News / USA

US Motel Industry Tells Story of Indian-American Immigrants

Indian-Americans own roughly half the motels in the United States.

Indian-Americans own roughly half of the motels in the United States, according to a new book about their dominance in a quintessentially American industry.
Indian-Americans own roughly half of the motels in the United States, according to a new book about their dominance in a quintessentially American industry.

Roadside motels are a quintessential feature of Americana dating back to the 1940s and '50s. Even today they are a staple of the American highway landscape. Their story tells an equally American tale: the immigrant's life.


The U.S. motel industry, from small independent motels to large economy franchises, is now dominated by Indian-Americans, many of whom are gathering in Atlanta, Georgia this week for the annual convention of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.

The convention has enough pull to draw big name speakers such as former President Bill Clinton, former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch and other well-known celebrities.
 

The phenomenon of Indian-American predominance in the motel industry is explored in the new book, Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream, by Pawan Dhingra, a sociology professor at Oberlin College.

 

A new book explores Indian-Americans' rise in the U.S. motel industry.
A new book explores Indian-Americans' rise in the U.S. motel industry.
“[Indian-Americans] own over half of the motels in the country,” Dhingra said. “But they make up less than one percent of the population, and since most of the hotel owners are from the Indian state of Gujarat, it’s a subset of one percent.”

 

Dhingra said Indian-Americans didn’t come to the United States with plans to take over the motel industry.

“The first ones referred to themselves as accidental hoteliers,” he said, adding that most, if not all, arrived in the U.S. with no experience in the business.


According to Dhingra, it all started with Indian immigrants who were working in agriculture in northern California. The workers lived in residential hotels, one of which was owned by an Indian immigrant. Others learned the business from him.
 

Many of the workers found that running a motel was a much better life than working in the fields and scraping by, said Dhingra. And running a motel turned out to be a good match for new immigrants’ skills. They could succeed with some basic maintenance and business knowledge, and didn’t need to be fluent in English. Moreover, said, Dhingra, Indian-Americans are just good at running motels.
 

“They're very good at cutting costs while providing a quality experience,” he said. “They do a lot of work themselves, have no staff other than family members and they often live at the motel.”


That last fact has been key to the spread of Indian-owned motels and motels.
 

“The fact that you can live in the motel for free allowed for family members to come from India, learn the business and then go into the business themselves,” Dhingra said.
 

In the wake of the 1965 Immigration Act, which opened the doors to immigrants from more diverse backgrounds, many more Gujaratis came to the U.S. and went into the motel industry. Gujaratis who had been living in East Africa, where they were often small business owners, also began to make their way to the U.S. and into the motel business.
 

And they entered the industry at the perfect time. According to Dhingra, the wave of Indian immigration to the U.S. came when a lot of motel owners were looking to sell their motels, often for a good price.
 

The keys to success today, Dhingra says, are a combination of opportunity, motivation and a large and growing network of fellow Indian-American motel owners

The Asian American Hotel Owners Association, for example, lobbies for the interests of nearly 11,000 members and offers numerous opportunities for them to network and learn best practices from each other. Its members own more than 20,000 hotels, worth approximately $128 billion in property value, according to its website.
 

For many motel owners, Dhingra says, it’s more than a job.
 

“They talk about it in the same way as if they’d built their own car - in a really sincere and emotional way,” he said, adding that when he’d walk through a motel with the owners, they would often brag about how they’d done remodeling, new wiring or put in new carpeting.
 

“It’s not just a business to them; it's a way of life. They may not make a lot of money, but most are able to send their kids to college, provide a living and it's also seen as a property investment.”
 

The younger generation of Indian-Americans isn’t as enamored with the hotel business as their parents’ generation, but nonetheless, they often choose it as a career path.
 

“The younger generation, raised in the motel business, will say they have no desire to stay in the business,” Dhingra said. “They see how much their parents work. They go to college, get a degree and work in a white-collar job.”
 

But, he says, many of them end up deciding they’d rather be self-employed, so they may go back and run a franchise.
 

He then related the story of a young Indian-American who, upon graduating from college, was offered a job at New York’s famous, high-end Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He turned down the offer so he could run a low-budget franchise motel his family owned.
 

“His American friends were surprised,” Dhingra said, but his Indian friends understood that he wouldn’t want to go to the Waldorf and be ‘middle management.’ “They really want to be in charge of their own destiny, and small businesses allow that.”

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: S. S. Tiwary
May 05, 2012 10:53 PM
Motel industry in America is participated mostly by Indian-Americans, the fact brought to light is a symbol of the good gesture one receives from this establishment. Immigration from far away like India to the establishment in the hotel and motel industry in America, and spreading and the coverage of the industry to the position of the percentage tells a story of the responsibility the Indian-American owes to America which established them as hotelier and motels.

by: Andrew
May 04, 2012 1:53 PM
What a great story.I totally learn the history of motel in America.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs