5 questions for David Kuperberg, Dream Hotel Group

The Dream Hotels brand includes the Dream Hollywood in Los Angeles. (Hollywood Dream Hotel)

The past 18 months have been busy for Dream Hotel Group. The management company added landmark properties like the Dream Hollywood in Los Angeles and its first Unscripted property, located in Durham, N.C., to bring its portfolio of open hotels to 12. But another 18 hotels, domestic and international, are in the pipeline and another five letters of intent have been signed. As HOTEL MANAGEMENT reported in May, those new development projects total $750 million and growth of 229 percent for the company between 2016 and 2020. But to realize this dramatic development strategy, Dream Hotel Group as a company has also undergone a remarkable transformation. David Kuperberg, Dream's chief development officer, shares how the hotel company has reinvented itself.

Dream Hotel Group and its four brands have been completely redefined in the past 18 months. Could you talk about the intent and the process behind that evolution?

Although we’ve reinvented ourselves over the last 18 months, we started in the lifestyle space in the late '90s, so we’re not new to lifestyle. But 18 months ago, when I became CDO and Jay Stein became CEO, we had six to eight brands in the portfolio and we made the decision to focus on four core brands: Chatwal at the luxury level; Dream Hotels, which we’re most well known for because it’s heavy on [food-and-beverage] and highly activated; Time Hotel, which is on the same level as Dream Hotels, but less F&B-centric; and the Unscripted Hotels brand, which allows us to go into secondary markets with developers who are looking for a Dream Hotels product that fits their market. Unscripted is also a highly activated upscale brand. We collapsed the Night brand into Unscripted because we found the name and the message it conveys just resonated better with developers, both in the U.S. and overseas. We just opened our first Unscripted in Durham, N.C., and we’ll announce our first Unscripted in Europe in the coming months.

We’ve also created a very robust development team, not just based in the U.S., but globally. We’ve opened a London office where we have a team focused on Europe. We also have a Middle East office based out of Dubai as well as an Asia office in Bangkok and we opened a Miami office to focus on Central and South America, which will be a big focus for us moving forward.

How and why has the company invested in staff?

Over the last 18 months, we’ve significantly invested in our infrastructure, including human capital, building our own corporate design team and filling in positions that we didn’t previously have like our new VP, F&B Jeff Lee, because we needed these roles filled for continued growth. In fact, we’ve been focusing on growing our F&B operations in the last 18 months, but in a way where we have flexibility to bring in a best-in-class partner, to do it ourselves or to take a hybrid approach.

We’ve also spent a significant amount on technology, building our own reservations system and [customer-relationship management] system and we’re also looking at new platforms to incorporate in guestrooms of our future hotels. Already, we’ve placed iPads in all of the guestrooms of the Dream Hollywood so guests can order roomservice, make dining reservations at the hotel and contact the concierge all through the iPad. We’re also looking at keyless room entry as well as technology that would allow guests to watch their content from their smartphones or computers on guestroom televisions, as a few examples. We’re also piloting programs for voice automation with Google and Amazon Alexa at the Time Nyack [N.Y.] and the Dream Downtown [in New York City] . Guests have been responding well, so we’re hoping to roll out the technology at other properties, too.

What was the greatest growth pain encountered along the way and how was it overcome?

When I started as the chief development officer 18 months ago, much of the industry as well as consumers didn’t know what Dream Hotel Group was and that was our biggest challenge. People in New York knew who we were because we’ve had the Dream Downtown property for years, but outside of New York, we were far less well known. But with all of our recent openings as well as signed projects, we’ve gotten our name out there with help from the great work of our PR division. I no longer have to go to conferences and explain who I am or our brands. The vast majority of people now know who we are.

What’s next for the company as far as changing the way Dream Hotel Group does business?

On the development side, we’re making a big international push and we have more announcements about Dream Hotel properties in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. We’ve had such a positive response to the launch of the Unscripted brand and the opening of the first property in Durham that I think the brand will resonate even more with developers because of the number of markets where there’s opportunity to develop an Unscripted hotel.

Have your previous experiences as vice president of development at Virgin Hotels and Wyndham Worldwide played a role in shaping Dream Hotel Group’s new direction?

I had the benefit of coming from one of the world’s largest hotel companies, where I learned all of the processes and protocols and strategies that go with it. But I also came from—what was—a pure start-up where I gained an understanding of the challenges that come from starting from nothing and launching a brand. I like to think that now I work at the best type of startup because Dream Hotel Group comes with all the excitement of a startup, except we’ve been around for 30-plus years. So we have the stability and track record to stand behind our brand.

I also learned from my past experiences that taking a global perspective is important because a lot of our competitors focus on the U.S. But while at Wyndham, I came to understand the opportunities in Asia-Pacific and Europe. So, while here, we’re putting stress on growing within the U.S., we’re also looking beyond the borders.