Obituary: JP Rama, pioneer of the hotel industry, remembered

Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday, prayer service Wednesday

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Funeral services Jayanti P. “J.P.” Rama, who died Thursday at the age of 74, are scheduled for Tuesday in Sarona, India, and a prayer service is scheduled for Wednesday at Discovery Hall at Auro University on Ichchhapore Hazira Road in Surat.

HOTELIER, PHILANTHROPIST AND pioneer of the hospitality industry Jayanti P. “J.P.” Rama of Greenville, South Carolina, died Thursday at the age of 74 in Ahmedabad, India. The hospitality industry is mourning one of its truly great entrepreneurs.

Rama is survived by his wife, Ilaben (Laxmiben) Rama, son Dharmendra “D.J.” Rama and brothers, Hasmukh “H.P.” Rama, Manhar “M.P.” Rama and Raman “R.P.” Rama. His brother, Dinu P. Rama, precedes him in death.

JP, as he was affectionately known, was one of America’s leading Asian entrepreneurs. With his brothers he co-founded of JHM Hotels and built the group from a single unit to become one of the country’s biggest Asian owned hotel groups.

He was also involved in the founding of AAHOA which today represents over 20,000 hoteliers in the US. JP’s brother HP served as the association’s first charman in 1991 and JP was elected chairman in 1997. His younger brother Manhar served as chairman in 2005.

Under JP’s distinguished leadership AAHOA grew its membership and broadened its appeal to include women and the younger generation.

AAHOA was formed in the early 1990s to combat the often blatant discrimination the Asian community faced from large hotel franchise companies and other suppliers. The Rama family, along with other pioneering hoteliers, were instrumental in bringing about a better understanding of the Asian community and forcing suppliers to change how they dealt with this enterprising new force in the industry.

Born in the village of Sarona, Gujarat State, India, JP came to the U.S. in the early 1970s to join his brother HP who in 1973 had purchased the Sunset Motel in Paloma, California. HP and JP were later joined by two brothers to form the beginning of JHM Hotels that eventually grew to include 40 hotels with approximately 7,200 rooms across seven states and India.

The success of the Rama family and JHM Hotels in many ways changed the perception of Asian hoteliers in the US, particularly amongst the larger franchise hotel groups. The Rama’s success and professionalism was a clear demonstration that the Asian community were a force to reckon with and paved the way for other Asian hoteliers to follow and expand their portfolio.

In 2017, the Rama brother ended their partnership and JHM Hotels was broken into four new companies: AuroHOTELS of Greenville; Sima Hotels LLC of Orlando, Florida; Sarona Holdings of Orlando; and Siddhi Hotel Group of Greenville. J.P. served in an executive leadership role at AuroHOTELS.

Although the business was highly successful, J.P. and his family never forgot their roots. A deeply spiritual man and disciple of the great Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, he devoted much of his time to charitable causes.

The brothers founded the Auro University in Surat, a private university in Gujarat State, India. The university teaches everything from hospitality to law and IT.

J.P. and the Rama family supported several projects in their home village in India, including building a school, a water purification plant and 200 homes for the underprivileged. They also helped develop a children’s park and an eye hospital in the region. In the U.S., the family provided $1 million to fund ‘The Rama Scholarship for the American Dream’ for students attending hospitality school.

During his tenure as AAHOA chairman, he focused on building the association’s membership through awareness campaigns, Town Hall meetings and cross-country educational seminars. He urged young people to get involved in AAHOA and the industry.

The cremation service was to be held on Tuesday, Feb. 22, in Surat, India. Antim Darshan also is Tuesday from 10 to 11 a.m. at the River Wind Residency on Dumas Road in Sarona, and Antim Yatra will begin from the family residence on Nr. Mindhola Bridge at 11 a.m. the same day. A prayer meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 23, from 4 to 6 p.m. local time at Discovery Hall at Auro University on Ichchhapore Hazira Road in Surat.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be made to a cause that was near to JP’s heart, Sri Aurobindo Integral Life Center, manager of La Grace Center, c/o Radhe Pfau, 2714 Knighton Chapel Road, Fountain Inn, S.C.  29644 or to the Vedic Center of Greenville, 520 Bethel Drive, Mauldin, South Carolina 29662. Links to services in India are available here.