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Why So Many Canadian Hotels Are Owned By Indians

Just about every hotel I stayed at across Canada was owned and operated by Indian immigrants. This time I asked why.

THUNDER BAY, Canada- “Why do so many Indians own hotels in Canada?” I finally got around to asking. While this isn’t the kind of question that you expect will produce any manner of helpful response, it is the kind where you’re just kind of interested in what the other person will say.

Cheap hotels in the US and, especially, Canada tend to almost universally be run by people from India. As I’ve spend a considerable amount of time on the Subcontinent, I generally have little chats with the owners about the place they’ve come from.

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It’s always been interesting to me how immigrant groups all over the world have a tendency of corning certain economic niches — Russians with strip clubs, Pakistanis with convenient stores, Chinese with dry cleaners, Vietnamese with restaurants, Sikhs with gas stations. How does this happen? How does one group enter a location, chose a commercial sector, and then move to dominate it? In most cases they are not introducing anything new — they are just able to out-compete everybody else, pushing the locals off the edge of the landscape.

I once asked my mother in law why so many immigrant Jews opened up businesses? She replied simply: “Because nobody would hire them to do anything else.”

Americans will buy a place like this, shut it down, dump $100,000 into renovations, and dump even more money into relaunching it … as something that it could never be.

I believe this is relevant across the board. Who’s going to hire an OTB Pakistani who can hardly speak English for anything other than scrubbing the bottom of the barrel?

But that example doesn’t fully hit the mark. Solo immigration is a middle and upper class intrigue. The people moving in and taking over economic niches tend to operate as extended family groups or even as transplanted villages.

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The hotel was run by a mother and son from New Delhi. They had just moved over to Thunder Bay and were just getting into the hospitality business. They had no prior experience in hotels, and were learning as they went. The father stayed behind in Toronto working some mid-level job (in engineering, I believe). They told me that he was going to join them once they got the business running smoothly.

But why would they just all of a sudden jump into hotels? Why not some other business?

“We knew some other Indian families who had hotels and it seemed like a good business to be in,” the mother told me.

What I found fascinating about the place was in abject disrepair — pieces of it were literally falling off, the neon lights on the sign were only half lit. It was an old motel, but the new owners seemed to be running it as-is — as if they didn’t notice.

Americans will buy a place like this, shut it down, dump $100,000 into renovations, and dump even more money into relaunching it … as something that it could never be.

The Indians’ business model was based on nothing more than having the cheapest place in town — and the people who are looking for the cheapest place tend to care little about anything else. As long as they laid claim to this title, the customers would keep coming.

But there were some other cultural advantages as well. This Indian family were working day and night. It doesn’t seem as if they took any days off. This hotel was what they did. However, they seemed to find it difficult finding this same work ethic in the local employment pool.

“The people here are … interesting,” the mother began. “The people here don’t want to work.”

She then told me about how she’s tried hiring all kinds of local workers but had yet to find someone who fit.

“Yesterday, I trained somebody and today they were supposed to work, but they never showed up.”

This story was from a cross-country road trip across Canada that I took with my family in the summer of 2018.

Filed under: Canada, Immigration, Ontario, Road Trip

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 89 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3515 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • dan May 29, 2019, 8:00 am

    Throughout the US, at least, cheap motels tend to be owned by Patels, who are traditionally merchant families ultimately tracing their roots to Gujarat.

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    • Wade Shepard May 29, 2019, 2:49 pm

      I’m glad you brought this up. I was going to go into how Indian immigration and business sectors are often directly linked to certain geographic areas and social groups from India. It’s incredibly interesting how well organized the Indian diaspora is: Indians in Oman came from one part of the country, those in Singapore from another, those in in Durban from another. When I was in Oman a Bengali guy once laid it all out for me. I’m not sure if I wrote about this during that series, but I believe it’s worth its own story at some point.

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  • Trav May 29, 2019, 2:55 pm

    Yeah, dude, where I come from we call these places Curry Inns. Not racist. They really do smell like curry!

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