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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