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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More