Marriott Has Big Plans for Autograph

With development still at a standstill because of the continued credit freeze, Marriott International has turned to its new Autograph Collection as a vehicle for growth. The company announced Richard Kessler’s seven hotels as the first to join the new upscale collection on Jan. 25 at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit and executives say they’ll add another one this month, be at 14 in March and have 30 to 50 in North America by 2011.

“I’ve been around for a lot of these and never seen a velocity of interest like this,” says Tony Capuano, Marriott’s executive vice president for lodging development, who’s also worked with the Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance and Edition brands. He says they are working on an active pipeline of 40 to 50 leads and the universe of possible members is 1,000 hotels. “There are broad global implications, but the start has largely been domestic.”

The collection will not be a brand, instead allowing each owner and property to remain independent, with its own name and personality, but backed by Marriott’s global reservation system, loyalty program, sales and marketing platforms and other programs and partnerships. The fee structure for owners is identical to that of Renaissance, Capuano says.

For the staunchly independent Kessler, it was an easy choice. “No one’s more anti-brand than I’ve been,” he says, “I’ve always believed in the idea of a collection and am glad Marriott is now.” He says the decision to join Autograph was not one of need, but opportunity. His seven properties, located in New Mexico, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, performed at 120 to 180 percent in RevPAR index last year and when asked what kind of ROI he saw for 2010 with this decision, he responded “strong.”

The Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine, FL is one of seven Kessler Collection hotels, and one of the first to join Marriott's Autograph Collection.

“I wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” he added. “It will help us get our rate back more quickly. I think in the first 12 months, (we’ll see) a 10-percent revenue increase. At the minimum, this will be a double, but it could be a home run. It will definitely be a winning play.”

Capuano says it won’t just be an increase in top-line revenue, but also in margin improvement with the buying power of Marriott’s 3,200 worldwide hotels. The collection will include upscale and upper-upscale properties, broken down into sub categories, like a smartphone’s “apps,” says Don Semmler, Marriott’s executive vice president for global full-service brands. “Other collections are very limited, others are very restrictive. We will develop categories—or apps—as we add hotels.” Kessler’s seven hotels fit into one of four current categories: boutique arts, urban edge, iconic historic and spa & lodge, but Semmler says if they inked all current deals in the works, they’d have seven total categories.

Although Edition, Marriott’s other new offering, is in the luxury segment, Semmler says Autograph would consider adding a luxury “app.” Edition, co-created by boutique innovator Ian Schrager, will be a true brand, but with an independent feel. Semmler says each Edition location won’t look the same, “but you’ll feel Ian’s vision in all of them.” Edition will add two properties this year, in Waikiki and Istanbul, and another two next year (Mexico City and Barcelona).

“We growing horizontally,” Semmler says. “It’s not just ‘By Marriott’ brands. We love those, but we’re growing in new spaces.”

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