DURING HURRICANE FLORENCE in September, Mital Talati opened her arms and the doors of the Knights Inn she owns in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to those in need. Last week, during the Red Lion Hotels Corp. annual conference in Las Vegas, she received the company’s Humanitarian Award for her sacrifice.
While still in the middle of keeping her 62-room hotel mostly operational for evacuees and emergency workers three months ago, Talati said she was doing it in memory of her husband, Akash Talati, who was killed in a shootout last year between an armed intruder and a security guard at a club he owned across the street from his Knights Inn.
“I’m just imitating what he did. During Hurricane Matthew he did the same thing,” Mital said. “He would have done even more than what I’m doing here.”
But on the stage at last week’s conference, it was her bravery that was recognized.
“She didn’t leave, she didn’t jump in her car and vacate,” said RLH Corp. President and CEO Greg Mount. “Because she knew people, particularly her staff, wouldn’t have a place to stay.”
The experience was a little overwhelming, Talati said. Given all the kindness shown by other RLH Corp. owners in other disasters this year, she didn’t expect to be alone on the stage receiving an award.
“I was assuming they would call up a lot of other people,” she said. “This is something you should do in everyday life. You shouldn’t wait for a disaster.”
Talati’s good deed was also the subject of a New York Times photo essay that brought her attention and assistance from countless strangers.
“After they saw the pictures of the guests who were here people would call and donate $500 to them,” Talati said.
She also received boxes of food donations.
Talati is still coping with the after effects of Florence. Ongoing repairs are still keeping 20 of her rooms offline because her insurance company has been slow in paying. And while she does have loss of business insurance, she’s had to dig through old systems to find tax documents for that policy.
Still, she enjoyed the conference and met many people, most of whom asked her about her experiences during the hurricane. It was her first time attending the conference since taking over the business from her husband.
Talati is happy so far with RLHC’s treatment of the Knights Inn brand and the creation of a new logo, which was announced at the conference.
“I think it was about time to change something so old,” she said.