5 questions with Westmont Hospitality Group's Majid Mangalji

In a relatively short period of time, Majid Mangalji built Westmont Hospitality Group from a single property in the Pacific Northwest into one of the world’s largest hotel ownership-operations company, with significant presence in North America, Europe an

In a relatively short period of time, Majid Mangalji built Westmont Hospitality Group from a single property in the Pacific Northwest into one of the world’s largest hotel ownership-operations company, with significant presence in North America, Europe and Asia. This year Mangalji received the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Hotel Investment Forum and he spoke with Hotel Management about what it takes to be a global company. 

1 HM: When he presented you with the Lifetime Achievement Award in Berlin, Laurence Geller called you an icon of the industry. What does that mean to you?
MM: I’m appreciative of that comment but what is different about me is that the company has done something different. We have embraced the brands to help us manage the assets better. We come from a management background, and in this business, to be successful, we need management and capital. We have management and capital working hand-in-hand, and the brands work with us in a big way. 

2 HM: Tell us about how you grew the company from its origins into an international presence.
MM: Due to political problems in Uganda [my family] was forced to leave and we moved to Canada in 1973. We got into the business in a very small way. We started with one little hotel, we managed it well, we created value in that, and we were able to make enough to get another. From that hotel in the Pacific Northwest we moved to the Sun Belt, then to the Rust Belt. We’ve gone from market to market, then back to Canada and acquired assets there … We wanted to diversify outside of the U.S. so we started our initial foray into Europe in the late ’80s-early ’90s … and for us the last area was Asia. We built up teams in all the markets we are in and we did it step by step. 

3 HM: What are some innovations you’ve seen in the hospitality industry throughout your career?
MM: A lot of innovation that has occurred has been at the operations level. On the investment side, there have been creative ways in structuring transactions. At the hotel level, the bar is constantly being raised. Nobody has a monopoly on creativity in design. A big change I’ve seen recently is the way we sell our hotel rooms ... Today there is such huge transparency, you have to be on the ball and work on yield management. Also, there are other players in the space, like AirBnB, that will be strong in what they can provide as a product. 

4 HM: What’s next for Westmont? 
MM: Generally speaking, our model has been in the developed economies. We haven’t done a lot of new development. Generally we acquire assets below replacement … so I think because of the volatility in this business, we’ll see lots of opportunities in our existing markets. We started a debt fund a couple of years ago and that has been an interesting way for us to invest in the space. 

5 HM: What’s your short-term outlook for the hospitality industry overall?
MM: Generally speaking, the U.S. is on a recovery path. Canada is very stable. Europe is a mixed bag. You can’t paint Europe with one brush. The sourthern part has difficulties, while countries like Germany are having record performance at the moment. A bit depends on the state of the financial institutions in Europe. It’s not an area where you can just fly in. Japan surprisingly looks a little bit more robust, but that is a Japanese robust, so it’s not what we’re used to in other parts of the world.

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