Vimal Patel spent three decades building a small family empire of hotels along Louisiana’s highways and byways, but the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to tear the whole thing down.
From behind his desk in the LaPlace headquarters of Q Hotel Management, his family-owned hotel-development and management firm, Patel has been fighting to keep the businesses running while scrambling through a thicket of government programs. The 11 budget hotels he owns or operates from Baton Rouge to the Mississippi border along Interstate-10 and at other waypoints have seen guest counts tumble and revenue plummet by nearly 90% since the coronavirus virtually halted travel across the U.S.
He used to fill hotels with small conferences and meetings, oil-industry workers, families on road trips and other people passing through. Now, much of that has disappeared.
“We’re seeing occasional refinery workers and that can kind of guest, as well as some long-haul truck drivers,” said Patel.
He’s also under pressure from a specialized group of Wall Street lenders that industry groups say haven’t been forgiving in demanding payment from Patel and other borrowers, even as local banks and other lenders have granted many clients reprieve.
Patel’s plight is similar to that of many U.S. small businesses across the country as customers have all but disappeared because of state-mandated shut-downs and general fears about the virus’ spread. Hotels have been among the worst hit, with the American Hotel & Lodging Association forecasting that occupancy rates this year will be worse than 1933, the height of the Great Depression.
His hotel franchises — which includes Holiday Inn Express branches in LaPlace and Donaldsonville, and Best Westerns in LaPlace and Houma — were ticking along nicely at the end of last year, with about $1.5 million in monthly revenue. He was also in the midst of building another hotel, a Springhill by Marriott in Slidell.
After the pandemic hit, the company’s revenue dropped to $200,000 in April across all of the hotels.
“We have built this up from scratch for more than two decades, literally building each hotel from the ground up,” said Patel. “Now we’re in danger of losing everything we’ve worked so hard for.”