Featured AAPI Leader May 2022
Born and raised in San Diego, Elvin Lai is a fourth-generation owner-operator of the 71-room Ocean Park Inn hotel in Pacific Beach since 2003. Elvin is not only passionate about his family and community, but also an active member of the lodging associations serving as Immediate Past Chair of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, Chairman of the San Diego County Lodging Association, and on the Board of Governors at the San Diego Foundation.
Previously, Elvin has served as Chairman of the California Hotel and Lodging Association, Board Member of the San Diego Tourism Marketing District, and Executive Board Member of San Diego Tourism Authority. Additionally, Elvin serves his local community as past President, twice over, of the Pacific Beach Business Improvement District called Discover PB, Board member of the Asian Business Association, as a San Diego County Alcohol Policy Panel Sector Leader, and member of Mayor Todd Gloria’s AAPI Advisory Board. Elvin’s also created, cofounded, and co-chaired the PB Clean and Safe pilot program and continues to work to make this program a permanent reality for Pacific Beach. As a result of Elvin’s community service, Mayor Kevin Faulconer presented Elvin with the honor of proclaiming August 31st as Elvin Lai Day.
As an entrepreneur, with businesses in four different sectors, Elvin’s greatest passions are building relationships, creating strategic alignments, supporting the growth of our economy and tourism industry, and working to better our community for future generations. In addition to his hotel, Elvin is currently working on Abnormal Company Beer and a restaurant called The Cork and Craft @ Abnormal. Elvin has a Bachelors in Biology and minor in Chemistry from the University of San Diego and is working on his Master in Hospitality Management from San Diego State University.
Current Board Involvement list
The San Diego Foundation
Mayor Todd Gloria’s API Advisory Board
Asian Business Association
San Diego Convention Center Board
San Diego County Lodging Association
How does your cultural identity influence your decision-making or approach to success? (Response expressed are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Taiwanese American Professionals - San Diego (TAP-SD) or our affiliates.)
“Although I never grew up or lived in Taiwan for an extended time, my visits and upbringing taught me that Taiwanese people are resilient fighters. They never give in to or easily be subdued by forces greater than them. I've been inspired by the resolve of my "uncles," who are all of my dad's poker buddies, to keep Taiwan an independent free democracy, no matter how dire the odds. This resolve to be heard, secure and independent will always hold a prominent place in my heart.
I believe my resolve to fight for the little guy, having no fear of going after the giant, and having the grit and resiliency to stay in the fight comes from my understanding of what being Taiwanese means to me.
I got involved in hotel industry associations early on because I didn't see anyone like me representing me as a Taiwanese American or as a boutique hotel owner advocating for issues unique to my cultural or heritage interests or as a small business. As William Johnson said, "if it is to be, it is up to me." I cannot expect others to act or represent me if I am unwilling to do it myself. This "get it done" attitude is a core principle my father ingrained in me early on.
My father's sudden passing when I was twenty years old certainly thrust me into a leadership role, taking on a lot more responsibility. The Taiwanese culture that my parents embodied and their teachings gave me the resolve to step into his shoes and learn the family business.
Family is always the priority and making sure the family's legacy is always secure. The idea of longevity for the family for multiple generations is an ideal deeply rooted in my culture and my parent's daily teachings. My father taught me through life experiences and games like chess, specifically "Go" or "Wei Qi." He taught me to care for my opponent and the board; without an opponent, I would not have a match, and without the board as a foundation, there would be no possibility of a game.
I will never know what he meant by that, but I have extrapolated it to mean that rising tides lift all boats. Without a healthy community, we would not have a place to run our business. Without healthy competition, we would be lacking co-promotion and a healthy business environment. All of my activism stems from this, including my efforts to promote industry and efforts to support our community.
In the end, the embodiment of family and fighting for the little guy, those who cannot fight for themselves nor the platform to speak, are deeply rooted in me because of my Taiwanese culture and my Taiwanese parents, Chi-Chen Lai, and Li-Yun Ting Lai. I owe everything to them.”