CHAPEL HILL, NC—At just 12-years-old, Manish Atma was regularly waking up at the crack of dawn to clean hotel guestrooms. It may seem a bit draconian, but it was in his blood.
As a second-generation hotelier, Atma—now president/CEO of Atma Hotel Group—learned all he knows about hotels at his family’s inn in Albemarle, NC, mowing the lawn, cleaning up trash in the parking lot and working the front desk.
Teaching him the financial side of the business as well as people skills, Atma attributes the front-desk assignment as one of his best learning experiences, and one that he uses to guide the everyday operations of his company today.
“Our values are number one,” Atma said. “We want to provide superior customer service and experiences for our guests, and create a family atmosphere for our associates and help them grow as individuals and as hospitality professionals.”
Founded in 1995, Atma Hotel Group began with the development of a Hampton Inn in North Carolina. The company then went on to develop 15 hotels over the next 20-plus years, purchasing five. Atma currently owns 10, with a slate of hotel properties in the pipeline.
While the company has plans to grow in markets like Durham, NC, and Raleigh, NC, the borders for expansion are tight, and for good reason.
“We are pretty much going to stick to North Carolina. My philosophy is that if I can’t drive to my properties within two to three hours, I don’t want anything to do with it,” the CEO said.
Atma currently has properties across North Carolina in Chapel Hill, at Charlotte Airport and in the North Carolina mountains (Sapphire, NC).
“This way, we can keep up with our hotels and not have absentee management. We’re very involved,” Atma said, adding that the company has a representative from the corporate office on site at each property weekly.
Atma most recently purchased a full-service Courtyard by Marriott and the Sheraton Europa, adding to its Chapel Hill portfolio. The Sheraton has plans to undergo a renovation to all guestrooms, public areas and meeting spaces by fall 2020. The company also has a Tru by Hilton hotel in the works here, slated to open in the first quarter of 2021.
According to Atma, these properties round out the company’s Chapel Hill portfolio, filling in some holes. Atma’s existing Chapel Hill properties include two Hampton Inn & Suites hotels, a Holiday Inn Express and a Quality Inn.
“Chapel Hill was a high-barrier-to-entry market, a university market,” Atma said. “The purchase of the Sheraton and the Courtyard complete our portfolio from having full-service luxury all the way to budget hotels.”
With regard to the Tru by Hilton, he said, “We wanted to have a newer project in the budget segment. The Tru fits that mold, and having that brand in Chapel Hill is desperately needed.”
The company also has two Home2 Suites by Hilton hotels in the pipeline in Durham, NC, and Raleigh, NC, both currently in design phases.
While Atma Hotel Group is serving some market needs, Chapel Hill is still battling some significant challenges—one in particular that happens to be shared with the hospitality industry.
“Airbnb started off as a platform of couch or room rental, then expanded into whole-house rentals and mini-hotels in neighborhoods, which has cut into affordable housing for a lot of small markets like Chapel Hill,” Atma said. “That’s affecting the locals; it’s tough for people to find housing in Chapel Hill because more and more people have chosen to go the route of Airbnb since it’s a university town.”
Atma named labor as another challenge that both the market and the industry as a whole are dealing with, and one that he has to manage daily.
“The way we’re responding to that [the labor shortage] is having cluster hotels where you can depend on your sister hotels to fill positions when in need,” the CEO said. HB