The library at The Edwin, Vision Hospitality Group’s luxury boutique hotel that opened September 2018 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The mural is an oil painting by Mia Bergeron, a local artist. The work was photographed and enlarged to fit the wall.
Every prospective hire at Vision Hospitality Group receives a little blue book that tells the company’s story. Measuring seven inches wide by five and a half inches tall, the book can be confidently balanced in the palm of a hand. The title is “True Blue.” Indeed, the cover’s dark blue is Pantone 301. The sunburst-shaped logo is bright blue, Pantone 298. Its 84 pages feature employee testimonials, Vision Hospitality’s culture statement, a list of its values and CEO Mitch Patel’s axioms about how to impress guests. It also has a lot of photographs. Mostly of people. One of those photos is of a young Ishwar “Ish” Patel and his family, wife Pannaben and pint-sized sons Mitul “Mitch” and Anand. The picture accompanies a short history of the genesis of Vision Hospitality Group.
In many ways, the larger story of Mitch Patel and Vision Hospitality Group is prototypical. It’s an oft-repeated tale of a family from India making good in the U.S. hotel industry. The first chapter usually tells about a patriarch making the move to America. The chapters that follow detail the persistent struggle to survive, to stake a claim in business and to grow the enterprise, eventually passing its success on to the children. The daughters and sons who cut their teeth – literally and figuratively – in their parent’s first roadside property often take the family business to the next level – building and buying branded hotels across the U.S. and generating high levels of wealth in the Indian American community, one of the most affluent ethnic groups in the nation, according to Pew Research.
For the most part, Mitch’s coming-of-age tale has followed a predictable path. In recent years, however, he has carved a new avenue in hotel design and development, starting with opening Vision Hospitality’s first independent boutique hotel, The Edwin, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The 90-room high-end property opened in September. It is a one-of-a-kind experience for Chattanooga, and Mitch said it is just the beginning for his beloved hometown as well as Vision Hospitality’s latest venture – a new division called Humanist Hospitality, which will develop and manage Vision Hospitality’s branded lifestyle, soft-branded boutique and independent hotels.
Before we dig into the metamorphosis of Mitch and his company, let’s lay some ground work by sharing how Vision Hospitality came to be. After all, as Mitch is quoted in the little blue book, “I believe if we are to understand our future together then it’s important to understand our past and our humble beginnings.”
“I like to start always with my father coming to this great country with $8 in his pocket and a dream. A dream simply for a better life for his family,” said Mitch, during an interview at The Edwin. “He went onto college here, got a job as a research scientist in Stockton, California. We were in this modest two-bedroom townhouse and he decides to lease an 11-room motel. So we move into the apartment behind the motel office. I remember helping my family clean rooms, taking out laundry and checking in guests as an 8-year-old kid.”
When Mitch was 10, Ish moved the family to Cleveland, Tennessee, where he bought a hotel. A fifth-grade student, Mitch continued to help with the family business. He matured, prepared to head to college and away from the hotel. “The last thing I want to do is pursue this business as a career.”
Mitch got an engineering degree and joined a company in Atlanta where he helped design roads. “I wasn’t very happy,” he said. “And I began to doubt myself. Do I have what it takes to be successful in anything?”
An uncle was building a hotel in Chattanooga and asked Mitch to take over the project. “I literally built that hotel as a general contractor, even though I never built a shed before.” Once the hotel opened, Mitch switched to managing the property. “I took off the hard hat and put on a tie to become general manager. I never managed anyone under me. It was daunting, but it was exciting. After 18 months, it wasn’t easy, but we found success. But most importantly, I found my passion where I never expected to, and the rest is history.”
WATCH: Mitch tells how the family business started in a company-provided video.
The hotel opened in 1997. Vision Hospitality Group was formed that same year. Today the company has 34 hotels with 17 in its pipeline. It involves his father, brother and a host of passive investors or partners. It employs more than 1,300.
Over the past 20 years, Vision Hospitality grew to be a developer and franchisee of premium branded hotels. In recent years, however, Mitch has begun to rewrite the playbook for his company to take advantage of new and emerging trends in hospitality.
Vision Hospitality is evolving, and so is Mitch.
Vision Hospitality’s newly opened boutique hotel, The Edwin, in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, epitomizes the developer’s shift from a sole focus on cookie-cutter branded assets toward a plan to create one-of-a-kind properties – unique accommodations that cater to both out-of-town visitors and local residents through an emphasis on provincial culture, history, cuisine and art.
Lodging Econometrics has tracked the hotel industry since 1998. Its global database includes new-hotel pipelines as well as renovations and brand conversions. Hotel franchisers once eager to launch new brands are focused on converting existing hotels because it’s a faster way to recover revenue lost to the COVID-19 pandemic than through new construction. In Episode 346, Lodging Leaders explores the increasing number of conversions in the U.S. hotel industry and what owners and operators need to consider before repositioning an asset.
In the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., financiers anticipated a swell of distressed hotel businesses. Some raised rescue funds to respond to what they thought was a pending crisis. Though there are financial rescues taking place, the level of such activity is far below what industry advisers and fund managers expected. Commercial real estate investors positioned to act in the early days of the pandemic held off and are now just beginning to unleash their cash hoards totaling billions of dollars. Episode 345 of Lodging Leaders podcast explores the state of capital investment in the hotel industry.