First things first…when did the nickname begin? “My name’s a long name and when I was in boarding school in England it was shortened,” Bakulesh “Buggsi” Patel says of his well-known moniker. “Actually, my dad spelled it one way so I just kept it that way. More people know me as Buggsi than my real name.”
It seems no matter where you go in industry circles, you can hear the simple name “Buggsi” and everyone knows to whom it refers. And, Buggsi has been in a lot of places as an active member of several trade organizations such as AH&LA, where he’s served on multiple committees; AAHOA, of which he served as chairman in 2000; and the IHG Owners Association, of which he is an officer.
But long before he became Buggsi of the U.S. hotel industry, he was simply a man living in England and running the family supermarket after his father’s death. From the age of 17 to 26 he successfully ran the business with his mother’s help.
When Buggsi grew restless of the supermarket business, he decided to pursue his dream of owning a hotel. The problem was, he wasn’t having much success in the United Kingdom.
“I wanted to get into the industry in England. I was looking around and went to the banks, but they wanted 50 to 60 percent down,” he recalls. “It just wasn’t possible. I nearly gave up but I’d heard about people here in the U.S. who were getting loans and getting into the business with less of a down payment.”
As luck would have it, he had an avenue of immigration to the U.S. because his sister had already immigrated and set up home in Oregon. “I took that
opportunty and went straight to Oregon,” Buggsi says.
After toiling for a few months at his brother-in-law’s hotel, Buggsi was ready to open his first, and he did. It was a Super 8 property in La Grande, Ore.
“It was interesting because I actually had no credit here,” he says. He admits he received a bit of assistance from his brother-in-law, who helped him put a package together to offer the banks. “I eventually just found a banker who believed in it and gave us a loan,” Buggsi recalls. He operated the property with his sister while they continued to learn the business and ensure that the hotel was profitable.
That one property is a far cry from where he is today. Today, his company, BHG Hotels, owns and operates 20 hotels. “Obviously, from the success of the first hotel we just went ahead and started actively looking for additional properties. We parlayed it into a second hotel with the same bank, and it just took off after that,” he says.
He started the company by building new hotels. Now, the company also buys and repositions existing properties.
Now a regular on the hotel association scene, his industry activities started like his business—small. “I just kind of started getting involved with the local association and went from there to the state association [Oregon Lodging Association] where I was the chair,” he recalls. “From there I got involved with AH&LA as a director and have been on various committees.”
He’s been a member of AAHOA since its beginning. He then began to get involved with owners’ councils, starting with the Choice Hotels owners’ committee and now the IHG Owners Association.
Like every hotelier these days, Buggsi is keeping an eye on the economic recovery. “Business is coming back, albeit slowly,” he says. “Rate is a real problem and in our portfolio there are some markets that are very soft because when the boom was going on there was a surge of hotels going up there. But, there are other markets that have caught up and are doing well. Whereas occupancy has come back, rate hasn’t come back as fast.
“The cost of doing business hasn’t really gone down any,” he adds, “so it continues to be a balancing act.”