Written by Charles McNair
In the board game Monopoly, the person with the most hotels rules.
At just 35, Davonne Reaves (B.S. '10) owns three real hotels.
She’s not playing games.
In November 2020, Reaves and two former classmates from Georgia State University negotiated an $8.3 million purchase of Home2 Suites by Hilton in El Reno, Okla.
Partnering with Cincinnati-based Nassau Investments, the trio left their mark in history. They were thought to be the youngest-ever African American women to become co-owners of a major hotel property in the United States.
In 2022, Reaves expanded one hotel into a portfolio. She added two branded properties in Indiana — a Hampton Inn & Suites in Scottsburg and a Staybridge Suites by IHG in Indianapolis.
Her three hotel properties total about $26 million in value.
“I’m into hotels,” she says with a laugh. “And I’m especially into making hotel ownership a possibility for underrepresented Americans who never dreamed they could be in this business.”
Industry trade publication IBISWorld reports the 2022 market size of the U.S. hotel/motel industry as $258 billion, with 132,228 properties.
Less than 2 percent of these hotel owners are Black, according to the National Association of Black Hotel Owner Operators and Developers. Less than 1 percent are Black females.
Reaves knows an opportunity when she sees one.
Through her hospitality consultancy, The Vonne Group, she travels far and wide presenting seminars that detail the path young hospitality hopefuls can take to hotel ownership. She offers personal tips and training, and she’s even developed a crowdsourcing platform to find capital investment.
“I hope my story will inspire more people to think about hotel investing and ownership as more than just a daydream,” she says.
Reaves learned hospitality from the proverbial hand that rocks the world — her grandmother.
“She was my hero,” Reaves says. “She introduced me to hospitality without me realizing it.”
Born in Philadelphia, Reaves relocated early on with her mother to Clayton County, Ga., near Atlanta. With her dad a busy firefighter and her mom keeping up the house, Reaves spent a lot of time with her grandmother, Elizabeth Swans Smith.
“She had me write out her Christmas cards,” Reaves remembers. “It taught me to be thoughtful. She called people on their birthdays. She showed me how to do everyday things you need to do at a hotel for it to be memorable — how to greet guests, how to cook for them, how to keep a very clean house.”
After graduating from Jonesboro High School, Reaves enrolled at Georgia State on a HOPE Scholarship. Her courses led her to a volunteer job interviewing tourists for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.
There, a Hyatt Regency rooms executive noticed Reaves’s bright smile and authentic warmth. Before long, she was working the Hyatt’s front desk.
“That started my career,” Reaves remembers. “It was a paying job. I knew I was going to be one rich girl.”
Debby Cannon, one of Reaves’ professors and the director of Georgia State’s Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration, took a special interest in her.
“When Davonne started working as a front desk agent at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, we had a real bond. I’d started my hotel career there and loved that hotel,” Cannon says. “I always knew Davonne would be on a fast track in the hotel industry. Even as a student, she would see problems as opportunities.”
Reaves smiles when she speaks of Cannon.
“I’m one of her groupies,” Reaves says. “And I love my alma mater. If I hadn’t gone to Georgia State, I don’t think anybody would have ever heard of me.”
Reaves met her two partners in the purchase of Home2 Suites at Georgia State, Jessica Myers (B.A. ’09), and Ntxhi Song.
Myers works today as a hedge fund manager and as CEO at ItsJessicaMyers, specializing in ground-floor real estate investments.
She and Reaves had lived in the same dorm in college and built a lasting friendship. The pair would go on to form Epiq Collective, the company they used to buy Home2 Suites.
“Davonne is a woman of big vision,” Myers says. “It was her idea to go after buying a hotel. Then she began looking for deals and creating the network to get it done. She’s a go-getter who doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Reaves didn’t take no for an answer when she worked a demanding front desk job at the Hyatt. She didn’t take no when working shifts in a restaurant. She didn’t take no when she handled hotel event planning. She didn’t take no in multiple middle-management positions at the Hyatt and elsewhere.
And she didn’t say no in 2015, when she was asked to relocate to Boston’s CHMWarnick, the nation’s biggest third-party hotel asset management company. It was there that Reaves learned the ropes of hotel ownership. In 2017, she returned to Atlanta and looked up Myers.
In 2019, Reaves reconnected with Song. They had both been members of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, for which Reaves was president. A hotel broker, Song played a role in bringing Nassau Investments to Reaves and Myers.
“We enjoy bringing Black Girl Magic to the hotel ownership space,” Reaves says. “And it excites me to help others with the right tools and knowledge to do it, too.”
After her beloved grandmother passed, Reaves raced to honor her by completing the first Hilton hotel deal before her next birthday. She did just that.
Her grandmother’s memory will live on through a Georgia State scholarship Reaves founded in her honor. The Elizabeth Swans Smith Emerging Pineapple Professional Scholarship is dedicated to Black women who wish to pursue degrees in hospitality.
Reaves has been showered with honors, including a Georgia State Alumni Association 40 Under 40 designation. She’s earned recognition from the International Society of Hospitality Consultants, made Hotel Management magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 list and received numerous other awards. She’s written a book and co-authored two more. Where she once sat in classes at Georgia State, Reaves now sits on the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration advisory board.
Privately, she loves the travel that comes with being a hospitality doyenne. Reaves listens to a lot of Beyonce and spends her downtime munching on crab legs and watching TV documentaries. She recently took up playing clarinet again, a hobby she picked up in high school.
It’s a busy and rich life. So, what gets Davonne Reaves up in the morning?
Her three-year-old son, Jamir. Literally.
“He’s so helpful. He loves being mommy’s helper,” Reaves says. “He loves to put my luggage in the car.”
“He might just be a future hotelier.”
Photos by Mike Dawkins