For Nancy Patel, finding resilience in body and mind meant more than succeeding at business, it was life or death. As a young franchisee in the American Midwest, Patel was involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Following two years of exhausting physical therapy and thanks to unwavering support from her family and community, Patel overcame her injury and returned to business, establishing herself as the first female Regional Board of Directors member from North Georgia for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) in 2007. Since then, she has served as chair of the AAHOA Women in Hotel Leadership (WIHL) platform and is currently an ambassador for the South Texas Region of AAHOA, and is also the first female President of LPS of USA, an organization of Leuva Patidar people originating from the Navsari, Surat, Tapi, Bharuch, and Valsad Districts of India who have settled in the United States of America.
In July of this year, Patel will grow her hotel portfolio with the opening of her first Red Roof property in Corpus Christi, Texas. LODGING spoke with Patel, as well as Marina MacDonald, chief marketing officer for Red Roof, about personal and professional resiliency, overcoming challenges, navigating the COVID-19 and more.
How did you get your start in hospitality, and what about the industry was so attractive to you?
My parents are immigrants. They came to America from London, England, in the mid-70s, after buying a hotel in California. My father and mother emigrated at that time with my oldest sister, brother, and myself following them in 1981. At that point, my father had purchased a second hotel in Texas and almost straight away I was working at the hotel on weekends. I started at a young age—by the time I was 12 years old I was helping out at the front desk, cleaning rooms, and doing other odd jobs over the weekend. Over time, my family purchased more hotels and I eventually married a man in hospitality, so to say this industry is in my blood would be an understatement.
You’ve overcome a series of obstacles throughout your career on your way to success, in particular a car accident that left you paralyzed. How did you react to these obstacles? What kept you going when things seemed bleak?
I would have never overcome my challenges to make it to where I am today without a supportive family and a dedication to growing my inner determination. In 1995, while delivering heaters from one hotel to another, a defect in the car I was driving resulted in a horrible accident. I was left with a major spinal fracture, and was unable to walk even following a grueling 10-hour surgery to attach steel rods to my spine.
After the accident I just had no hope. I went from being passionate and active to immobile, and I slipped into a deep depression. It was very difficult, but I eventually found hope again thinking of my 18-month-old son. I told myself that if I could ever find the strength to walk again I would make an impact on people’s lives. After months of trying, daily support from my husband, a positive mindset, and the resolve to not give up I was able to finally begin walking again two years later. I had received so much support from my community I knew I had to give back, which is why in 2009 I created the WIHL platform for AAHOA and joined LPS of USA, eventually becoming the first elected female chair in the organization’s 31 years.
How has your positive mindset affected how you reacted to the pandemic?
I think I have found a commonality with the hospitality industry in the spirit of resilience. The industry overcame setbacks from 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, but COVID paralyzed the whole world. People were not used to any level of confinement and they didn’t know what to do—it felt like they were prisoners in their own homes. But I have already dealt with this struggle, and it taught me a lot about adapting, adjusting, and patience. Learning to stay positive amidst the depression I felt following my accident gave me the strength to see past temporary roadblocks. The hospitality industry today is on the verge of experiencing a similar bounce back.
How are you preparing for the industry’s rebound?
We don’t have to do much more than stay the course. Even though our hotels’ sales were down year-over-year across the board, it was not something we could control, so I didn’t spend time dwelling on it. There were many situations and challenges in my life I was not able to control, and I refuse to let them influence the things I can. Moments like this call on us to be creative. Also, I have been blessed to be at an economy brand throughout this period. We are positioned well since we have taken steps to establish ourselves within our local market. The brand doesn’t make the hotel, it is an arm to guide operators and provide resources to assist them in their path to growth. You are the brand at the end of the day.
You’ve been developing hotels and have several brands in your portfolio. Why did you choose to add a Red Roof hotel?
For years I have told any prospective franchisee within earshot that if Red Roof was on the map, always go there. Red Roof’s vision is similar to their owners and operators, they take care of their franchisees and that resonates with me. It’s more of a people brand. We also share the spirit of optimism and resiliency. My opportunity to open a Red Roof in Corpus Christi, Texas, came at the right time, and it was an easy decision to make. I knew that when I signed on they would work hand-in-hand with me to provide the support I needed. Now the market is shifting, corporate travel is down and controlling operating costs is primarily what we are thinking about. In situations like this, an economy hotel may as well have five stars in my eyes. Renovations will also be a plus as we convert to Red Roof.
What do you like most about working in hospitality?
I didn’t think about hospitality much as a kid working in my parents’ hotels, but as I grew older I realized the heart of the business was all about customer service, meeting new people, and solving problems. I’m a people person, and so I got along very well with the guests. When you’re working the front desk people tell you everything, and everyone has a different story. Ultimately, the human side of hospitality drew me in.
Marina MacDonald, chief marketing officer of Red Roof, also shared her thoughts about Nancy’s decision to open her first franchise with the brand. MacDonald, who also serves as Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Americas Board Chair, applauded Patel thanks, in part, to her infectious positivity, her philanthropic nature, and business acumen.
How did you first connect with Nancy? What about her story spoke to you?
I met Nancy through LPS of USA and AAHOA. In 2016 she visited the Red Roof Forum on Leadership for Women Entrepreneurs and made herself available even though she didn’t personally have a property with us at the time. Actions like that really speak to Nancy and her values—she is always working to give back through her efforts inside the industry, particularly promoting women within hospitality.
Why are you excited for Nancy to become part of the Red Roof family?
It’s an honor, honestly. Her natural resilience, and her ability to channel this resilience into her family and her business is an inspiration, particularly during such a difficult time for the hotel industry. She is capable of doing difficult things with grace, and I’m so excited to have her join us as part of the Red Roof family.