Travels with Susan Spano

People, Places, Stuff

Indian-Americans Moving Up in the Hotel Industry

July 13, 2012

Tags: Hospitality, Hotels, Motels, India

In India: A Portrait, a new book by Patrick French, I found this curious travel tidbit: A potel is a motel run by someone from the Gujarati community of Patels; Indians now control around half of all U.S. lodging properties, and the officers of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association are Hemant D. “Henry” Patel, Tarun S. Patel, Chandrakant I. “C.K.” Patel, Ashwin “Ash” Patel, Alkesh R. “Al” Patel and Fred Schwartz.

Fascinated, I did a little more research and discovered that there are 3 million Indian-Americans, 50,000 of them called Patel. The name is especially common in the Indian state of Gujarat, originally meaning village headman. But how did Patel come to be synonymous with hotel ownership in America?

Chandinand Rajghatti, a writer-editor for The Times of India, told the story in one of his Indiaspora columns from 2004. The trend took shape in the early 1970’s when dictator Idi Amin expelled some 70,000 people of Indian background in an effort to make Uganda homogenously black African. Many of the refugees landed in England and the U.S. where they entered the lodging industry at the lowest level, as in Mississippi Masala, a 1992 film about a forbidden love affair between a black carpet-cleaner (played by Denzel Washington) and the daughter of an Indian immigrant from Uganda (Sarita Choudhury) who works in the housekeeping staff in a small motel.

From there an article in USA Today picked up the story. Gujaratis have long had a reputation for hospitality, making them naturals for the hotel industry. A willingness to live on the premises and do the hard, menial work of motel-keeping instead of paying staff, made them prosper especially in limited-service, budget accommodations. Gradually, though, Patels moved up, buying into major hotel chains like Marriott and Sheraton. For instance, Philadelphia-based Hersha Hospitality Trust, begun in 1984 with a single motel, now has 78 properties--including Hiltons, Hyatts and Wyndhams--accounting for over 10,000 rooms.

The high-tech savvy of Indian-Americans is well know; in iIndia: A Portrait author French notes that they are responsible for one in every 6 Silicon Valley start-ups. But their domination of the hospitality industry came as good news to me in these hard-pressed times, with the gap between the rich and the poor looking ever more uncross-able. Talk about a good old American success story.

From the first annual SPEAK UP! contest, June 23, 2018, Muhanga, Rwanda

Syracuse Archaeological Museum, Sicily

Proshyan School bathroom with water tank

Takar and Kataro are my favorite Armenia reds

School time in Armenia.

Garni Temple, Armenia

Big Sur from Soberanes Point


Artichoke Pickers by Henriette Shore

On the way to the beach

Jalama Beach, CA

Hello, little sea urchin!

Famous Jalama Beach Burger

Three by Peter Hessler

Spring time on the Big Sur Coast


Jalama Beach, CA

Motya Charioteer. Image from

Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA

Homesick for Rome

Therme Vals in Switzerland

At Vogelsgang

National Socialist Party poster from Vogelsgang

Palm Springs

Image courtesy of Tylas at English Wikipedia

Vintage Naples Historic District

From Palm Cottage

Borobudur frieze; Buddha's life

Borobudur at sunrise

Shikellamy State Park in Pennsylvania

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Image courtesy of Politics and Prose

Image courtesy of John Wehrheim.

Lotusland in Montecito, CA

Ganna Walska of Lotusland

Image courtesy of Flickr user ViaMoi.

Conques Church. Image courtesy of Flickr user Seligr.

Weiming Lake, Peking University. Image courtesy of Flickr user ImGump.

The Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel near Santa Barbara

Agrodome, Rotorua, New Zealand. Image courtesy of Flickr user _gem_.

Vandalized images at Painted Rock

Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons user BenFrantzDale.

A map of Chicago, Illinois, imprinted in 1913 from the United States Geographical Survey’s historical topographic map collection. Image courtesy of the USGS.

Image courtesy of Flickr user hattiesburgmemory.

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of Flickr user alobos flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr user joiseyshowaa.

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Selected Works

Nonfiction, Travel, Human Interest
A new collection of travel essays by Susan Spano
Tracking Colette in Paris and Burgundy
A draught sinks Lake Powell, revealing lost wonders of Glen Canyon
Rome's Most Roman Neighborhood
Studying Mandarin in Beijing
Around the world and back to New York
Nonfiction Book
Divorce. Why do we do it? And what does it do to us? fourteen prominent writers have pondered these questions and have set down heir thoughts and personal stories, in this gathering of sometimes irreverent and always intelligent essays. "A disarmingly candid, invaluable collection." --Publishers Weekly
"Anyone who doubts that men, too, suffer in divorce should be required to read this." --Glamour Magazine "A rare, unusually focused anthology of original essays that both entertains and instructs." --Publishers Weekly

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