Sima Patel made history this month when she became the first elected chair of the Visit California board of directors. A recent bill signed by California Governor Jerry Brown has changed the way Visit California leadership is determined, moving away from appointed commissioners to the election of the board chair.

Patel had already made an impression on her peers as the first Indian woman to chair a national or state lodging association in the United States when she was elected chairperson of the California State Lodging Association in 2004.

“I am humbled to be elected to such a prestigious role within Visit California,” Patel says. “Visit California is committed to driving tourism to the state, and I am excited to help further the organization’s reach to both consumers and tourism industry stakeholders.”

Formerly from Surat, India, Patel moved to Oakland, California, at 17. Carving out a career in the hospitality industry, Patel is CEO of Ridgemont Hospitality and has more than 30 years of experience in hotels, including a decade on the Visit California board. Visit California is the largest state tourism marketing organization in the country.

Patel began working in her husband’s family-owned hotel soon after moving to the United States. In 1985, Patel and her husband built their first hotel, The Regency Inn, marking the first property in their new company, Ridgemont Hospitality.

Patel’s company now runs Inn at Temescal, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn & Suites in Oakland, and Hotel Vue in Mountain View. The Oakland Planning Commission has approved the construction Patel’s 110-room Hampton Inn in the heart of downtown Oakland. Expected to be completed by 2018, the property will be the first new hotel in downtown Oakland in years.

Patel began serving on the California Travel & Tourism Commission, which operates Visit California, in 2006. She is very active in the San Francisco Bay Area as a board member of Visit Oakland and the Independent Lodging Industry Association. She also is a member of Oakland Rotary Club and Oakland Airport Area Business Association.

“Sima has been a true pioneer in our industry,” says Caroline Beteta, president and CEO for Visit California. “She epitomizes what it means to dream big in California. Hers is the quintessential American success story and proves the tourism industry supports jobs and builds leaders. I am absolutely thrilled for her continued leadership in her new role.”