Front Desk

Hotel History Takes Center Stage

The lodging industry typically doesn't spend a lot of time considering its past. Some may find that odd since compared to many other businesses (computers, automobiles, aircraft), the hotel business is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the history of man. That changed recently with the publication of two great books that look at the history of the hotel business from different perspectives.

The more interesting of the two is "Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry," a fascinating and entertaining series of profiles of 16 men who author Stanley Turkel argues were the builders of the modern American hotel industry. That's significant because due to the efforts of these titans (and others, of course), the American style of hotelkeeping long surpassed the European tradition that reigned for centuries.

Some of the profiles cover names (Hilton, Marriott, Johnson, Wilson) familiar to even casual students of hotel or U.S. history. Sadly, just one of the pioneers covered in the book (John Q. Hammons) is still alive and active in the industry. To me, the more interesting tales cover hoteliers about whom I knew little before reading the book but now have a greater appreciation for their contributions.

Most compelling story focuses on Kanjibhai Manchhubhai Patel, who Turkel's identifies as the first Indian-American hotelier. K.M. Patel arrived in San Francisco in 1923 and soon began operating a small residential hotel in the city. The rest, as they say, is history: Today Indian-American hoteliers dominate the industry with their trade association, AAHOA, recently surpassing 10,000 members. As Turkel says, this community represents a true American success story.

To order the book, go to I heartily recommend it.

The other publication of note is more official but also interesting. To honor the start of its 100th year of operation, the American Hotel & Lodging Association produced "A Century of Hospitality," a look back at the last 10 decades of the hotel business and the association. Masterfully edited by Len Vermillion, Marla Cimini and Phil Hayward, the book presents an easy-to-read, yet informative walk through the major events that shaped our industry.

Go to the AH&LA website to order the book.

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