LA QUINTA RATCHETS UP

You should have seen Wayne Goldberg work a rope in Orlando, let alone shoot a flame-thrower. You wouldn't want to cross the president and chief executive officer of La Quinta Inns & Suites when he's in full “Fear Factor” mode, as Goldberg was in early February at the chain's Take the Challenge conference.

Sparked by riffs from the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel and the Beastie Boys (to the lyrics, “Fight for Your Right To Profit”), Goldberg and other La Quinta executives addressed some 1,000 La Quinta owners, operators and managers packing the Fear Factor amphitheater at Universal Studios.

Pumped up by MC Marvelous Mark Kemp, the La Quinta faithful applauded as Goldberg, Executive Vice President of Franchising Rajiv Trivedi and EVP/COO Angela Lombardi “beat back” actors representing the Hampton, Holiday Inn and Comfort select-service chains in La Quinta's competitive set.

By all accounts, 2007 was a great year for the brand, despite some growing pains. Goldberg noted that in 2007, La Quinta's franchise pipeline exceeded 200 properties for the first time; it also opened its 250th franchise property and its first hotel in Mexico; signed its 500th franchise contract; and opened 56 new franchises representing 4,800 additional rooms (more than half of those contracts are with existing franchisees). On the ownership side, La Quinta acquired 11 new properties, assets representing an investment of $201 million.

The brand now covers 633 hotels representing more than 69,000 rooms. Key to the growth that led to that volume is The Blackstone Group's late-2006 purchase of La Quinta for $3.4 billion.

Since January ‘06, Blackstone has helped La Quinta grow almost 60 percent, said William Stein, Blackstone's senior managing director. He said Blackstone continues to view hospitality investment favorably, citing strong RevPAR, a relatively low increase in room supply and the combined purchasing power of such Blackstone-owned hotel brands as La Quinta, LXR Resorts and Hilton Hotels.

Despite such a rosy 2007, La Quinta hit some speed bumps in upgrading 10 systems, including property management and central reservations. Various executives promised there would be no further system changes in 2008, underlining that vow with a Top 10 “best of” list in which “no systems changes” appeared three times.

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