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

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 Marriot International was started, and is still owned, 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 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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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


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.

askmrlee (@askmrlee) February 15, 2020 - 7:22 pm

So do the “good ol’ boys” consider Bobby Jindal a furiner, I mean foreigner?

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.

paul violand crna July 22, 2021 - 4:46 pm

I am staying in an Indian owned motel right now…i had to go through at least 3 units before deciding on this one. the last two had burnt holes in carpet, holes in doors, holes in the bed sheets…i have traveled extensively in the USA on a budget and gravitate to cheap accommodations…and most were Indian owned. I understand “they” take places that are “run down”, but come on man, its still run down. I almost walked out when i met the man in the office…i am NOT prejudice at all..i have a a best black friend, my girlfriend of 25 years is jewish…i couldn’t give a hoot what race you are…but please provide decent and safe conditions, especially if you are charing me 160$ to stay in a flop place in Boise Idaho…i just dont get it…clean the damn place and fix it up…i dont care if you are from Mars..deliver a good product and nobody will judge what race or cree or color you are…

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.


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