Seen and heard at the NYU hotel investment conference

La Posada de Santa Fe
La Posada de Santa Fe, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, is operated by Richfield Hospitality.

La Posada de Santa Fe, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, is operated by Richfield Hospitality.

New York – From acquisitions to renovations and rebranding, hotel companies had a lot to talk about at the New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in June. Here’s a round up of the latest news.

* G6 Hospitality, the management company for the Motel 6 and Studio 6 brands in the USA, is focusing heavily on its e-commerce and digital platforms, according to EVP Lance Miceli. “We’re rebuilding to have a mobile-first strategy, really maximizing our SEO capabilities,” Miceli said.

On the development side, Miceli said the company is having conversations in Mexico, particularly to bring the Motel 6 brand to the central part of the country. “The idea would be to begin in Mexico, establish infrastructure and partner with developers and franchisors,” he said. Franchising will continue to drive the brand’s U.S. growth as well. “There’s still room for Motel 6, particularly in the Northeast and in the center of the country,” Miceli said.

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* New Castle Hotels & Resorts had a positive 12 months for its owned and managed hotels, and plans more notable openings this year, according to president and COO Gerald Chase. “We’re doing some very creative projects,” he said. “New-builds that are not your typical target market properties, and repositioning of historic properties—that’s becoming our niche.” He cited the dual-brand Courtyard by Marriott/Residence Inn Syracuse Downtown at Armory Square, which opened last July as the first new-build hotel in Syracuse in more than 50 years.

He also spoke about New Castle’s recent joint venture to purchase and renovate the historic Algonquin Resort in New Brunswick, Canada and re-open it as the country’s first Autograph Collection hotel.

The Westin Portland Harborview Maine is operated by New Castle Hotels & Resorts, which will also open the Westin Jekyll Island later this year.

The Westin Portland Harborview Maine is operated by New Castle Hotels & Resorts, which will also open the Westin Jekyll Island later this year.

Moving forward, Chase said the company is looking forward to the opening later this year of the $41-million Westin Jekyll Island. New Castle was part of a joint venture to develop the property as part of the Jekyll Island Beach Village. “This represents the type of project we like,” Chase said. “It’s a wealthy community and we’re bringing it back to the interests of the island. The state spearheaded the new convention center there to revitalize business in that part of the country, and it’s an attractive destination.”

* Loews Hotels & Resorts is concentrating on operating success and measured growth, the brand’s goals since president and CEO Paul Whetsell took the position in early 2012. “Last year we had $250 million in renovations going on and two acquisitions going on,” Whetsell said. “This year will be less disruptive. Our system has never been in better physical condition, and our revenue per available room is exceeding what the industry is doing.”

An updated guestroom at the Loews Regency in New York. The hotel reopened in January of this year after a year-long $100-million renovation.

An updated guestroom at the Loews Regency in New York. The hotel reopened in January of this year after a year-long $100-million renovation. 

The company’s new-build Loews Chicago Hotel is set for an early 2015 opening, and the new-build Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando recently opened in Florida.

Another major highlight this year was Loews’ acquisition of the Graves 601 Hotel Wyndham Grand in Minneapolis. “This is a great market with a diverse economy and we’re comfortable flying the Loews flag here,” Whetsell said. The building was built only eight years ago and is in good shape, but Whetsell said Loews will renovate all guestrooms and corridors and open up the lobby. “This is going to be exciting for us,” he said.

* Red Lion Hotels continues to push the envelope. HM talked with Bill Linehan, Red Lion’s EVP and CMO, along with Brian Quinn, the newly minted SVP and chief franchise officer, who joined Red Lion in May after a stretch with Driftwood Hospitality. The big revelation: In October, Red Lion will introduce a new upscale boutique brand, details of which were, and remain, paltry as the executives decided against showing their hand. The brand, the name of which is also upcoming, will focus on top MSAs. Red Lion, which up until now has been a primarily west coast hotel chain, will look to expand eastward into the “top 80 MSAs,” Linehan noted. Red Lion is also revamping its loyalty program, moving from a points-based system to one of recognition.

* Richfield Hospitality named a new president in May: the company’s former SVP of sales and revenue strategy, Will Loughran, who said that within the next two to three years, “We’ll be cresting over 50 hotels.” Richfield currently operates 18 hotels, with an ownership stake in four of them. Loughran added that opportunity remains in the select-service segment. “We will look to grow that side,” he said, adding that they are looking at M&A currently, with discussions ongoing.

* Virgin Hotels told HM that it will, indeed, open its first property in Chicago this fall. We sat with Raul Leal, who told us staffing at the hotel is ramping up, and the targeted opening date is either October or November. Virgin Hotels had been under fire of late for overpromising and underperforming. The hiccup in the Chicago opening was attributed to a rethink in design. But now it looks like brighter days are ahead. Leal said the Chicago property will aim to change the game in technology. “The focus is on comforts in the room. Technology is there to make the stay easier,” he said. Leal added that the rooms will not lay out like a typical room. “Today’s traveler will appreciate it,” he said. “It will bridge the gap between today’s cadre of lifestyle hotels and legacy hotels.”

Beyond Chicago, a 500-room Virgin hotel in New York will break ground at the end of the year, Leal said, with an early 2017 expected opening. In Nashville, Tenn., a 248-room Virgin hotel will also break ground by year end, with a summer 2016 slated opening.

Leal said the company is scouting all the major global markets—actively looking at Miami, Washington, D.C., and London. “Once our first hotel opens, the investment community and development pipeline will rise.”

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