TUPELO - For Vee and Dimple Patel, operating a hotel is a tradition that runs through both of their families.
But that’s not how the couple originally started their careers.
Vee was an IT major and Dimple was in medical administration when they met. Eventually, they decided to get into hotel management, first learning from their families and then striking out on their own.
While Vee had some experience in the industry in Atlanta and Nashville, Dimple’s experience came out of Memphis.
“Our first property was the Baymont in Tupelo, which we bought in 2005,” Dimple Patel said. “We had some experience, but not a lot to run it all on our own. But we learned a lot. We made a few mistakes, but you just go with the flow.”
The Patels sold the Baymont in 2018, and had been exploring stepping up from an economy brand hotel to a midscale brand for a few years. They saw an opportunity to bring back Comfort Suites, which had a location on North Gloster Street that was destroyed by a tornado in 2014.
“We signed up in 2015, and here we are,” Vee Patel said.
Comfort Suites is part of Choice Hotels International, which is the parent company of several brands that total some 6,800 properties worldwide. The brands under the Choice umbrella are Ascend, Cambria Hotels, Comfort Suites, Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, Clarion Hotels, Quality Inn, MainStay Suites, Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, WoodSpring Suites, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn.
It wasn’t until 2017 when the Patels broke ground on their Comfort Suites. After a few construction delays, it opened late last year on Carter Cove in the Tupelo Commons development behind Lowe’s.
When the Patels looked for their first hotel 15 years ago, Tupelo was a small blip on the radar. For a couple accustomed to big city life, the All-America City was a change of pace, but one they’ve grown to love.
“When he said we were going to look at a hotel in Tupelo, I was like, ‘Really?’,” Dimple Patel said. “It was a big adjustment the first couple of years, but this is home now and we’re not going anywhere.”
The Patels have developed close friendships and strong relationships during their 15 years in Tupelo, a testament not only to Southern hospitality, but also their own embrace of the community.
They’ve also been in the trenches as the economy has grown during this time.
Tupelo Commons was in its early stages of growth when the Patels arrived in Tupelo. Malco Theatre anchored the site, with Chili’s and Wendy’s restaurants along North Gloster Street, later joined by Olive Garden and Abner’s.
Cleveland Commons, on the southern end of the project, later added a 50,000-square-foot Ashley Furniture Home Store, an 18,000-square-foot Hancock Fabrics, and a 7,000-square-foot Holliday’s Fashions. Best Buy also opened.
“This area has grown so much, as has downtown,” Vee Patel said. “It’s good to be able to do things now – it’s pick and choose.”
As for the hotel business, the couple say it’s good.
“Tupelo is always going to have the leisure travelers, and we’re always going to have the corporate clients,” Vee Patel said. “That’s why the city has almost 30 hotels. People keep coming. To be part of that is exciting. It makes you want to be here.”
Regular clients aren't new for the Patels, who saw quite a few when they owned the Baymont. They’re looking to do the same at Comfort Suites.
“We had a group of ladies – Elvis fans – who came twice a year and stayed with us,” Dimple said. “They’ve been coming to Tupelo the last 10-12 years, and it’s great to be able to get to know people like that. They become family. They just call and know they can get a room.”
Holidays are also big for hoteliers in Tupelo, Dimple Patel said, because out-of-town guests often stay to visit with family as well as shop.
“That’s gotten really big in the past couple of years,” she said. “You have families looking for an indoor pool, especially during the winter. That’s a big thing.”
Travelers’ demands have changed over the years, but one expectation hasn’t – good customer service.
“They walk in and they’re looking for a friendly face, and they want a nice clean room of course,” Dimple Patel said. “Corporate clients are a little different. They usually don’t look for a whole lot. They do want a nice and clean room to sleep or take a nap. Families are looking for those extra amenities like an indoor pool, hot tub, fitness center, hot breakfast, things like that.”
Vee Patel said corporate clients – most of whom travel Monday-Thursday – are looking for things to do outside of the hotel, whereas families and leisure travelers look to make the hotel a home base.
“That’s when the hot breakfasts and Wifi are really important,” he said.
The Patels look to their parents as models of success to guide their own dreams.
“When you see your parents and think how hard they worked – his parents just retired – you want to do the same and make the future better for you and your kids,” Dimple Patel said.