One of the sectors which is impacted greatly by the coronavirus pandemic these days is travel industry. With all these empty hotel rooms all across the world, small hotel operators are struggling the most and some of them are considering closing their properties

Although pain triggered by disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic is felt around the tourism industry, it is especially acute for the Indians in the U.S. Almost 50 percent of U.S. hotels are controlled by Americans of South Asia origin, as per the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.

Now, many of those in the community have been struggling to apply for government loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, while some of them have been able to do so.

Hotel owner Azim Saju and his group at HDG Hotels applied for 19 different loans after a drop in occupancy. They were all approved.

Saju got $80,000 in his bank account on Tuesday and hopes to collect five loans on Friday. He expects to receive $2.4 million in full in the next week.

Vinay Patel
Vinay Patel
Source: Vinay Patel

“Our first move will be to bring our folks back, to raise their hours, back to where they were a few months earlier,” Saju said at CNBC’s “The Exchange” on Tuesday.

Saju, who has approximately 500 staff, notes that the PPP funds would only last two or three months. He hopes that by then a gradual re-opening of the industry will lead to fewer vacancies. To date, occupancy in 18 of his hotels stands at 25%.

Saju, alongside his brother Navroz, owns and operates 18 Florida hotels, such as the Marriott TownePlace Suites in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Hilton Holiday Inn in Crystal River, Florida. Their 19th hotel is under construction right now.

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The brothers are second generation hoteliers in the family. Their mother and father, Nurejehan and Fidali Navroz, moved from India in 1972 and began to venture into the U.S. housing industry by constructing one hotel, and so on. The brothers managed to help their parents to develop the portfolio of HDG Hotels.

Once asked how much family heritage is bound to his properties, Saju said, “it really is part of our tradition, part of what our family have given to us as it corresponds to this business, and me and my brother really believe in this.”

The Saju family’s story is shared by several South Asians around the country and is a clear indication of the inordinate affect coronavirus has had on this fast-growing ethnic US population.

Oam Patel, Alora Hospitality Group Source: Alora Hospitality Group
Oam Patel, Alora Hospitality Group
Source: Alora Hospitality Group

Oam Patel, the Alora Hospitality Group’s CEO, says that ‘These families have gone from living a decent, pleasant life with the American dream to total panic.’

Patel and his extended relatives own a number of hotels, including the Clarion Hotel in Carowinds, Fort Mill, South Carolina. He hopes that a hard work discipline and toughness will assist him and his peers to get over this difficult period.

“The positive thing is that many of the owners I recognize, including myself, have the work ethic and strength to sit at the front desk and do our own washing if they just need to stay afloat. Most of the owners that have 10-plus hotels did grow up doing all the dirty deeds, “said Oam Patel.

To Vinay Patel, his nine hotels throughout Virginia and Maryland reflect heritage, roots and, most significantly, the bravery his migrant family brought to plunge into the hotel industry almost half a century ago.

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“When I got older, hotels have been the only thing I knew I could do. It was a rite of passage after I finished college.

Patel has two sons, one 24 years old, and the other 19. His older son wants to join his dad in operating the family business, while his younger son is currently studying hospitality at Virginia Tech.

“Most small hotel operators don’t want to take any more debts … This is one of my greatest worries, “Vinay Patel said.

Vinay Patel has been approved for seven distinct PPP loans in the week and expects to receive a maximum of $700,000 in his bank account by next Monday.  The coronavirus pandemic that hit the U.S. economy, he had 220 staff members along all his nine hotels, but he is now actually holding a skeleton staff. Funds will be used for payrolls, utility costs and, if there is anything left, mortgage.

With no assurance when or if travel will recover, Vinay Patel said that small hotel operators have already started to shift their collective focus to acknowledging liquidity concerns by delegating debt payments and continuing to work with hotel brands to decrease the fees collected.

“Most small hotel operators don’t want to take any more debts … This is one of my greatest worries, “Vinay Patel said.

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