Tauhid appears in the Top 100
U.S. Business Leaders Magazine
Founder, CEO & President — Pinnacle Hospitality Group
Only in America—How one man with a dream built an empire of some of the most unforgettable hotels in the country.
Growing up in Bangladesh with a love of art and design, Tauhid Islam watched as hotels decorated the landscape of the Indian Subcontinent and he dreamt of the day when his would be among them. Alas, this opportunity was afforded only to the uber wealthy, not to the son of a middle-upper-class family. Still, he never stopped dreaming. His is the quintessential story of the American Dream and how a young boy rose from dreamer to an award-winning hotel developer who is leaving an indelible mark on the American vista. From the metamorphosis of an old concrete factory into an eye-popping, oceanside retreat to the transformation of a hotel that time forgot into a sleek, modern oasis, Tauhid is the imaginative mind behind some of the most popular, Instagram-worthy hotels in the country.
As the founder, CEO, and president of Pinnacle Hospitality Group, Tauhid’s hotels have been recognized with a cache of awards and featured in major publications. Pinnacle’s Country Inn By Radisson Hotel in Ocean City is a President's Award Winner; the Marina Bay Hotel & Suites in Chincoteague was nominated for the 2018 World Boutique Hotel Award and featured in Bethesda Magazine, Food Network Magazine, and Southern Living Magazine; and the Cambria Hotel in Ocean City received the 2020 Downtown New Construction Award from the Ocean City Development Council. And he’s done all this in just the first five years since launching the company in 2016 in Ocean City, Maryland. Pinnacle continues to grow through hotel acquisitions, development, and the formation of its full-service management company, opening one new hotel every year on the East Coast for the past four years while acquiring hotels in the northeast.
Prior to founding Pinnacle Hospitality, Tauhid enjoyed a successful 20-year career with Choice Hotels, beginning in 1996, on the corporate side, working with franchisees and licensees, and rising to regional franchise services director with a portfolio of 80 hotels, for which he developed strategies to improve their success. After two decades, it was time to realize the dream that had brought him to the U.S. in 1991 as a 20-year-old studying finance and statistics, and he took the last leap among the stars that had aligned to lead him here—as the founder of a firm that has quickly become one of the largest hotel developers in the Eastern Shore area.
In a special four-page feature, we talk with Tauhid to learn more about his journey and his thriving company—and hear the stories behind some of his most talked-about hotels.
What was your inspiration for starting Pinnacle Hospitality Group?
I was in my early 20s, and I had been with Choice Hotels for four years. I was at a company convention, and when the owners walked into the room, we all stood up and clapped because they had achieved something, they were leaders. While I was clapping, that’s when it hit me: How do I become an owner, where I walk into a room and people clap because I’ve achieved something meaningful? That’s how it started and that became my drive. Every day, I would play that back in my head. I’m sure my story resonates with many people because a lot of times, your boss doesn’t even know you have talent or they say, “You’re a dreamer.” But you have to dream. And that’s what I did. I wanted to build something that was different from other hotels, and I wanted to improve my own hometown, so I started building hotels there to add something unique to the market. One thing led to another, and I’ve been able to build great properties in great locations.
Tell us a bit more about your company.
I own and develop hotels in the Mid-Atlantic states. My concentration is to build and acquire premier select-service hotels located in areas with high barriers to entry where value can be added through management, design, branding, and service excellence. We work with partners, including hotel owners and investors, of which I am one. When you own, you can control all the things that you can’t when you’re just the management company. This is one of the things that makes us different from other hotel development or management companies. Most owners or investors stay away from ground-up, but when you build, you create something organic, and you can build it to your specifications. That’s why for the past four years, we’ve focused on all new construction.
Did you always have this unique talent for envisioning transformations of hotels or unique designs?
I think it’s just something that came naturally to me, even as a child. When I was working for Choice Hotels, I’d walk into the rooms or the property, and the changes just came to me. I would dress every hotel up as if it were my own, and I gave the franchisees honest feedback because I wanted them to be as successful as possible. It was a true partnership. When I developed my first hotel, Marina Bay, I took everything I wished I could do in other properties all those years and put it into mine—and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Anchor Inn was your first project. Can you share some tidbits of the “before and after?”
It was an existing hotel built in the sixties and it looked like a property that time forgot—and not in charming way. The rooms had carpet similar to AstroTurf and box TVs. I purchased it, refurbished it, put in my touches, keeping the charm of the past while adding high-tech elements so that guests experienced a very quaint stay that also accommodated their modern needs. We reopened it five months later, making three times what our budget was. The property owner next door felt so good about what I was doing that he sold me the lot next door to build a new property. That’s how Marina Bay got started, and Pinnacle took off from there.
Just one final question before we hear the stories behind some of your hotels. What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love to find the perfect location. When I was a kid, I loved to draw, so each site to me is an empty canvas. For each of my properties, I just stood in front of the empty lots or broken buildings neglected by others, but I found them to be treasures of my own. I chose the colors, designs, worked with designers and architects, and each became a work of art. They’re all different, colorful, cheerful, and they speak to our guests, because I take everything from the locales and put them into these buildings. When people come in and say, “Wow, this is beautiful,” that gives me the greatest pleasure. As a kid, I always dreamt of doing this, but I never knew it would happen someday. Only in America is it possible to rise from an immigrant in pursuit of a dream to an individual actually living their dream. I hope my story inspires others to pursue theirs as well.
The Stories Behind the Making of Some of the Most Unforgettable Hotels on the East Coast
The Anchor Inn, Chincoteague Bay, VA
The Anchor Inn was the first. A 21-room motel off the Chincoteague Bay, not too far from the Atlantic coastline in Virginia. Even though the property was old, and the rooms had a dated smell, the serene beauty of nature was everywhere as soon as you stepped out of the guest room onto the balcony. I felt quickly in my core that the property had a lot of potential. For someone who worked for corporate America for 20 years and analyzed data and worked on theories and then advised franchisees, this could be the ultimate test. Could I bet my own money on myself and help improve my future? In a way, working for corporate America was easy, it was always someone else’s money I was risking. But now it would be my own. The test began on a frigid December morning when I wrapped up the closing of the motel and stood in the parking lot, gazing at my new beginning. Soon after, the complete overhaul of the guest rooms began. Everything that I believed in, I implemented, with the focus to improve the overall guest experience and make everything better. Five months later, we reopened the renovated Anchor Inn, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, and proved what I’d always believed in: If things are done right, by keeping the guest in mind, then success would be irrelevant. When the season closed, I had doubled in just the first year the revenue that the previous owner had made all his life, and I knew that I was on to something.
The Marina Bay Hotel & Suites, Chincoteague, VA
During the Anchor Inn renovations, I watched every morning a curious old man on the next property who watched my progress. Occasionally, he’d nod or wave at me and I’d acknowledged him from a distance. One morning as I parked my car, he approached me and introduced himself as the owner of the property next door—nothing more than an old, worn-down boat repair workshop. He said he admired what I was doing in his hometown and asked if he could see some of the work that I was doing. After the walk-through, we shook hands and parted ways. Never did I know that he’d always wanted to build a hotel on his site—a dream of his father’s, who in the 1970s, applied for a hotel permit to build a 74-room hotel, but it never materialized. In Chincoteague, new builds were rare as there is a moratorium on new large-scale developments because there is no public sewage. Soon afterward, this gentleman disclosed the site’s history and secrets to me and said he would be happy if I could carry on his father’s journey. I revived the hotel's 40-year-old permit and took over the unique journey. I found this new development to be more gratifying, as I got to leave my own signature on a blank canvas. The hotel was going to be called Marina Bay Hotel & Suites and exemplify what a boutique hotel should be. When the property opened 18 months later, it became a beacon for hospitality in Chincoteague, VA. This property is truly what I imagined a perfect hotel to be like.
The Hampton Inn & Suites, Ocean City West, MD
The key to my success came from knowing my own backyard and by working in my own community. I believed in my market and knew that property around the ocean was where I wanted to be. One morning while driving my son to school, I saw a “For Sale” sign on an old, abandoned building not far from his elementary school. I had ignored it for many years, but for the first time saw the “For Sale” sign. I quickly pulled over and called my real estate agent. Within 48 hours, we had a ratified contract. Then the heart-wrenching information came— the property did not come with water, and it would be exceedingly difficult to get water and sewage to the property. The one thing that I’d learned in my career was to never to give up. And I did not. I found the missing water and sewage at another property that I could move there. Soon after, I found the EDUs and hired an attorney to attempt the impossible—a very rare move that had never been done on this large scale in our county’s history. What was supposed to take three years took only nine months, and soon I was working on the permits to build a custom-designed Hampton Inn & Suites with colors and materials depicting our area. This Hampton Inn & Suites has turned out to be a guest favorite in the West Ocean City area and is now a market leader.
The Cambria Hotel, Ocean City, MD
While I was developing the brand-new Country Inn & Suites in Ocean City, MD, and the Hampton Inn & Suites in West Ocean City, an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity literally fell in my lap—one that could help shape the gateway into a city. When I was a foreign student and working my way through multiple jobs in Ocean City, my attention always fell to an abandoned concrete plant—a four-acre eyesore that “welcomed” travelers as they entered the town. Suddenly, in 2017, I found myself in conversation with a group of restaurant developers who were thinking about developing this parcel. They were looking for a hotel developer who could partner with them to redevelop this entire site. Within a few days, I had part of the parcel under contract and the process soon started. But as this was a landmark project, the permitting process took much longer, and after it dragged on for almost seven months, the restaurant group abandoned the project. This caused extreme challenges to the contract, but as a developer, I decided to continue with the redevelopment of the site. I re-strategized and focused on what I knew—hotel development. I nixed the idea of the restaurant, shifted the hotel to the middle of the site, and added additional rooms. By partnering with Cambria, my vision to develop something unique materialized. Cambria allows each of its hotels to be unique to the locale, and that was what I wanted to do. Two years later, in the middle of COVID-19, the unthinkable happened and the Cambria opened its doors. Today, Cambria has redefined the gateway into Ocean City, and will continue to do so for many, many generations.