Motel Industry Turmoil Blocks Indian-American Path to Prosperity


Source: Bloomberg Businessweek
May 15, 2020
by Khushbu Shah

Davin Patel’s parents ran a 20-room Holiday Motel in rural Georgia when he was growing up. The years he spent shadowing them as they went about their daily business, from checking in guests to tidying rooms, became the foundation for his own career as a motel manager. But none of this on-the-job training, nor any of his college classes, prepared Patel for a pandemic.

The phone at his Country Inn & Suites in Fairburn, Ga., began ringing almost nonstop in mid-March as guests rushed to cancel reservations. When nightly occupancy dipped to 40%, he shut down the top floor of the 74-room property and reduced staffing, while he and his wife, Nidhi, took turns doing laundry and manning the front desk behind a newly installed sneeze guard. “I can’t sit here and panic,” says Patel, 36, who’s also a partner in two properties in Alabama: a Red Roof Inn in Birmingham and a new Best Western in Brewton. “If the time was to panic, it was a month ago. Now we have to find a solution.”

“We should be worried for our local motel owner”

The hospitality industry has become collateral damage in the war on the coronavirus. In the U.S., eight of 10 rooms sit empty and almost 4 million employees have lost their jobs, says the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Cecil Stanton, president and chief executive officer of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), says many of his 20,000 members are struggling: “Some have closed temporarily. Others remain open but have closed off a certain number of rooms or floors.”

A lot of the pain is falling on the shoulders of people like Patel. Although Asian Americans make up almost 7% of the population, they own about half of the country’s 54,000 motel and hotel properties, according to the AAHOA.

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