Nidhi : Hello, Mr. Vimal Patel, As an interviewer, it will be a cliche to introduce an interviewee as one who needs an introduction; however, in your case, it’s quite literally true when it comes to the hotel management industry.
Tell us about Mr. Vimal Patel as a hotelier and Mr. Vimal Patel as a family man.
I came from humble beginnings-from a small village in India, then having to self-start and learn through failures in life to where we are now-working on multi-million dollar projects. That has been very satisfying, an emotional roller coaster run. During that time, I got married, and now I’m happily married with two daughters-that’s another life fulfilment.
What is your belief system? How do you evaluate yourself?
This is what I think is important. How will you, as an entrepreneur or owner or husband or father, be looked at five or ten or fifteen years from now? What is your reputation going to be? There are times when a lot of hard decisions will have to be made, but the decisions have to be fair. Sometimes those decisions may not be popular with your peers, business stakeholders, or even your family. I believe it is critical to do the right thing, morally and ethically, and give up short-term gains for long-term gains. That’s true in business and it’s true in family life. I believe that instilling these values and what I believe are my strengths into my family—in the children, or even with my team members and business partners—gives them skills in decision making, having the right mindset, the right attitude, and just doing the right things. I believe it’s important to accept disappointments or failures as they come. Not passing the blame is a part of becoming a success is owning up to your own failures and shortcomings and learning from the mistakes that you have made. I believe as long as you are transparent in communicating and doing things right, you will uphold your reputation. Because it only takes five minutes to destroy a reputation that took twenty years to build. And also, as an employer, as a leader, there are times that you will not be the most popular person, but we are here not to make everybody happy but to do business, and yet you have to do what’s right, what’s good for the entire structure, whether it’s a family, whether it’s a business, employee/employer relationship, or even partnerships.
Since you’ve got your own set of experiences dealing with partners, what are a few qualities you know you’d look into before a partnership?
It’s critical to choose your partners well—a business partnership is another sort of marriage. When you are in business and financial investments, which can easily translate to friendship and social life, it’s far more extensive than most people think, so finding the right partners is important. Fortunately, in my group, we have been blessed with partnerships where each of the partners has their own ingenuity, their own skill sets, whether building, construction, brand relations, or visions of the company-or myself, who is more involved with the day to-day operations of the hotels, the financing side, the development side, as well as budgeting and forecasting side of it, so we kind of each all switch our roles, and balance each other out and grow our strengths in how we conduct business, and there is not too much crossover in each other’s field, and being able to still, in a small environment, operate the new hotels and continue to troubleshoot.
All over the years, what’s one thing that has been refined in you when you mention that you’ve failed and bounced back? What’s the improvisational outcome of the journey up till now?
The key part of it again is managing a situation without getting frustrated and unreasonable. It’s a hard thing to do, but again, I think tackling it, finding a middle ground solution, keeping extending positivity and optimism, and trying to solve small problems and small chunks at a time, will continue to be able to juggle these problems and solve these problems. Chip away until you get there. So for us, relocating the two loans, getting the additional debt from the lenders and trying to rebuild—those are some of the hard lessons that we learned—but the challenges that came along, we tackled them and were able to get past them—not panicking and getting past them has been a critical part of it. I took on most of the negotiations myself, and that way, my partners were able to focus on rebuilding part of it and procuring materials and labor and things like that, so it was a coordinated effort from all of us.
You’ve been nationally recognized as an ‘Award of Excellence for QHOTELS by AAHOA. ” This award recognizes a hotelier who has demonstrated strong leadership, has high standards of excellence, and is making a significant contribution to the lodging industry.” Tell us about it.
The win of the ‘Award of Excellence’ by AAHOA was a great recognition on the national stage and demonstrated some of the public stance that I have taken in regards to standing up for the hoteliers about the unfair business practices by the franchise owners at the moment, being the voice of the legislation, and talking about the significant labor shortage part of it as well as the financial losses that were happening, and getting them to lobby for us to get some relief for the hoteliers.
What do you think are the qualities of a good leader? How do you lead your team? What are your principles that you can not let pass?
That’s what I think is the quality of a good leader. You cannot continue to want to be popular and accepted; that’s not how it works. You have to take a hard stance and take on some of the bad practices or influences that are out there working against you or simply just speak out against injustice or unfairness, and to do that you have to be vocal, you have to be critical, and you have to say what’s right. We live in the land of the free, and if you can’t speak up and express your opinion about injustice and unfair practices, then what are we teaching our children? So that’s a very critical thing, to be able to be a leader and lead the team. Because if you are afraid to be the unpopular guy or not welcome, then there is no way you can be a leader. You have to be vocal and you have to be able to support the causes that you believe in. Then that will pass on to other members of the team and they will respect you and support you. And in the times when there are hard choices to be made, they will understand. It may not be welcome, but they will understand and be able to grasp the seriousness of the situation.
In one of the interviews, you referred to your problems and challenges as a “perfect storm.” How do you bring in the “perfect calm”?
It’s one of those things that happened in regards to COVID that hit in March of 2020 when everything kind of shut down-we were moving at 90 miles an hour and then all of a sudden we were at a standstill. So when I said “perfect storm,” there were several things that played out for us within our organization. First, the pandemic hit when we had just completed 1.8 million dollars’ worth of renovations at the Holiday Inn Express. We used a lot of our own personal investment-then all of a sudden, four or five months later, we were at a standstill with occupancy, and then COVID put a financial burden on us. When we were not able to meet the debt, the lenders from this Holiday Express were not willing to cooperate. However, other local banks did work with us, and eventually we got an extension. But that financial position put a lot of strain on us, and at one point, we came into danger of losing one this Holiday Inn Express asset completely. The SBA loan helped out a little bit, and we were able to use our line of credit. We also put in some of the operational funds from our other hotels, and in this way, we were able to survive 2020. We had similar challenges in 2021. Then Hurricane Ida came through in August and damaged 7 of our hotels; there was lots of damage in most of our properties. Dealing with insurance companies trying to get rebuilt was a big challenge, with us again having to dip into lines of credit and resources on our own since the insurance companies would not pay the funds. So, with all of this combined, 2021 was a challenge.
You’ve been outspoken about “taking a stand” and “not fearing” in the guise of teaching future generations while serving as an example. Where does this perseverance and conviction come from? (Any early influences that have made you this way, a person with a high conviction of doing the right thing?)
It’s been sort of an acquired skill because when I left India, I was in Africa for three years with my uncle, and obviously, when you are a newbie, a nobody, and have a language barrier, combined with zero financial strength and no family support, you are bound to be at the bottom of the food chain, and to succeed in this struggle and face challenges, you learn that the only way is to speak up, to go out there and get what you need, get what you deserve-so I think that’s a skill that comes out there. Also, from my previous experience, when a lot of people didn’t want to give us their feedback and advice and some of the tools and resources that might be at their disposal, a lot of what I have learned in my life is self-taught. The critical part of it is that I learned you have to speak up, have to stand up for what’s right-you can’t always just be a nice person, that’s not how the world works. You have to stand up and be vocal and not shy away from a problem or a situation. That’s what I want to teach my daughters—being nice or less vocal or trying to win a popularity contest is not how it works in life.
What excites you the most about being a hotelier?
There are a lot of moving parts, from managing hotels and coming across different guests and different clientele, different employees to deal with, and also different challenges and operational issues like dealing with insurance companies, supplier issues, or brand relations, trying to negotiate vendor contracts, or a loan with a lender. It’s very exciting that there is constantly a different day of challenges and yet you enjoy and have fun dealing with all the different aspects of it and try to get each of the hotels to perform successfully within their parameters. Each hotel is different, and so is each staff member, so every hotel and team member has to be dealt with differently. Challenges and fighting for some things, and then there are some good moments and some good scores, the accolades and so forth, so it’s a combination of different experiences on different days, and that is what I love about being a hotelier.
Who do you admire most or look up to (a work colleague, a businessman, or perhaps a budding hotelier)?
I think it comes down to one person, and surprisingly enough, he is my uncle, my mom’s brother, and the only reason I left India was because of him. When I completed my high school he was in Navsari, India. He got me to work at this factory so I could gain some outside world experience, so I ended up there from 1988 to 1991. This was a turning moment in my life and the reason I am here today. If this journey never happened, my whole life would have been a different story-so everything boils down to that one decision where my uncle called my parents and I, and that is how everything transpired.
The hotel business is a conglomeration of different people, day in and day out. What do you agree with the most?
Sometimes you have to resist the pressure.
Revolt for discipline/principles
Proactively understand the views of the people (customers, staff, employees).
Sometimes you have to resist pressure, especially from the customer or the guest of the hotel. Some things are outside of the hotel’s control, whether it is the weather or the electricity or the food delivery, and the only person the guest can take it out on is the person at the front desk. Sometimes the front desk and management have to take a step back and apologize, knowing that there is nothing they can do to please the guest, but if we have rudely racist remarks or aggressive guests, we have to tell them to leave, call the police, or simply ban them from the hotel. I have to stand by my staff and my GM that we shouldn’t accept less than acceptable behavior from guests. Even if it’s a bigger account, we have to put the safety of the staff as our primary goal without any evaluation of the finances. With staffing, we have different age groups, different ethnicities, and different skill sets as well. That’s where it becomes an interesting and fun place to work as well, with all the different personalities and different balancing. It’s impossible to treat everyone the same, because not everyone is the same—different personalities, backgrounds, and skill sets—understanding all the views, but when we have candid conversations and understand each other—we won’t always agree, but we can express ourselves.
What gives QHOTELS a competitive edge?
We are a group of four partners that have skill sets in all different categories. So we have a general contractor license, we are the developers, we operate our own hotels, and we take care of any items on that part, and we do 3rd party management as well. One partner handles rebuilds and construction, the other handles some of the contractors and pricing on that. I take care of the bulk of the work with the financiers and lenders side of it, brand relations, operations, technology, so that is how we balance things. Since we have these multiple aspects of it, we understand third party managers’ problems as well, because we ourselves are owners, so that gives us a competitive advantage too. We are able to procure competitive pricing with vendors, lenders, and insurance companies as well. We do everything in-house, getting the most of your bottom line worked out.
Tell us about your new venture into the tech SAAS industry with INNRLY. What does it solve ?
I started this technology on a very small scale in 2007; it was simply to gather the night audit reports in the standard format so we could push them into Quickbooks. It was a manual process from the data entry, and that’s where it started, but it could streamline a lot of the manual processes and make them consistent, so over the period of years we have grown from 2 or 3 hotels to nine plus hotels. There are a lot of challenges along the way. INNRLY makes things easier—it allows operators to quickly view indicators of the health of their business like Hotel Revenue, Comparison with Last Year & Budget, Medallia , Star , Labor , AR , AP, and much more. It gathers all guest feedback in one place so you don’t have to monitor several different platforms, automates night audits, measures analytics, and much more. It basically changes the entire landscape for hoteliers and their staff.
I’ll quote something you’ve said: “We could only find 8-ounce cups, and we couldn’t find any lids.” We had to use a substandard cup because that’s all we could get. That was deeply upsetting to some customers. “
Do you think customers are always right?
No, they are not always right and they need to be told. These are different times now, and there are challenges like lack of staffing, supply issues, all things that are beyond our control-the cost of operations has gone up, the mortgage payments have gone up because of the Fed’s increase in interest rates, the property costs have tripled, the cost of labor and benefit packages have increased by 30 percent, supply costs have gone up, and the hotel has to pay its debt and survive. It’s a challenging part of it; some things we can’t control, and a lot of the time, the guests feel entitled and like they are always right. They might be suffering at their own homes or their own personal businesses, but they feel entitled to be demanding in such circumstances, so yes, they have to be told, and no, the customer is not always right.
A failure and success story you’d like to share with the world.
I already gave some examples, but one failure would be having to start my life over again at the age of 29 after my first years in this country, where I didn’t get anywhere and having to restart with being practically homeless at that age-that was one of the failures. Typically, when someone comes to this country, they want to live the American Dream. It’s rare you find somebody to be unsuccessful, which I was-then the success story after that and going through the challenges with the three hotels and the financing part of it, which I explained earlier. Now, with no computer background and no related degrees, I have launched this INNRLY program that serves the needs of hotel operators. Additionally, now taking charge of the other investment of QHOTELS and where we are doing multifamily investments and looking at some other projects as well, I think that’s a success story. And of course, having my two daughters-one who is about to graduate and one who is a Valedictorian in high school doing computer science-so these are my success stories.
What are your next goals?
My next goals are to branch out into different parts of the country and acquire more assets, whether they be multi-family, mixed-use apartments, hotels, or maybe some other retail or storage facilities that we can get into. Obviously, I want to look at getting into more technology where we enhance the technology part of it, so these are some of my dreams to branch out-and the goal is to maybe get into other countries like Canada or Mexico where we can collaborate with some other partners, to see how far we can go, how much we can push, and enjoy the journey as well.
Your favorite quote?
I would say :
“Don’t take no for an answer; don’t give up; keep on fighting.”
Vimal Patel, President & CEO | QHOTELS
A final question. What is one vivid memory you still reminisce about India?
I think it will be my high school years when we were a group of about eight or twelve friends. You had to take tuition back to back and you were all together and having a blast, having fun and learning. Soon after graduation, we left. We kind of parted ways and lost connections. Technology was not that great back in the 90s, so a lot of us lost touch, but those are the vivid memories in my mind, that we shared so many memories and so much time together in those two or three years.
ABOUT MR. VIMAL PATEL
Vimal Patel is the president and CEO of QHOTELS , which owns and operates hotels in Louisiana and Texas, USA. AAHOA, an organization whose members comprise 60% of America’s hotel owners, has given a national “award of excellence” to the Louisiana hotel leader, Mr. Vimal Patel, for bringing “attention to the plight of hoteliers.” He was recently named one of the 100 MOST POWERFUL PEOPLE IN US HOSPITALITY. He is also a tech entrepreneur and the founder of INNRLY, proprietary software that streamlines the day-to-day duties of hoteliers.