 😉 I meant that particular blog/post

Christian February 12, 2020 - 5:44 pm

I simply love the Idi Amin comment. I’m quite surprised about the “American Owned” signs. I guess things change pretty slowly in some places and my parents had some interesting stories about central Florida in the 40’s and 50’s.

SharonKurheg February 12, 2020 - 8:36 pm

Unfortunately, racism is still alive and well. I know exactly where on 192 this place is…I passed by it, almost daily, for years (specifically look at the pic of the hotel sign).

In searching for that one, I also found this one, from Texas.

Not surprisingly,

Malik Patel February 16, 2020 - 11:00 am

I travel almost every week and some time stay in more than one hotel per week just like last week. I can pretty much figure out which hotels are run by Gujarati Indians. Cleanliness, service, fortified front desk, all give it out.

However, unlike ten, twenty years ago, now some of these Indian run hotels are improving in quality. So I have stopped avoiding them.

Jason May 7, 2021 - 1:46 pm

Have a friend in Texas who’s parents were Patel’s and ran a motel

JoAnn May 26, 2021 - 8:01 pm

Thanks for the info. I was curious about this. I stayed (more than once) at a hotel in N San Diego county owned by Indian family, who could not have be nicer. I asked about the book in the room which host said was about their religion, (not a giddeons bible)… I love learning new stuff, and they graciously said “take the book”. Which I have enjoyed. Grace and hospitality comes in all shapes, sizes, and in all cultures, whereever you are or happen to wander.

Jason M Taylor July 9, 2021 - 5:13 am

I knew Indian Americans who ran really sleazy motels, and really nice ones as well. In fact the 2 Patel families I know couldn’t be more different. The sleazy motel is owned by a Patel family who live on site and the place is really dirty. The other Patels run a very upscale hospitality company that features Marriotts, Hiltons and Wyndhams all under one umbrella. They are all beautiful. While the family does work there, they do not live on site. One thing we noticed while traveling: Many hotel owners are still using COVID as an excuse to not serve breakfast. They don’t give a discount for it either. During the pandemic it was understandable, but not now.

SharonKurheg July 22, 2021 - 6:29 pm

You’re right – the background of whoever owns the hotel doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. But if you’re paying $160/night in Downtown Boise, that’s definitely on the cheaper side. You get what you pay for, regardless of who owns the place.

SharonKurheg January 4, 2022 - 10:36 am

Indian-Americans own mom & pop hotels but also are franchisees of well-known, name brand. Non-Indian-Americans have been known to own one or the other, as well. And being “quite smart” can happen to anyone, regardless of nationality.

SharonKurheg June 23, 2022 - 11:10 am

You need to travel a little more, friend. I’ve been in plenty – PLENTY – of hotels and even motels owned by Indian-Americans that were just as clean and nice as those owned by non-Inian-Americans. I also suggest you read this post – that hotel is owned by – you guessed it – an Indian-American. Maybe stay there? https://yourmileagemayvary.com/2021/10/29/tennessee-hotel-named-nicest-place-in-america/

Billy Bob October 9, 2022 - 2:35 am

Some years back, I checked into some inexpensive hotel near Corning NY while making my way west and ran into one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen up to that point — apparently the owner’s daughter. I can’t remember which hotel but I remember her – a truly stunning Indian girl in her early 20s – around my age too. Always meant to go back- until I laid eyes on my future wife.
I need to clone myself. 🙂

Moldy Modi October 9, 2022 - 1:16 pm

Why do Indian-Americans also own the majority of Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins? They can’t live in those.

JohnB October 9, 2022 - 2:21 pm

I think the same concept of Indian ownership can be applied to gas stations. Roadside rest stops are not a type of a business that many Americans want to be in. So, many immigrants buy the businesses inexpensively and run them as a family business. I don’t begrudge them anything. Everyone has to make a living.

Mr Coke April 29, 2023 - 11:09 am

If they own half it’s not melting pot. It’s a quiet invasion.

SharonKurheg April 29, 2023 - 12:08 pm

So be it. The only ones who say the U.S. should be mostly white are white people who are scared of losing their majority hold. Too bad on them (or rather, as a white person, “us”). “Melting pot” means a little bit of everyone, not “mostly white and a little bit of everyone else.”

Domenic Ferrelli July 31, 2023 - 12:11 pm

I stayed in N.C. And the Indian run hotel over charged me. I won by my credit card company, the hotel refused to give me a refund. The chain they belong to refuse to force them to give me my refund. Not an again.

SharonKurheg July 31, 2023 - 12:46 pm

That could happen regardless of who ran the hotel. You could eat a granny smith apple and claim all apples are sour, too. Meanwhile, the nicest place in America in 2021 was voted to be a hotel run by an Indian-American man with the last name of Patel. https://yourmileagemayvary.com/2021/10/29/tennessee-hotel-named-nicest-place-in-america/


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