Just four years after arriving in the United States from India with their parents, brothers Rinkesh and Mitesh (Matt) Patel purchased their first hotel—the Days Inn in Phenix City, Alabama—operating the property under RAM Hotels. Over the past two decades, the co-founders grew their portfolio of owned and managed hotels to encompass 26 Marriott-, Hilton-, and IHG-branded properties in Georgia and Alabama. Today, Rinkesh and Matt, who are CEO and COO of RAM Hotels, respectively, have their sights set on expanding beyond those two states. To allow themselves to focus on strategic acquisitions and developments throughout the U.S. Southeast, the co-founders in February brought on a new president to oversee day-to-day operations and more: hotel veteran Jonathan D. Bogatay, CHA. LODGING caught up with Matt and Bogatay to discuss the latter’s new position and their shared vision for RAM Hotels.
Bogatay’s hospitality career spans more than 40 years. He is currently president of the Courtyard Franchise Advisory Council, an ad hoc member of the Hampton Brand Owner Advisory Council, and a member of LIIC (Lodging Industry Investment Council). He retired from his role as CEO of Wisconsin-based NCG (North Central Group) in November with plans to do some consulting—that is, until RAM Hotels’ co-founders inspired him to join the company. “This is a high-performing company with an exceptional track record of success,” he tells LODGING. In his new role, his top priority is to immerse himself in all things RAM Hotels. “My agenda is not one of ‘change’ but more nuanced in terms of listening, learning, evaluating, and absorbing our current systems, processes, philosophies, strategies, tactics, and operating culture—and then, to seek ways to add value. Success for me will be measured by our ability to evolve the RAM Hotels platform to support our current and future growth initiatives.”
The vision for RAM Hotels that Bogatay shares with the company’s founders is, as Matt describes, “To be a best-in-class hotel developer and operator in partnership with Marriott, Hilton, and IHG.” The company is well on its way; in addition to 26 open hotels, Matt says they have 11 more in the pipeline—five under construction, four in the pricing phase, and three in the design phase. On top of those, they are exploring acquisitions and developments in university, state capital, and government markets throughout the U.S. Southeast. In particular, Matt sees growth opportunities in select lifestyle and soft-brand development throughout key markets. “We opened our AC by Marriott in Columbus, Gorgia, during the pandemic and are very pleased with our performance, especially F&B,” he explains.
With the addition of Bogatay to the team, Matt says the company is well-positioned to scale its portfolio. “We have an incredible management team with tenured executives in all disciplines, and now with Jonathan leading the entire management company, we will have one voice and streamlined communication which will allow us to strengthen everything we do.”
Looking ahead at his first year as president, Bogatay is bullish on his outlook. “As talks of a recession begin to lessen given the inflationary trends the last few months, I strongly believe there is still room to grow both occupancy and rate in most markets. I think we are starting to see more business travel return to our portfolio, and when combined with our excellent sales, marketing, and revenue management team’s efforts, our future looks bright.”
Bogatay adds that staffing will continue to top the list as the biggest operational challenge. “The pressure point in all of our markets is the same: a shallow labor pool causes us to continue to struggle to find qualified candidates to onboard, and we are just not willing to default to a ‘something is better than nothing’ approach to hiring. That’s just not fair to our owners, guests, and fellow team members,” he explains. “Until there are meaningful changes to our immigration policy, we will continue to struggle to find an adequate workforce. While technology certainly has enabled our industry to do more with less, the reality is that we are in the hospitality industry and our guests expect and deserve an exceptional service experience.”
There’s no silver bullet in sight to solve this issue for the hospitality industry, but Bogatay shares one strategy for mitigating its effects. “One area on my radar is to do a deep dive into our current team member development efforts in hopes of identifying some ways all of us at RAM Hotels can play a part in identifying high-potential team members and creating individually structured learning, growth, and development plans that can assist them on their journey to becoming the best version of themselves,” he explains. “If we can’t find the talent we need externally, we will need to groom and grow our own from within.”
As RAM Hotels evolves and adapts to optimize its performance and growth in this economic climate, Matt says one thing will remain unchanged, and that’s the company’s culture. “Our company started as a family of four running a 64-room Days Inn and working hand in hand with our associates. We are still the same family, just with more family members,” he says. “Treating our associates as if they are our own family members is our top priority in everything we do. We will always be there for them.”